Gummy bears have given way to chips and salsa; fruit juice boxes have been replaced with red wine. But other than everyone having different snacks — and a few more wrinkles — an annual father-daughter summer sailing trip in the Apostle Islands hasn’t changed much over the last 25 years.
The daughters still plan the music and the menus, the fathers still handle the boating, and everyone still whiles away evenings on the deck, dancing under the stars and having meaningful, meandering conversations that signal a true departure from life back home.
It all started when Jim Bracke and some friends discussed embarking on a guys get-together. Bracke invited his son along, but his son wasn’t interested. Someone suggested bringing their daughters instead. It was a revolutionary idea at the time.
“Twenty-five years ago, there wasn’t a prevalent awareness of dads to be more equally involved with their daughters,” Bracke said. “That’s a huge generalization, but among the people I hung out with, that wasn’t a cultural thing as it is now.”
To the dads’ amazement, the daughters were fully onboard with the plan.
That first trip, in 1992, had five boats full of father-daughter duos. The sailors knew immediately they’d started something special.
“It worked well right from the beginning,” said Bracke, of Eden Prairie, “by creating some kind of different magic.”
On Lake Superior, away from the distractions of everyday life, the men bonded with their girls, who spanned ages 7 to 18.
“When they become adolescents, they start to break away,” said Steve Kairies, one of the fathers. “This was just an opportunity to get closer.”
The girls would talk to their dads about the boys they were interested in. The dads would tell stories about dumb things they did in their youth. Each saw the other in a way they hadn’t before.
“We know each other as people more than father-daughter, and have a different understanding and relationship, because we are able to get that time away,” said Emily Colaizy, Bracke’s daughter. She was 11 on her first trip, and is now a 35-year-old mother.
While some fathers and daughters have come and gone, the trip continues. This August will be the 25th voyage.
Now as parents themselves, many of the daughters see the trip in a new way.
“When I was younger, it was a fun trip that almost seemed mandatory because I did not want to let my dad down for not going,” said Andrea Burns, whose father Prince Wallace was one of the early dads to join the annual rite. “Now that I am a mother and I see how fast time goes by and how much older my parents are, I treasure the trip.”
Bracke, now 69, advises other parents to make time outside of the daily grind for their children.
“There’s no formula for being a parent,” he said. “It’s the hardest job there is, but you’ve got to try. We took a risk and tried something, and we’re so fortunate that we’ve been on this journey and our daughters have enriched us.”