Family Ties — from the October 2023 Pastoral Activity Report

by SCI Chaplain Michelle McWilliams

The father, Feno, and son, Julien, didn’t share this information right away. After answering all their questions about going ashore, SAS, and sim cards, we got into discussing home—which was Madagascar for both crew members. They were so excited to talk about their home, their faces lighting up with each piece of information they shared. It was Julien’s first contract, and he felt very blessed to be sailing with his father. His father, in turn, was happy to share his sailing experience with his son. For both of them, it felt like they still had a little piece of home with them on the ship. 

Approximately two months later, the same vessel returned, and Julien’s smiling face greeted me again. He asked, “Do you remember me?” I often remember faces and conversations, and I certainly remembered his. He told me his father had hurt his knee and was now recovering at home. I inquired about how he was handling not having his father around, and he responded that it was lonelier, but he was being brave to make his father proud. Julien supports his wife and daughter back home, and now his father as well. He shared how, as a child, there were many aspects of his father’s career that he never understood. His father supported the family but was not around that much. 

Over the last two months, Julien had developed a deeper understanding of that responsibility. He had come to seafaring much later than his dad, choosing jobs that kept him closer to home because he wanted a different dynamic with his daughter than the one he had with his father growing up. It was losing his job that made him consider entering a career he once did not see as feasible. We discussed how hard it is to balance providing financial and emotional support for a child. Providing sometimes means not always being present. 

We also reflected on how being present now is quite different compared to when Julien was a child. Contracts are shorter, and communication is also much more advanced. He appreciated my perspective and thanked me for sharing how his experience could have differed from what his daughter might be experiencing. Even having such thoughts in mind would make for a different dynamic. I was careful not to minimize the feeling and pain of being away from your loved ones and what they feel while Julien is on the ship. As a Chaplain, I offered support and concern for his childhood experiences and for the father he is today. Being able to identify where some of the feelings and guilt stem from can help alleviate this particular burden of being a seafarer. As does acknowledging that, no matter how many miles apart they are, his love and care for his daughter are evident to all.