“I’m proud to have two kids, and having them do this, that’s just an extra bonus.”
Curtis, and his two sons - Evan and Ryan - share similar interests, like hunting and fishing, and all three are volunteer firefighters at their local firehall. They all reside near one another in Musquash, New Brunswick, along with Curtis’ wife Lori and several members of their extended family. What’s especially interesting is that all three have chosen the same career path – they’re seafarers working with Atlantic Towing Limited.
Curtis is a Master, currently captaining the Atlantic Cedar. Evan is a Deckhand working out of Saint John, and Ryan works on Atlantic Towing’s offshore vessels, currently stationed in the North Sea. As our feature JDI Generation’s family this Father’s Day, they remind us that family ties can withstand any separation, and that our families often grow to include those with whom we have shared experiences and understandings.
Interviewer: Curtis, you’ve mentioned that your career actually started in fishing. How did you get your start?
Curtis: My family moved to Minto, New Brunswick when I was born. My father worked for NB Power, and his father had worked for a power company. We moved to Musquash when Point Lapreau [a nuclear generating station] started up in the late 1970s. Growing up there, I met friends whose families fished, and I went on the boats with them when I was young. That’s how it started. My mother actually has a picture of me as a young child – my parents had taken me to Niagara Falls, to the Maid of the Mist – and I had a little captain’s hat on. I wanted to be a captain ever since that day.
Interviewer: You later left fishing and joined Atlantic Towing in the mid 1990s. What was the biggest challenge during that transition?
Curtis: It was the focus on safety – the safety gear. On my first day, the superintendent gave me a hard hat and a life jacket. I’d never had one on before, and I was nervous to come down. But when I did, everyone else had them on too.
Interviewer: Evan and Ryan, you’ve grown up surrounded by boats and seafaring. When you signed on with Atlantic Towing, was there anything that surprised you?
Evan: When I was in high school, I spent three years as a summer student [with Atlantic Towing]. So, you kind of get the feel of it, of what you’re getting into, and you talk to the people doing it. And of course, I talked to my father. He explained to me what happens, where you go and what you do.
Interviewer: Do you have any stories from those growing up years you can share?
Curtis: Back when I used to fish, I’d get up and get ready to go around 3 or 4 in the morning and Ryan – about 3 years old – would wait up, be out of bed and have his rubber boots and rain jacket on, ready to come with me. He’d start crying when I had to put him back to bed. He just thought he’d come on the scallop boat for a week, at 3 years old.
Ryan: When I was in elementary school, I’d tell Mom I wanted to quit school and go fishing, or work on the boats. She’d say, ‘I’ll let you go, but you have to answer a question.’ And she’d ask something like, “If you have 300 lobster traps and you get rid of 40, how many do you have left?” And I’d just sit there and realize I had to do my school work.
Evan: I remember when I was little, I would come on the [Atlantic] Beaver with Dad. I’d stay there all day and hang out with him and the crew. They’d feed me all the chips and treats I could ever want.
And when I started high school – I went to Harbourview High School in Saint John, which overlooks the Reversing Falls – I remember Dad was telling me he would be towing a barge through the falls on the [Atlantic] Elm. I asked him to sound the horn when he went through because you could see the water from my classroom. So, I told my whole class, ‘Watch, the tug that’s coming through there, that’s my Dad!’ He went through, and he did honk the horn. It was really cool.
Interviewer: Is there anything unique about working with family? Do you find you relate to one another?
Curtis: Oh yeah. It does feel good, but it can drive our family nuts.
Evan: We have stories that would last years.
Curtis: We actually have to tone it down sometimes, around my parents, my brother and his family. My wife, Lori, she’s used to it. She likes to hear the stories. But sometimes we do have to tone it down.
Ryan: It’s good though. I know a lot of my buddies, they don’t have the same kind of relationship that Evan and I do with our Dad. Because they can’t relate [in the same way]. And the thing is, we can relate. To what we do, to the things that happen at work.
Curtis: And there’s the relationship between Evan and Ryan. I notice that. Sometimes they’re more like friends than brothers. And I think that comes from doing the same things and having those same experiences.
Interviewer: Curtis, how does being a father impact your work?
Curtis: You treat the younger folks like your kids. It’s kind of weird. I didn’t notice it when I was younger; when I was 30, I didn't really have anyone like that. But the older I get, and the younger the seafarers are – younger than Evan and Ryan now – I look at them differently and I make sure they’re safer than I used to. I worry about them way more than I do the older crew members. I think about it a lot.
Interviewer: Evan and Ryan, any thoughts on that?
Ryan: I think that goes back to the fact that [in our jobs] you literally spend half your lives with these people, at work, and they become family. You don’t have a choice.
Evan: You know, I’ve traveled to more places in the world with my crews than I probably have with Ryan or my family.
Curtis: We were actually talking about that last night. One of the crew members compared it to the military, where people are deployed together. There are people here I’ve worked with since I was a deckhand, that I’ve known for 20 years. I probably know them better than some of their family members. And Evan and Ryan could know people that I’ve worked with better than they know me now, because they’ve worked with them more. Both [Evan and Ryan] have made longer trips than I ever did. Ryan’s sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve never done that. And Evan’s sailed to Baker Lake, Nunavut. I’ve never sailed that far. It’s kind of odd how that works.
Interviewer: So, what does Father’s Day mean to you?
Curtis: I missed half my Father’s Days. That’s how it works when you’re young – you have kids and need to make money, so you work all the time. I didn't like missing that stuff, and that’s one of the reasons I work in the [Saint John] Harbour now. I’m still on the tugs a lot of the time, but I know I can be home in an instant if I need to be. And Evan and Ryan are away for longer stretches of time, so I stay around so my wife won’t have to worry about me being away.
I’m proud to have two kids, and having them do this, that’s just an extra bonus. I couldn’t care less what they do, as long as they’re happy. I’ve always been happy and proud of them. They’re the two best days of my life – having them. That and marrying their mother.
And I wouldn’t have been able to succeed if it weren’t for Lori doing her thing and supporting me, Evan and Ryan. I never had to worry about anything while I was away. She helped my study, drove us all to airports and picked up rental cars. And she’s had to worry about three men at sea at the same time. She’s given up things I’ll never know.
Ryan: She’s the rock and the cement and the whole thing. Especially putting up with us. Raising [Evan and I] while Dad was at sea. She made sure we never missed hockey, never missed anything.
Curtis: I used to complain a lot that I was gone so much and felt like I missed things when Evan and Ryan were young. But one day, Ryan told me he was glad I do what I do because, when I was home, I was really there. I used to walk with them to the bus stop in the morning, back when Ryan was around 11 and Evan 8. I’d volunteer at the school, go to hockey. A lot of Ryan’s friends would complain that their fathers wouldn't do those things with them. They’d come home from work every day, but they’d be tired, eat supper and want to watch T.V. and unload. His friends would be amazed that we did so much together as a family.
Ryan: He was gone, but when he was home, he was really home.