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Family Cruise: Joe Intro

LOS ANGELES – In the last 22 years, I've spent $121,350 on my son Paul's education. This includes four years at a public college and all the associated expenses, plus the costs of elementary and high schools. I know I've gotten off easy in comparison to some of you, but it's still a sobering amount of cash. (I often ask my wife, "Honey, tell me again why we didn't home-school?")

You'd think that after such a sizable investment, any child would be well equipped to make his or her way in the world. So why don't I feel this way about him? Why, when I look at my boy, who is not a boy but a young man (I must continually remind myself of this), do I still feel I need to hold his hand? Maybe this is the curse of being a parent—that you forever see your child as a protectorate and worry about his independence.

I have a friend named Jim who is in his 70s. He has visited just about every country in the world. He told me that when he went off to college decades ago, his father said something he never forgot: "Don't let your schooling interfere with your education."

There's great wisdom in that. In fact, it prompted me, shortly after writing my son's last tuition check, to begin planning an adventure for the two of us that would be part reward and part graduate school. It would be my opportunity to complete my son's education, to convey the vital skills that formal schooling neglects, and perhaps, to dismiss my nagging worry about his ill-preparedness.

My son and I are both writers. He has a fresh degree in journalism from Ohio University, and I have one (circa 1981) from Lehigh University. He is 22, and I'm 48. He has hair; I do not. Last summer I was invited to teach a memoir-writing course aboard the Crystal Serenity, a luxury cruise ship that would be traveling around the world. The trip would span 108 days, touch nearly 50 ports in almost 30 countries, and cover about 35,000 miles. It would begin in Los Angeles and end near London, with stops in Polynesia, New Zealand, Australia, Asia, India, Africa, and Europe. It would not only be the trip of a lifetime, but also would give me my last chance to spend some concentrated time with my son before he spun off into his own world. Even more important, it would allow me to finish teaching him the vital things that don't appear on college curricula. For nearly four months, I'd have him cornered, so to speak, and be able to mold him into a man. If he didn't succeed after that, then it would not be my fault.

So come along with my son and me as we travel around the globe. We'll write from our differing perspectives about life at sea, life in other countries, and life as father and son. We hope, our experiences will entertain, educate, and maybe even enlighten you. That is, of course, unless one of us doesn't throw the other overboard first.

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