Gary Karlsen book signing

A Great Father’s Day Gift



At my recent book signing at Indigo, my writer’s table was squeezed into a small space right in front of a collection of books promoted as Father’s Day Picks.

customer reaches for a book

The signing got off to a slow start so I browsed through some of the books – murder mysteries, biographies, DIY, pulp fiction, motorcycle gangs, a book about sneakers … These were glossy hard cover and paperback books, some by best-selling authors.

For this signing event, being the first one for my first book, I did not know quite what to expect.


Indigo provided me with a smartly dressed table located at the front of the store where I was the first thing customers saw when they came in to shop.

Indigo book signing display table

The lonely first half hour began with people walking right past my table, not wanting to engage with a writer flogging his book, or so I thought. I’d have had more attention offering wine samples at the local liquor store.

During that awkward thirty minutes or so, I shifted my chair a lot, needlessly reorganized the books on my table, and adopted the body language of a slow-moving bobblehead, not knowing where, what, or who to make eye contact with. To busy myself and look like I actually belonged in the store, I picked up a book off the gift suggestion table and began to flip through pages. My book did not have anything in common with any of these. No, the store manager did not select No Ordinary Seamanas a Father’s Day read.

compass rose

“Hi dad.”

“Hi papa.”


I turned to see my son and granddaughter who had come to observe how I was getting on with this auspicious event. Then some friends and a few other relatives showed up. Crowds draw crowds, and the remaining hour of my guest writer gig just flew by. I signed six books plus another three the store manager wanted to add to the shelf., She said that for a first book I did rather well.


Gary Karlsen signs a book


The next day Indigo thanked me on their Facebook page and I received a lot of congratulatory comments on mine, one of which was a reader of my book from Ontario. She posted, “No Ordinary Seaman would make a great Father’s Day gift.” I reflected on this and came to the conclusion that, yes, of course, it would.

Here’s why:

  • family is at the very core of the book, No Ordinary Seaman
  • the paternal bond is tested by “running away to sea”
  • father-son relationships tie together the beginning, middle, and end of the memoir
  • proverbial wisdom of the father is expressed in the epigram (Ch 35): Do not wish your life away son.
  • if fatherhood is in our past, present and future, then No Ordinary Seaman Karlsen, in all his years, was the child who was father to the man


That last bulleted item sounds rather oblique.

Let me try to explain.



map of south Europe, Persian Gulf, Africa



I have long thought about the line in William Wordsworth’s poem, The Rainbow:

The Child is Father of the Man


Literature was my minor in university, and ever since, I have been intrigued by the most obscure yet gripping words of some of the masters. As I was toiling over the manuscript for my memoir I drifted in and out of the realm of the epiphany. At one point, a light came on.



There I was, half a century later, reading the handwritten diary entries of a young man who went to the sea.



It was clear that I had had a purpose, an intent – all propped up with bags of independent spirit, self-reliance, and curiosity.







While Deckhand Karlsen was hard working, hard playing,

and brave, he was also thoughtful, respectful, and friendly.

deckhand working on MS Havkatt


This came from a childhood with a good mix of trauma in poverty, sibling discord, and particularly loving and nurturing parents. Latent self-esteem exploded into a deep-seated need and readiness as a teenager, to break away and invent my own world.

My childhood and my past defined who I was as a youth in the present when I went to sea. Those remarkably vivid and powerful experiences, maturing from the time on one ship, then the next, were my foundations for the future. Looking back as writer of the memoir, it becomes clear that the child shaped the youth who shaped the man.


No Ordinary Seaman is a very readable book, both serious and fun, about how the child becomes father to the man.



Indeed, a worthy Father’s Day gift.


farfar and baby




signing a book





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