Last month, I wrote about the burglar who brought his infant offspring along with him on a job, which is to say, a burglary. It is fair to say, and thus I am saying, that San Diego parents Eric and Charlotte Kaufman, presumably known as “The Sailing Kaufmans” in honor of “The Biking Vogels,” make that burglar look like the Huxtables from “The Cosby Show.”
Oh, they are loving parents I’m sure, just like the doting professionals played by Bill Cosby and Felcia Rashad in the iconic sitcom. The problem is that they don’t have the sense bestowed by nature on the average adult lemur. Mom and Dad Kaufman brought their 1-year-old daughter Lyra and her 3-year-old sister, Cora along with them as they embarked in March on the great adventure of sailing across the Pacific as the first leg of a planned circumnavigation of the globe.
In a 36-foot sailboat.
With a toddler.
And an infant.
I will add to this completely reasonable description the additional labels of irresponsible parents and dangerously self-obsessed child abusers. I would say the same if the great adventure were completely successful and they got their pictures on the cover of People, US, or “Incompetent Parenting Monthly.” It wasn’t, but that doesn’t matter, nor is it critical to my verdict that the children are still alive and well. Taking them on this inherently perilous journey was far more dangerous than what Nehemiah Gonzalez, the burglar who couldn’t find child care, did, and far less defensible than the six years of indentured servitude on bicycles that the world-trekking Vogels inflicted on their young boys. Child services removed Gonzalez’s infant daughter from his tender care, and I’d like to hear one good reason why the same protective actions shouldn’t be undertaken on behalf of Lyra and Cora. The odds of them making it to adolescence are not good, if this is how the Kaufmans treat their kids.
This time, at least, the children were rescued, but it took a Navy warship, courtesy of your taxes and mine, to do it. Little Lyra developed a fever and a rash was circumnavigating her body, and her parents had run out of ideas for treating it. The Kaufmans issued a satellite call for help to the U.S. Coast Guard after their sailboat, Rebel Heart. lost its steering and radio about 900 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Would the fever have been sufficient to alarm the Kaufmans if the sailboat was still functioning? Who knows, with these geniuses. Their thought processes are a mystery.
So four California Air National Guard members had to parachute into the ocean to rescue the family and its sick child. The rescuers treated the baby, then put the family on an inflatable boat that took them to the USS Vandegrift. It was a great adventure, though neither child will remember it, just like they wouldn’t remember the successful world tour if it had happened.
The shameless parents issued this jaw-dropping statement from the ship:
“We understand there are those who question our decision to sail with our family, but please know that this is how our family has lived for seven years, and when we departed on this journey more than a year ago, we were then and remain today confident that we prepared as well as any sailing crew could. The ocean is one of the greatest forces of nature, and it always has the potential to overcome those who live on or near it. We are proud of our choices and our preparation.”
Translation: “If we aren’t stopped, we will keep doing this kind of thing until we get our kids killed, and we’re proud of it. Yes, we are insane. Please help us, because we can’t be trusted with sharp objects, much less children and 36-foot sailboats.”
At least the children have some sensible relatives. Wait, scratch that. Charlotte Kaufman’s sister, Sariah Kay English, told reporters that when she first learned of the trip, she “thought it was nuts.” But, she said, the couple was always “careful.” “They were not going into this blind. I knew they were doing this wisely,” English said. So idiocy runs in the family on the mother’s side, then. Bulletin to Aunt Sariah: Taking infants and toddlers on 36-foot sailboat trips around the world is neither “careful.” nor “wise.” The words you were looking for are “unbelievably irresponsible,” “criminally reckless” or perhaps “stupid beyond description.” The words you should have uttered to your sister and her husband were these: “I’ll take care of the kids, or if you insist on taking them on this dangerous trip, I’m calling the police, the news media and child services. Your choice.”
There is no way to be “careful” when it comes to proper regard for children that young on an ocean-going sailboat. No degree of care will guarantee against rogue waves, the Perfect Storm, pirates, hungry Krakens, illnesses, accidents and mechanical failure. It is irresponsible, indeed bats, to put children in situations where professional medical attention will be unavailable for protracted periods, and every sensible, caring parents with sufficient intelligence to put their shoes on the correct feet knows this. Sailing around the world on a sailboat with young children is infinitely more dangerous than taking a child along on a burglary, and a rescue is likely to be a lot more expensive, too.
The Kaufman children belong in protective services until their parents get some common sense drilled into their heads. The Navy should send a bill for expenses to the couple, and insist on payment. That should keep them out of sailboats for a while, since the Rebel Heart sank, and at least give their children a chance to grow old enough, like Abby Sunderland, the intrepid 16-year-old amateur sailor whose parents thought was fine to send off on her own trip around the world, to enjoy the adventure that might kill them.
83 thoughts on “Worst Loving Parents Of The Year…I Hope”
So if the consequences don’t matter how do you judge whether or not the child is in peril? Wouldn’t it have to be based on some idea of the likelihood that a particular action will cause harm?
As for consequentislism, I took an undergrad ethics class from David Cummiskey, a relatively well known consequentislist, and perhaps because of that if I had to chose a philosophical bent it probably would be consequentialism. I guess that is showing up, although its been a while and my exposure to it was limited to the one class. So a quick google search led me to a BBC article that expressed it like this: “an act is right if and only if it results from the internalisation of a set of rules that would maximize good if the overwhelming majority of agents internalised this set of rules.” I find that simple and pursuasive.
That’s not consequentialism as it is used here. Consequentialism is the fallacy of judging the rightness of conduct, not according to what the actor reasonably belives will be its results, but what its results turn out to be. And that’s what you are arguing when you say “So if the consequences don’t matter how do you judge whether or not the child is in peril?” To which the answer is “HUH?” Peril is defined by the conditions that exist—sick child, ocean, isolation, small boat, no doctor. That’s peril, and it’s still peril if the kid is lucky and nothing bad happens to him. The parents put the kid into peril.
“Peril is defined by the conditions that exist—sick child, ocean, isolation, small boat, no doctor.”
Peril is defined as risk of harm. My children are in peril every day when they ride in the car, especially when my wife is driving. How is that different? Both conditions are perilous and could easily result in the kids’ injury or death. Is one more perilous? Probably, but the only way to know is to look at past consequences. What I’m getting at is where and how do you draw that line?Why is it right to risk your child’s life for a trip to the supermarket in a car, but it’s not alright to risk their life for a trip across the ocean in a boat?
How is that different? One is a normal risk of every day life, the other is a completely unnecessary risk, imposed negligently on a helpless child as a breach of trust by selfish parents willing to place their children in danger for their own recreation.
I think it valuable to digress into a discussion of risk. I’ll use army terms because that’s how I was educated on the topic and I think they’ve done an exhaustive analysis of risk taking.
Discussing risk is useless without understand what risk describes. It describes hazards. A hazard is a condition with the potential to cause injury, illness, or death to personnel; damage or loss to equipment; or degradation of mission objectives. The hazard of dying in the rocky mountains as Pete describes is the same as the hazard of dying in a boat in the pacific as this baby could have, which is consequently the same as the hazard of dying if the sun went super nova… that seems the comparison Pete makes to equalize things. But that isn’t enough.
Describing hazards is useless without determining risk. Risk is a combined descriptor, composed of severity and probability. The more severe the hazard the riskier, and the more likely the hazard, the riskier. In this way it could be said that dying in a supernova is nust as risky as stubbing your toe in the night… the frequency of stubbing your toe is mitigated by the severity being low, while the severity of a supernova is mitigated by its extreme unlikeliest. This quality of risks and hazards is what partially undermines Pete’s objection.
What undermines the rest of Pete’s objection is the comparison of Risk to Objective (or reward in civilian speak) as well as the final step of risk management: development implement controls. In the case of the ocean faring parents, the reward is completely intangible to the infant, as the infant will not remember much of anything of the voyage, although subconsciously the stress may improve resiliency. Whereas the risk is High in terms of severity and probability. The ratio of reward to risk doesn’t justify the voyage and actually tips the balance against the parents.
The final step, developing and implementing controls is designed to mitigate risk. Sure the parents had a radio, but that is one small control, with no alternate, contingent or emergency plan, given the isolation involved. A family in the Rockies have many more mitigating factors.
Which is why risk-reward ratio and risk-tolerance are the key factors in deciding whether a risk is reasonable of irresponsible. An infant has almost no risk tolerance at all, and as you say, for the infant, the the risk-reward ratio was all risk, no reward. Nor was there consent, the final element.
At least the burglar was choosing what he thought was the better risk, between leaving his infant alone with no supervision, or bringing his child along on a job.
I really don’t know why Pete is stooping to invalid analogies to try to defend the indefensible. I think these parents are a good bet to get one or more of their children killed.
This has occurred to me.
I’ve been following this conversation “from afar” with a fascination I’ve seldom experienced since Tiggy went on one of his own drawn out sophistries in attempting to redefine the universe in his own image. Those were the days! Kudos to Tex for tersely summing the entire matter up Army Style (i.e. rationally) by defining the core theme: Risk. The secondary theme- morality- is not inconsiderable, but should (one hopes) be crystal clear. I believe this was touched on before in a discussion about the California father who let his 14 year old daughter attempt to circumnavigate the world in a sailboat. Utterly irresponsible. It comes down to the basic obligations that parents and underage children have to one another… and indeed to what the word “parent” actually encompasses.
So it’s not about the actual peril the child is put in, it’s the reason behind the peril? A trip to the supermarket is good (common) peril, but a trip across the ocean is bad (uncommon) peril. That’s better than saying “they put their kids in peril therefore their kids should be taken”, but like the ocean crossing the trip through the Rockies or most anywhere in the car doesn’t have a particularly good reason or a “reward” for the infant. Parents take their kids on car trips through the Rockies because they want to go somewhere or see something beautiful and they want their kids with them. They aren’t concerned about the risk because they feel like they’ve mitigated it to a manageable level. No one can mitigate away the risk from a rogue wave or a rockslide but the chances of those are slim.
Risk mitigation is exactly my point, if you are well prepared and equiped you can mitigate the risk of an ocean crossing to a very manageable level. People do crossings all the time and so there are very good sources for how to do it safely. The Kauffmen had a sound and safe boat, a lot of sailing training and experience, medical training and supplies, a sat phone with the ability to call doctors, and finally the good ole’ US of A in case something crazy happened. Does this make the risk zero? Of course not. Does it bring the risk to a level on par with many other commom things people do, I would say yes. Even if you say no I think it would be wrong to call the risk extreme enough to justify taking their kids, something you all seem to advocate and the part of this whole discussion I find most troubling.
Many studies have shown that being separated from their parents has a devesatating effect on kids. Taking the kids would amount to trading physical peril for psychological or developmental peril. And talk about risk–foster care?!
For the record, I am not defending their decision. I am saying their decision did not meet the threshold for the state to take their kids, something that also must be a risk-reward decision. Justifying such a decision by saying they might one day kill their kids is like charging someone for a crime you think they might commit.
The big thing the Kauffmen have against them is their decision to do this when their kids were so young. There is just no place for someone on a crossing who can’t help crew the boat or share watch. Plus, as Mr Marshall pointed out, they’re not going to get much out of it at their age. I would have waited until they were at least in middle school so they could be a part of the decision and be a constructive member of the crew. What a kid would learn in that environment would far outweigh the risks.
You’re ridiculous, and I think Scott’s troll verdict is fair. I have a sock drawer to organize. Either you don’t want to be rational, or are incapable of it. Your first sentence mischaracterizes what I wrote as well as the definition of peril, while ignoring the factor of risk. Find something else to comment on, because your next post on this topic gets you banned.
No problem, thanks for the discussion. I hope it continues without me. I’m interested to see what Tex thinks about the risk mitigation response.
Assumption that others will bail you out is not a control. Hope is good, but hope is not a technique. The Kauffmans may have had controls, but I don’t see them mitigating the risk down to the level of a family driving through the Rockies.
How’s this for awful parents:
Staging a kidnapping to prove a point!!!