SAN DIEGO — Too many Americans refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Nothing is their fault. They never do anything wrong. They look for ways to excuse misbehavior and bad choices. When they make mistakes, they don’t admit them. They might even say they are proud of what they did — which suggests they might do it again.
Eric and Charlotte Kaufman are prime examples. They are not going to win Parents of the Year. They don’t seem to understand that the first job of a parent is to protect your children from harm, or that having children changes your life and so it should also change your behavior.
The Kaufmans exercised terrible judgment by taking their 1-year-old daughter, Lyra, and 3-year-old daughter, Cora, on what was intended to be a trip around the world aboard a 36-foot sailboat. According to news reports, Charlotte Kaufman took both children to a doctor before setting sail from Mexico, where the family had moved last year from San Diego. Lyra had salmonella poisoning, bronchitis and a bacterial upper respiratory infection. The baby was taking three types of antibiotics. Yet, the Kaufmans still set off on the voyage.
Two weeks into the journey, the boat lost its steering. Eventually, the vessel took on water. Lyra wasn’t responding to the medicine and she had developed a fever and rash, and so the family sent a satellite call to the U.S. Coast Guard. They were plucked from the ocean about 1,000 miles off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, by rescue specialists from the California Air National Guard and placed aboard the USS Vandegrift, a San Diego-based frigate that was diverted from a training mission and devoted five days to the rescue mission.
Once onboard the Vandegrift, Lyra began to recover. According to news reports, crew members adopted the girls as their own, putting together whatever clothing they could find and even constructing a makeshift crib. As usual, our men and women in uniform performed admirably.
The same can’t be said for the Kaufmans. The couple failed to show any public contrition for putting their children at risk or publicly apologize to the folks who rescued them, not to mention the taxpayers who will have to pick up the bill.
According to an analysis by the U-T San Diego newspaper, the cost of the rescue mission was hefty. The price to the Navy was $216,000. The California Air National Guard racked up expenses to the tune of $447,000. That’s a total of $663,000.
Once rescued, the Kaufmans – who, if nothing else, have a knack for damage control – issued a series of arrogant statements that suggested the couple had learned nothing from this harrowing ordeal.
The first statement read: “We understand there are those who question our decision to sail with our family. . . . 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.”
A few days later, as public criticism began to mount, Eric Kaufman posted the following statement on his blog: “We have been happy with the maritime life we have been able to share with our daughters. . . . To our supporters and those who also seek an adventurous path with their families, we thank you for your kind words and support.” He also asked critics to wait to hear “all the details” before passing judgment.
This critic has heard enough. What’s wrong with these people? They’ll accept help but not criticism? They made one bad choice after another. They also lack the character to admit it.
So what should be the response of society to this drama at sea? Should we make it illegal for parents to put their children in harm’s way?
No need. There already are child endangerment laws. The Kaufmans are lucky they’re not being prosecuted. Even though the Navy says it won’t be sending the Kaufmans a bill to cover the rescue cost, it should reconsider. After all, we’re on the hook for the expense.
The Kaufmans won’t like having to pay up because they don’t think they did anything wrong. Of course, all throughout this ordeal, thinking has not been their strong suit.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.