Live and learn

Michael Tougias writes about the misadventures of his youth, and his relationship with his father.


Michael Tougias is a prolific New York Times bestselling author and co-author, with more than 30 books to his name. Even though his newest one, “The Waters Between Us: A Boy, a Father, Outdoor Misadventures, and the Healing Power of Nature,” does not take place on the Vineyard, he says that the Island “helped shape my passion for fishing — it was there that I learned about saltwater fishing, and caught my first bluefish off a dock in Menemsha. It made me feel like a little kid again!”

Reading “The Waters Between Us” is like sitting down and listening to Tougias spin yarns of his sometimes harrowing (mis)adventures during his youth. Some of the predicaments are nail-biting, such as a near-death experience where he and his friend get tossed into a freezing gorge while rafting down Vermont’s Huntington River. But throughout, Tougias tells of his misadventures so amusingly that you keep turning the page to see what kind of trouble he will get into next.

“I once read that adventure is the result of ineptitude,” the author says. “I had lots of adventures. It’s the trips that didn’t go as planned, the days when nature threw a curve — those are the days I remember best. The days that went well and could be called successful are long since forgotten in the gray haze of marching time. But, oh, those lessons I learned the hard way — those seem like yesterday.”

Nature and water have been in Tougias’ DNA from a young age. A particular leitmotif runs throughout the book: “As far back as I can remember, I wanted a cabin in the mountains, a place to call my own. I didn’t know it at the time, but all my explorations in the woods were feeding this dream, making it something of an obsession. Even at a young age, I innately knew that if I wasn’t close to nature — at least periodically — something was missing.

“When you have a dream, do whatever you can to make it come true, and find creative ways to get closer to that goal,” Tougias said. “My dream was my cabin in the mountains, and long before I bought one, I was saving money for it from my paper route and bakery work during my teenage years, even using visualization to help make it come about. The picture I sketched out of the cabin, the ridge, and the pond helped. When I decided at age 22 to let a Realtor know I wanted to buy a cabin, the very first one she showed me looked remarkably like the layout in the sketch, even down to the exact placement of the stream that runs east of the cabin.”

He wished as well to have his father visit the cabin for some profound bonding. This yearning for a close relationship wends its way throughout the book. “Many of the adventures caused my father to question my sanity, and tested his patience … I was a wild kid and a magnet for trouble,” he writes. “Despite our differences, I instinctively knew my father loved me, but I felt he didn’t like me. There’s a difference, and being liked was what I craved at the time.”

Tougias says that while his father didn’t come to his soccer games or wrestling matches while he was in high school, he was there when he needed him most. Tougias says he wishes he and his father would have worked on communicating with each other more clearly, but that “I learned a lot from him — not by talking but by observing.”

Amid all Tougias’ adventures, a tragedy strikes his family that helped shape his perspective on his father. “The most powerful message is my father’s response to the tragedy. He showed that no matter how bad the event, a person can choose how to react, so he decided to respond with love and self-sacrifice. The amazing part is that he did not let the experience make him bitter or withdrawn. He kept his upbeat nature and sense of humor. I don’t think many of us could have pulled that off.”

“The Waters Between Us: A Boy, a Father, Outdoor Misadventures, and the Healing Power of Nature,” Lyons Press. Available online and at Island bookstores soon. Michael Tougias will talk about “The Waters Between Us” at the Oaks Bluff library on Thursday, May 13, at 7 pm. To learn more about the author, visit