I’ve Failed My Kids as a Marine Aquarium Mentor!

mentor-fail2When my son and daughter, Aidan and Hannah, were youngsters, both seemed to share my enthusiasm for marine aquariums. Even when they were just toddlers, they loved peering into my tanks—often leaving sticky little handprints on the glass in the process—and helping ol’ Dad with his aquarium chores in any way they could.

I can still recall each of them at different times standing next to a five-gallon bucket—almost as big as themselves—and helping me mix up batches of salt water with a wooden stirring stick. Hannah once even had her own little tank containing a blue devil damsel named “Blueberry.”

However, as painful as it is to acknowledge, somewhere between that time and this, my kids not only transformed into cynical young adults (one in college, the other in high school), but they also lost all interest in aquariums, completely and utterly. Heck, they don’t even seem to notice my tanks are there anymore, let alone spend any time viewing the livestock.

I guess I just assumed their early fascination would eventually blossom into a full-blown passion for marine aquariums, just as it had for me, and that the hobby would be something we could share for a lifetime. Boy, was I wrong!

Where things went off track, I’m not exactly sure, but here are a few theories I’ve been toying around with:

1) They’re not my children

This was my first assumption. After all, how could anyone who shares my DNA have no interest whatsoever in marine aquariums? So, the only logical explanation is either that they were fathered by someone else or that they’re genetically engineered alien replicants designed to look like my kids. My wife assures me the former isn’t true, but she can’t—or won’t!—vouch for the latter. (Note to self: She could be one of them. Check for pods in basement!)

2) Dad = dork

Only slightly more probable than the alien replicant theory is the possibility that the kids who once looked up to me as the heroic possessor of all wisdom and manly traits now see me as something of a bumbling, embarrassing moron who peaked in the ‘80s. Thus, to them, my fascination with marine aquariums is about as cool and trendy as stonewashed jeans and mullets. (Okay, in their defense, I did have a pretty severe mullet at one time, but I gave up that look years ago—like in 2011!)

3) I pushed too hard

Yet another possibility is that, every once in a while, I came on a teensy, weensy bit too strong in my efforts to cultivate their interest in marine aquariums, for example the period in which I referred to my Niger trigger as “their brother Triggsy.” Or all those times I made them match fish to their scientific names on flashcards. Or when I tried to persuade them to dress as coral polyps for Halloween. Or…

4) They’re just plain jaded

Perhaps the most likely explanation is simply that they’ve been around marine aquariums for so long that they just don’t take notice of them anymore. I guess this is understandable, considering there’s never been a time in their lives when they weren’t sharing their living space with fish and corals. Nonetheless, it’s regrettable. It’s a shame to think that something so special to me is just “meh” to them, but then what’s a salty parent to do?

Maybe if I’d made them spend more time with those flashcards…


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About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.


  1. Paul Baldassano says

    If you put an I pad or MPs player in your tank, they would be interested. But fish are not electronic or virtual and don’t connect with Wy Fi,
    so of no use what so ever.

    • I think you’re on to something, Paul. Maybe I should put a poster board with a big hash tag on it next to each tank.

      • Brody Lavoie says

        This was a great read Jeff.

        I’ve been a marine enthusiast for years and now with young children of my own I’m trying to teach them about it as well.

        As you had mentioned and experienced, they are very interested in it right now and love to help out however they can. Trips to the local LFS are not complete without my helpers close by.

        Here’s hoping that down the line as they become older and settle into their own homes that they remember the passion they once shared with dad and decide to pass it along to their own children.

        • Thanks so much for your kind words, Brody! I, too, hope your kids stick with it–or at least rekindle that passion at some point in their lives. Maybe my kids will come back around eventually. If not, I may have to hold out until they give me grandkids.

        • Chris Aldrich says

          I’m in the same boat as you, Brody. My little guy loves the “fishies” and taking trips to the LFS. At almost 2 years old, he even does a darn good job pointing out various inhabitants he’s particularly fond of in the reef.

          I hope my passion for the ocean and keeping aquariums turns into a long-term love affair for him, too, but only time will tell. In the meantime, back to brainwashing… 🙂

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