Dumbass Award — Eric, Charlotte Kaufman You Only Almost Killed Your Baby to Earn It

Dumbass Award — Eric, Charlotte Kaufman You Only Almost Killed Your Baby to Earn It

Unlike previous winners of the Red Forman Dumbass Award, Eric and Charlotte Kaufman are not household names. They aren’t politicians like Paul Ryan or Donald Rumsfeld. Nor did they seek out the limelight like George Zimmerman.

However, they have scored a Dumbass Award as an example to common everyday folk. If you do something stupid enough, you too can win a Red Forman Dumbass Award without being an A-list A-hole. They decided that they would sail around the world with their children, a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. Their incredible dumbassery forced the U.S. Navy to come to the rescue of the baby.

For those of you who haven’t watched the late and lamented “That ’70s Show,” Red Forman was a curmudgeonly father, a hard-working Korea War vet who just didn’t understand why his son and his friends behaved foolishly. He had a term for them: dumbasses.

What makes the Kaufmans dumbasses is not the fact that they thought it would be a good idea to take a 36-foot sailboat around the world, nor that they took their little daughters, nor that they ran into trouble so bad that the U.S. Navy had to rescue them. All of these are signs of poor judgment, but they don’t rise to the level needed to win a Red Forman. What did it was their statement after the rescue in which they actually defended their decisions.


Sailing around the world is not really my cup of tea, but lots of people sail across this sea or that ocean all the time. Some do it solo. Some row their boats to their destination. Some people, myself included, decided to have children. Not everyone does, but enough so that reproducing doesn’t seem that bizarre.

Where this starts to sound less than wise is when the Kaufmans combined the two and included the little kids as members of the crew. A family sailing places can be a wonderful thing; bringing the individuals closer is admirable. And if you have a surly teenager on your hands, you can always push him or her overboard (for that reason, my family never sailed at all). But a toddler and an infant at sea? Even if everything had gone right, this was going to be the trip from (or to) hell.

But two things went wrong, and both were easily foreseen. First, the baby got sick. Little Lyra was running a fever and had a rash covering most of her body; she didn’t respond to the medication they had on board. Since this wasn’t their first child, they should have known that babies get sick. Even when you’re just down the street from the pharmacy, a sick baby is bad, but manageable. When you’re 900 miles out to sea, it’s life threatening.

The second thing that went wrong was the failure of the steering mechanism. Machines break down; that’s part of life. But AAA won’t tow you to the nearest gas station if you’re in a boat miles from land.


After a satellite phone call for help from the Kaufmans, ABC news reported, “Four California Air National Guard members parachuted into the water and reached the boat Thursday night. The crew stabilized the girl, stayed by her side and then boarded the USS Vandegrift with the family Sunday morning.”

Note: any time four Guardsman have to parachute into the ocean to save your kid, you have screwed up in a world-beating way. The appropriate response is humility or perhaps even shame. Unless you want a Dumbass Award.

The Kaufmans issued a statement from the USS Vandegrift that read in part: “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.”

It couldn’t possibly be how the family lived for seven years since the older girl, Cora, is 3. Charlotte and Eric may have been footloose globe-trotters many years ago, but having a kid or two means dialing back on the adventure-of-a-lifetime kind of travel. As for being as prepared as any sailing crew, I don’t recall the California Air National Guard and the U.S. Navy doing this kind of thing on a daily basis. Seems to me that proves others are better prepared.


The Kaufmans are not hearty world travelers, nor are they modern-day explorers. They are dumbasses who endangered the lives of their children. And worst of all, they don’t seem to have learned a damned thing from this disaster.

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