Lessons from the Beach

One of the earliest memories I have as a child is walking barefoot on the beach with my dad. We lived in a house beside the ocean, so we walked along the shore nearly every day in the summer. Sometimes I held his hand; other times he gave me a piggyback ride, especially when my legs got tired on the walk back home.

My father always loved the ocean, so living in Ocean Bluff must have been a dream come true. Of course it was only natural he would expect his kids to love the ocean too. My mom, on the other hand, preferred sunbathing and wading — anything to keep her hair from getting wet.

Standing below my childhood home in Ocean Bluff, MA (2017)

I’m sure one of my parents’ greatest concerns was making sure their kids could swim. With waves crashing just a few feet below our patio, the fear of drowning was very real. I was probably around 7 years old when my brother and I were signed up for Red Cross swimming lessons held at a neighboring beach. We rode our bikes to the early morning lessons after school let out for the summer. I remember how cold that water was, and how my lips were blue and my teeth were chattering all the way home. I just jumped in the water and did what I was told figuring that was the quickest way I could get out and get warm again!

I’m not sure what those lessons accomplished, but I didn’t learn to swim. I think I got the basics of treading water, but that was about it. I also remember going to a summer camp that had an indoor pool, the first one I had ever seen. I was always the only kid in the shallow end, watching the other kids jumping and splashing around in the deep end. I didn’t learn to swim there either.

My cousins had an in-ground pool in their back yard. One Fourth of July we drove over there for a family gathering. I think my dad secretly hoped this would be  the day I would finally learn to swim. I watched him with envy as he dove off the diving board again and again. He made it look so easy! He kept encouraging me, telling me I could do it, but he didn’t pressure me.

I was tired of clinging to the edge. I remember slowly walking out onto that diving board, taking a deep breath, and jumping off.

I was terrified, but knowing my dad was watching me and was close by gave me the courage I needed to take that leap. And even though I got water up my nose, I didn’t drown. I bobbed to the surface and felt such a rush of excitement. I did it! I absolutely loved it and spent the rest of that day diving into the pool.

I knew swimming in the ocean would be different, but now I had the skills — and confidence — I needed to swim in deeper water. My dad taught me how to float, dive under the waves, body surf and snorkel. After that, I pretty much lived in the ocean every summer until we moved away.

To this day, even though I live far away from my childhood home, the ocean is my still happy place. It makes me think of my dad and the amazing times we shared together.

Just like my Heavenly Father, I will always love him for giving me the courage to leap, and for staying close enough to rescue me if I fall below the surface.

When Memory Fails

In the quiet times of day, and often in the middle of the night, I remember my dad. He has been gone for more than 30 years, but I still have conversations with him. I tell him about his grandchildren and share how much I miss him. I imagine what he is doing in heaven (painting or tending a garden, no doubt) and I trust with all my heart that I will see him again one day.

The memories of my father are even more important to me now, especially since my brother and I are the only ones who can recall them. Our mom suffers from dementia and she lost all recollection of our dad, “Freddie” as she called him, a few years ago. I remember so vividly how it felt like a stab to the heart when I was showing her my wedding album one

afternoon and she pointed to my dad and asked, “Who is this?” It seemed like all the air was sucked out of the room. When I recovered, I took the time to share all my memories of that special day, always searching her face for a glimmer of recognition. But there was none.

 

Trying to keep a memory alive when there is no capacity to store them is a painful thing. Sometimes I find myself reaching deep inside my mind to retrieve certain memories,  and the fear of losing those precious moments gives me an overwhelming urgency to share them.  A windy day at the beach. A camping trip in New Hampshire. A favorite board game. A family vacation. We talk about these memories whenever we are all together and we share the stories and pictures and random details that come to mind. For my brother and I, we understand that it may mean nothing to our mother, but for us, it is a crucial bridge in keeping Dad’s legacy alive.

And so, on this and every Father’s Day, Daddy.  you are forever in our memories and buried deep in our hearts.