This powerful and potent proclamation could make a Dad’s heart sing or make it weep. For me, for now, for today, it made it sing.
Let’s rewind the 20 minutes it took to arrive here.
I’m at the beach on an annual family vacation, and my brother-in-law broke out a pair of Boogie Boards and asked my girls if they wanted to give them a try.
A couple of short minutes later, they were floating on the boards awaiting just the right wave - my brother-in-law guiding/launching my younger daughter (5) as I prepared to do the same with the older (7).
As the first good wave amassed, I got her prepped and balanced on the board and faced her toward the shore. I took a couple of quick steps and gave a push to meet the wave and off she went…but only about 10 feet. My timing was off. She got on top of the wave for a bit and then just settled in behind it.
So, we regrouped and got ready for the next wave as I prepared to adjust my launch timing and technique. I pointed out which wave she would catch as it swelled well out beyond where we were. We readied the Boogie Board, a couple of steps…a push to launch…three feet…and the nose of the board goes straight down. Her legs went straight up. Her face went straight to the ocean floor as her nose and mouth ground into the sand. Her body flipped. Her board flew.
And, she popped up out of the water startled and scared, her frightened eyes hidden behind a curtain of wet, sandy hair. As she swept her hair from her face, she realized she was also hurting. I picked her up and she held tight to me as she worked through all of those feelings, the fear, the pain, the need for comfort, her head on my shoulder. As she settled down, I encouraged her to go back out and try again, but she wasn’t ready. While I generally push on this kind of thing (probably too hard), this time I totally understood. It was a solid crash and she needed to step away and regroup.
So, she walked out of the ocean and went and sat down with her Mom leaving behind what I guessed would be our last time riding the Boogie Board - at least for today. I felt bad.
I went back out with my other daughter and brother-in-law and shared the insight that I thought we had the girls too far up on their boards, that they needed to slide back to make sure the tip stayed up as they caught the wave. A seemingly obvious lesson learned the hard way, and at the apparent expense of my older child.
Within about 5 minutes, however, I look back to the shore and my daughter is standing there waiting, ready to come back in. I quietly swelled with pride. I strapped the board back to her wrist.
A new board position was all we needed and we became masters of the waves. After the first ride in, she stands triumphantly and exclaims: “I didn’t face plant!” This was obviously a good thing, but certainly a lower bar for success than we’d started with.
As they rode the waves, both girls were squealing in delight at the thrill and the speed and the freedom, the older one quickly replacing fear with fearlessness. Four or five rides later as she worked her way against the waves back out to where I was to prepare for another, she spontaneously turned her board and jumped on and caught a wave by herself - and road it all the way to dry land.
She climbed off her board and stood there on the sand beaming and yelled for all the beach to hear: “I don’t need you anymore, Daddy!”
I beamed as well, yelling back: “You sure don’t!”
She proceeded to ride several more waves on her own before rejoining me and picking up our previous routine - where I was allowed to help her launch, where we mastered the waves together.
What exactly had just happened over that brief 20 minutes?
She had trusted me.
I had failed.
She had fallen.
She was hurt.
I felt terrible.
The bar for success got lowered.
She grew confident.
She went out on her own.
She owned it.
She came back to me.
We continued together.
So, what was all of this?
Parenting is hard. And, most of us are kind of making shit up as we go - on some basic principles perhaps, but still making shit up. What do I, from a land-locked state (Tennessee), really know about Boogie Boards!? And yet, I will continue to make shit up, to screw up, and my girls will continue to be resilient and I will do my best to improve and make sure no permanent damage is done. Beyond that, I’m actually counting on them as much as they are counting on me.
Parenting is relentless and happens in a never-ending sequence of waves. We can’t understand, much less master, every wave. Waves, however, are just a series of peaks and valleys. The same wave that face-plants you is the one that can propel you to the shore. The one that instills fear can give you your greatest sense of freedom. The wave that almost breaks you is the one that shows you that it takes a lot more than you thought to actually break you.
Boogie Board life lessons for you, my love, and for me, your Daddy.
I started my morning the other day quite blissfully - which is honestly rarely how I would characterize the start of my days. This particular morning, I was taking my kids to camp and daycare, which my wife does most mornings (I do pickups), and so I had just a few extra minutes in my morning schedule to be with my girls - and they had both woken up a bit early.
If that weren’t enough, Wimbledon was on, and that’s what my girls actually wanted to watch! (parenting victory) So, there I was on a work morning, lying on my couch, my arm around one girl on my shoulder and rubbing the head of the other who was lying on my legs. Some mornings, I don’t even get to see them, so this was a pretty magical way to start the day.
And then, the questions:
Which player is that one?
Who’s the other one?
Which one lives closer to us?
Is Serbia in New York?
What is Belgium?
Who’s the guy in the chair? (umpire)
Why is he wearing that coat? (well, it’s just the custom, I guess.)
What’s a custom? (…something people just do because they do it…)
Who are those people against the wall? (line judges)
Why do they yell? (they say if the ball is outside of the lines)
What are they yelling? (out)
Why do they have blue shirts on? (…)
Who are those people with their hands behind their backs? (ball boys and girls)
Why do they have their hands behind their backs? (um…to keep them out of the way…)
Why do they hold their hand up in the air? (to offer the player the ball to serve)
What’s a serve? (how they start a point)
Why is that guy throwing the ball in the air? (that’s the serve)
Is it over? (no, that was just one point.)
Who is winning? (the guy closest to us)
Why is it 4 to 3?
Why does he have 30 points?
Why did he get 15 points?
Did he win? (no, it’s deuce)
What is deuce? (40-40)
Did he win? (no, it’s his advantage though)
How do you win?
Did he win? (he won the game, but it’s just 4-4 in the set)
What’s a set? (it’s made of of games and part of a match)
You probably get the idea - and probably did about 10 to 15 questions ago!
For the briefest moment, I wanted them to hush and watch the match - or I really didn’t care if they did, but I did, and I wanted them to let me do it in peace. But, the question barrage was so fierce and so valid that it became the sport itself. It added to the morning bliss.
I love tennis. But, it is very odd and chock full of quirky rules and customs that I simply can’t explain. I can only offer them as fact - that’s how they do it in tennis. This just happens to be a very unsatisfying answer to both me and my girls.
And, I started to think about all of the new things that they experience almost every day that are just like tennis to them. New. Quirky. Arbitrary. Full of weird adult rules. And, yet sometimes entertaining. In some ways at their age, it’s all tennis to them.
Thus, my paternal wish from this little blissful morning scene: may my girls always find themselves in weird, arbitrary, and entertaining places, having new experiences, and with quirky people where they are flush with questions and are empowered to ask and learn - or at least to ask.
Photo: A Brief History of Wimbledon