My dad is the one who taught me to swim.
First, my mom signed me up for a swimming class that was being offered through my preschool. It went very badly. First of all, she woke me up in the middle of the night (I’m guessing it was an early 8:00am class, and in order to arrive at the preschool in time to take the bus to the community center to go swimming we had to leave the house before the sun came up). It seemed to be inhumane to wake up so early, especially to do something terrifying. I was screaming and crying before we left the house, and I arrived to take the bus with tear-streaked cheeks, clutching a granola bar that was supposed to substitute for breakfast. I begged my mom to let me not go, but she murmured something about how swimming was an important life skill. I wasn’t going to win this battle, but I put up a fight.
I didn’t want to swim, and refused to enter into the freezing, chlorinated water unless I had two floatation devices around my waist and “water wings” on my arms. I was no fool! The pool was scary, and full of splashing, screaming children. I wanted nothing to do with swimming. I did kind of like being in the water and clutching the sides of the pool wall, however. My main achievement after the 4 or 6 or 8 weeks of swimming class was finally jumping into the pool, with said flotation devices securely in place, into the arms of an instructor.
A different approach to teaching me to swim was definitely needed. Dad started taking me to the YMCA. I was anxious at first, but always felt safe in his arms, even if we were in the water. He would hold me for as long as it took for me to relax. He taught me how to float, how to paddle like the dogs in my favorite cartoon. He gradually let me go in the water, and he’d have me splash my way into his open arms. One day, he brought me back to my mom’s house and I proudly told her I knew how to swim.
When I face my fears and float through adversity, I have to give Dad credit for showing me how. He was, and is, a gentle teacher, an incredible father.
Grief for my mother has taught me the importance of appreciating what I have today. Happy Father’s Day, to my dad, to my stepfather,to the other men in my life who have supported me and helped me grow. I am grateful for you.