Pummelled

The green flag meant conditions were favorable to swim. A sand bar on the shore looked like a long glass table as waves spread seawater thin across it. This is the day to get my boy on the water, I thought.

He’s a cautious kid who prefers to take imaginative risks. When he challenged me to a sword duel, I began to lure him in.

“Only the bravest of knights will join me in the water,” I said, one arm at my side, the other pointing a coffee-stirrer-sword at my son. I dropped my tone to imitate the villains from our audio books.

The water was calm. Each wave dried up, resembling latte foam by the time it reached my feet. My boy insisted on keeping the higher ground.

After half an hour, I came to him and asked, “Why don’t you want to come in the water with me?”

He put his hands into his mouth, his go-to move when a question probes beyond his emotional intelligence.

“You can hold my hand and I’ll stay with you the whole time.”

“You’ll never let go?”

“I’ll never let go.”

We stood in the easy surf. I showed him how wet sand is great to make footprints in, and if you stand in one place, you’ll sink as the waves recede. We went wooahh whenever water raced past our feet.

“Was that a big one daddy?”

“Sure was bud. You’re doing great. Can I let go of your hand? I’ll stay right here close to you.”

“OK Daddy.”

When the next wave came he started waving his hands in fear.

“It’s OK. You got this.”

His confidence grew. I was even able to walk up the sand bank, pull up a chair and read a little. I remarked to my mom, “If this is all he does today, it is a win!”

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Big ups to Yaya, aka Grandma for snapping great pictures that day. This one is called progress.

Then new plans starting hatching. I’ve always had trouble idling. A part of my addictive nature will always want to push a little more, stretch the joy a little thinner, even when I have ample proof that I stretch it until it snaps like a rubber band.

But after all, there are only so many green-flag beach days, only so many opportunities to get him in the ocean at this age, so many days that he is willing to take the risk—

I picked him up. “Let’s go see these waves.”

“No-no-no Daddy—I don’t want to get my head wet.”

His fear of getting water in his eyes is known to all brave souls who have dared wash his hair.

“I’ll hold you the hold time.”

“You won’t let me go?”

“I promise I’ll never let you go.”

“OK Daddy.”

I hoisted him up. His legs wrapped around my waist. Waves came and crashed at my knees and hips, spraying water all over. Swimmers bobbed over the top of each break mid-conversation.Woaahh we said. “Was that a big one Daddy?”

“That was a big one bud.”

It was when I was ready to submit my claim for father of the year—getting an ocean-timid toddler from the sand to the breaker—that a wave twice my height appeared two parking spaces away. Swimmers dove underneath it. 2 options came to mind fast.

I could either force him underneath or take my chance over the top. I stepped forward. Water sucked us into the wave. As I left my feet, it crashed straight down on our heads. It felt like that trick where someone kneels down behind you while another pushes you over them, only with the force of a 12 foot wave.

I held on to him as we drifted weightless underwater, my feet flailing to find bottom. I never let go. He gasped for air as I walked him back to umbrella shade. I tried to laugh it off like it was everyday excitement. He kept moaning.

“We got pummeled bud.”

“Pummeled?”

“Yeah, pummeled. But did I ever let you go?”

“No.” He was shaking. “Daddy? Sing me a song.”

I started one.

“No-no-no. Daddy, sing me the song you sing when I was a baby.”

“Tambourine man?”

“Yeah, Mistah Tambo-wean man.”

I didn’t know he remembered that I sang that song to put him to bed every night when he was an infant. Poor guy. Traumatized by the wave and now wrapped in a towel, he reverted back to that infantile comfort.

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Dad tries in vain to laugh it off.

You never know when the big wave will come.

I was raised to stand on my own. If my father didn’t foster independence in me, I may not have survived the bigger waves that pummelled my life—the waves of addiction and powerlessness over alcohol. I’m all too eager to pass on that independence to my son. I want him to be able to brace for life’s adversities on his own.

And that desire got us both in over our heads.

As my son fell asleep in my arms, I was renewed in the appreciation that I still get to hold him as the big waves break. One day I’ll have to let him go.

Just not today.

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15 Responses to “Pummelled

  • Sharon White
    12 months ago

    All I can say is WOW. I find it difficult to put into words the way this made me feel. I could identify with the desire to instill independence in my own son. It also called up the feelings that I did that job too well. We need to be independent and strong, but we also need to remain vulnerable and willing to accept help, or sooner or later life can overwhelm us, like a big wave.

    That is the Catch 22 in life. How do we not only be strong and vulnerable at the same time, but how do we pass that knowledge on to our children, or anyone we care about. Cautious and brave all at the same time.

    We do our best, realize that we will make mistakes, but even those can help our children. It lets them know that mistakes are not the end of the world. That above anything they do, we hold them always, if not in our arms, then in our hearts. Love to you both.

    • Thank you for this incredible feedback! Yes, it is such a fine line between caution and courage. We’re all in this thing learning together!

  • Awesome post, Mark. This was really good.

  • Great post 🙂 l live along the NC coast so it really resonates with me…”stretch the joy a little thinner”…what a great phrase!

  • Mark – this echoes an experience of mine this weekend on the English Coast. Smaller waves mind you. My eldest (he’s 5) and I stood at the shore. Ever my cautious child, he gradually gained confidence to the point where he was wave-jumping with delight, handling falling over and the dreaded “water-on-face” with aplomb. My heart was in my mouth the whole time, but I still loved it. I want him to be braver than his mother! Red xx

    • Wow, exactly similar! I am happy to report that my boy got back in the ocean with me today. It wasn’t a traumatized for life kind of experience, thank God!

      • That’s good news – I know from my kids these things can be a major setback! Enjoy, these moments are pretty awesome. I remind myself that when I’m exhausted & it’s an hour past their bedtime and chaos still reigns.. 😉

  • I found symbolism in this piece to what I’m currently going through. As my one year birthday comes up so do the memories of the destruction I caused for the person I love the most and whose trust I broke.

    You could say we finally got to the point where we can hold hands and watch the waves break at a distance. Of course, I want to move forward and he reluctantly follows. Then a big wave comes out of nowhere and pummels us but I hold on for dear life and don’t let him go.

    Trust, once broken, is so hard to gain back. But I keep doing it. One day at a time.

    Thank you for sharing your writing with us. I always find something meaningful that I feel is G-d’s way of showing me what I need to be working on.

    • What a great reflection on the piece Jenny. One day at a time is right. Not regretting the past is a promise I’ve come to in sobriety. It certainly didn’t come quickly. But stay on the road you’re on. It’s a good one. Almost a year? Congratulations!

  • So often your writing stirs up emotions in me that have been pushed down and buried. In this case my biological father teaching me to swim. It involved throwing me in over and over again. And hanging me over bridges and ferries by my wrists.

    I try so hard to not be angry with my biological father. And I am not. I feel deeply sad for him but I am not angry. But I do feel this anger/sadness at what I might have been like with a father that saw my sensitive and gentle side and allowed and nourished it. I do have a step-dad that came when I was 6 and did everything and then some. But the damage was done. I am damaged goods now. I am afraid all the time. I am never, not for even a second not afraid.

    • Wow Birdie, thanks for your honesty. I truly believe, when it comes to parenting and such, we’re all just doing the best we know how to do. I’m so glad there’s a place for you to share this, and maybe not relieve your fear, but at least feel some relief.

  • Once again another winner, Mark. Pure joy exuding from this one, and a shot to the solar plexus of integrity, humility and life lessons. You’re a fantastic father, and your journey is only going to help your children’s path into life that much stronger and open. Thank you again for this – powerful work.

  • Lovely piece, Mark. Each sentence glows with the acumen of a well-honed pen (or computer keyboard as it may be). Your prose is nearly as winsome and exuberant as your poetry. I envy the skill you have! Keep writing! Maybe some of that writerly awesomeness will pass on to your kids—I have a feeling that the apple doesn’t fall from the tree. (Could be concerning, too!)

  • How wonderful to read about a great Dad in the sea of Mom blogs out there! I could actually feel that wave! Made me want to cry too, in a good way!

  • I love this story, brought a tear to my eye. <3
    Diana xo

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