Because this coming Sunday is Father’s Day, I wanted to share a story about my dad. Growing up, he was a playmate, an advocate, and always, a big supporter of whatever I have wanted to do and be. My dad will be 85 this September. He still lives in his own home, drives, shops, cooks, and he even has a girlfriend! I’m so grateful to still have him in my life.
For most of my childhood, my family lived on Long Island, the fish-shaped peninsula east of New York City. In sticky summer traffic it was an hour’s drive to Jones Beach.
Weekdays, when my mother took us, we went to the bay. At low tide I could wade out for practically a mile and the water never got higher than my bikini-bare waist. Far, far out, the bottom finally dropped to where I could stretch my feet to tippy toes, tilt my chin back and still be able to breathe.
Even on the brightest day, the water was a thick, murky brown. I kept my eyes closed underwater and wore nose plugs and did the Dead Man’s Float until I or my brother came up first, gasping and losing.
My mother stayed on the beach, watching us from the shade of the blue and white striped beach umbrella, guarding our towels and eyeglasses and the Styrofoam cool chest, filled with green grapes and ready peaches and my uneaten ketchup and corned beef sandwich.
On weekends and holidays when my father came along, we went to the ocean. He body-surfed through the waves with me, to just before where the big ones were breaking. When the wall of water whitecapped in front of us, he’d squeeze my hand and yell “Jump!” and we’d both push up off the pebble-shell bottom, taking deep breaths, just in case.
Sometimes I’d stand on his t-shirted shoulders so he could toss me into a high breaker. Once, instead of diving through the cresting water, I somersaulted too many times under the pounding swells. My head banged into someone else’s legs. Gritty salt water stung my eyes and flooded my nose.
I came up for air just as another wave crashed, but I couldn’t stand up because my bathing suit top had slipped up. I ducked back underwater and pulled my top down as the wave roared over me. When I finally resurfaced, my father was standing there laughing, a clump of seaweed stringing from his glasses.