Sink or Swim

With Father’s Day fast approaching, I’ve spent an unusual amount of time dwelling on my oftentimes difficult relationship with my father. My Dad was a military man who believed in harsh punishment for even the most minor infractions. For more serious violations my father often resorted to the dreaded belt to drive his disciplinary point home which only served to deepen my natural born fear of him – especially since my siblings and I infracted a lot.

I didn’t blame Dad for his strict demeanor as he hailed from a generation that disciplined with fear and intimidation. My Dad taught me many things – some of them good and some of them not so good, but he was still my father and I wanted nothing more than to be a Daddy’s little girl.

I’ll never forget the summer that my Dad taught me to swim. I was 12-years-old and long past the proper age for learning to swim. I was terrified of the water; an unfortunate phobic side-effect of losing a friend of mine to a fatal childhood drowning accident.   

Growing up in Michigan, a land teeming with hundreds of lakes and ponds, it was difficult to find any summer activities that didn’t include water. My Dad, being the rational parental figure that he was decided for my own safety I absolutely MUST learn to swim. One day on an afternoon boating cruise he anchored the craft in water that was deep enough for him to stand, but way over my short-for-my age head.  Without warning, Dad very unceremoniously grabbed me and jumped over the side of the boat. There I was – a clingy, desperately flailing, uncooperative swim student strapped to his chest like some sort of ill-fitting personal floatation device.

Most of Dad’s lesson passed in a terrified blur, punctuated with my occasional hiccupping sobs, pre-pubescent screaming protests and the ever-present threat of a spanking.  Long-story-short … in spite of my dad’s unconventional teaching methods, I somehow learned to swim and thanks to Dad’s dictatorial swim school, many years later I landed a sweet job as a Lifeguard.  

Last week I borrowed a page from my Dad’s unconventional swimming instruction manual and took my 18-month-old pup swimming. Much like my Dad, I dictated that she absolutely must learn to swim for her own safety should she ever accidentally fall into the backyard pool.  Even though my pup didn’t exactly take to the pool the way a duck takes to water, she managed to pull herself through the water with a smooth fluidity that was somehow lacking in my first swim lesson.  Her natural swimming ability merely proves yet again that God instills certain instinctual abilities in animals that He managed to forego in simple humans. 

The difference between my unsuspecting pup was that prior to her first lesson, she didn’t know enough to be afraid, while me as a young child had enough healthy fear stored up in me to choke a 150-pound Newfoundland water rescue dog. 

My Dad has been with Jesus for over a decade now and my patriarchal fear died with him.  My Dad wasn’t the worst dad ever, nor was he the best – but then, there’s no such thing as a perfect dad. Dads are inherently flawed simply by God’s design, since He didn’t create humans to instinctively know how to parent the same way dogs instinctively know how to swim.  

Towards the end of his life my Dad renewed his commitment to Christ so our relationship finished much better than it began as we were able to share the love of our Savior.  Even though I had a healthy fear of my Dad, I still loved him and I find that there isn’t a month that goes by that I don’t’ miss him.  Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  Thanks for the memories!

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