After three days in Delray Beach at my father’s house for spring break, our family finally made our way to the local public beach. It was a sunny but very windy day. My middle son, Matthew, noted the wooden sign with the lifeguard flag colors as we strolled down the boardwalk towards the sand. Red meant strong currents and waves. Caution needed to be taken.
I hadn’t intended on inviting my father along for the trip to the beach. We were clearly on the brink of wearing out our welcome and know his desires for alone time after chaotic days (same as me). My husband, afflicted with a terminal brain disease that robs him of his judgment, invited my father to go with us. To my surprise, he graciously accepted. For three days, my husband had latched on to my dad in a way that he never had before. They played a word game on my husband’s cell phone, prepped the boat for an afternoon ride, shared stories, and laughed at each others jokes. My husband loved the attention and acceptance as his disease often causes others reject his quirkiness.
On arrival to the beach, we spread our frayed quilt on the sand and surveyed the waves. The red flag was visible at the lifeguard stand. A slew of kite surfers were down the beach tearing up the waves generated by the high winds. Only a handful of swimmers were in the water no deeper than knee deep. I began to explain to my husband who was obviously eager to get into the water that he needed to watch out for the undertow. He gave me a confused look. My father joked that he could end up in Miami if he wasn’t careful. That still did not register with my husband so I worked harder to tell him how the ocean could pull him unexpectedly hard down the beach. If he felt the undertow, to please get out of the water. He turned and looked at the waves and nodded unconvincingly that he understood.
My husband grabbed a boogie board and headed down to ride the waves. My 14 and 6 yr old sons stripped down to their suits and headed to the water as well with the other boogie board.
Years ago, my husband was the parent concerned with our children’s safety at all times. It was his parental role. Surely, my husband would note the danger in the water today after our discussion of the undertow and assist the six year old with the boogie board making sure he stayed close. Nope. My husband began trying to ride his own boogie board – laughing, making sure I was watching him and enjoying his antics. I split my attention between the six year old struggling with his board and my husband. My quiet beach trip came to an abrupt end. I sprinted to the wave breaks trying to manage both my husband and six year old. It was clear my husband would not be watching the younger one and did not understand the dangers for himself in the water. My eyes paced between the two wondering what to do. I couldn’t save my physically much larger husband if something went wrong. I couldn’t take my eyes off the six year old long, either. I ran back to our quilt and unloaded my cell phone and keys commenting that I was preparing to go in when needed.
My dad sensed my panic and anxiety over my family being in the water and me not being able to manage them all. The six year old kept floating further south, and I had to redirect him back up the beach. My husband was falling in the water unable to get back up for multiple wave strikes. His balance was completely off that day. I must have asked him 10 times, “Are you ok?” He smiled like nothing was amiss at all. My dad made his way to the water’s edge. He kept his focus on my husband. I continued to manage the six year old. My son eventually grew tired of the water and headed back up to the beach to play in the sand. I followed him.
Knowing my baby was safe, my breathing finally resumed. I sat down on the quilt and looked back at the ocean. My 6’4” gray haired 73 yr old dad stood vigilant at the shore keeping an eye on my husband. He never said he was there to help. He never made my husband aware of this purpose. He just stood and made sure nothing happened to him. I knew his intent. I knew he had my back. I knew in that moment that he understood my struggle to be everything I needed to be to my kids and my husband – to keep them safe and happy. The strength of his frame against the ocean and its tumbling waves is one I will not easily forget.
My husband eventually left the water and stood on the sand. I carefully laid back and closed my eyes. My middle son laid on top of me to absorb my warmth. My father quietly sat then laid back next to me. We weren’t touching, but I could feel his presence. All I said was, “I can finally relax.” He replied with, “It took you three days to relax?” And I said, “Yes. It took three days.”
No other words were needed. He knew he gave me a gift for three days – a break that I desperately needed. He showed me the love of a parent even to an adult child. He understood my complicated life. His actions were quiet but not unnoticed. Thank you dad. Thank you.