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Friday, June 23, 2006 | Since my daughter is only three years old, celebrating Father’s Day as a father is still relatively new for me.
I haven’t had too many yet but this most recent one will be hard to top for many reasons but especially the emotional extremes I experienced.
My wife and I decided to spend Father’s Day away from home up the coast in Huntington Beach and have a relaxing weekend at the Hilton up there.
It was relaxing for me anyway because our room had two twin beds and Alex wanted to “snuggle” with Mommy. That meant I got a bed all to myself for the first time since February, 2005 when I went to Iceland (Oh, the lengths I’ll go just to stretch my legs when I sleep).
When I was single and went on vacation, I used to try to cram in all the sights. Now that I’m a Dad, I try to focus on the little things – like doing nothing. I figured Alex would be happy at the beach or at the pool so I didn’t expect to actually move more than 10 feet the whole trip.
I actually moved a little bit more because now that we have an infant son, it’s my duty to chase after my daughter, splash in the pool with her, and then chase after her some more.
Oh, the chasing is fun for a few minutes, and then I start wishing she was one of those obese kids who would rather sit and watch videogames instead of run around.
There’s always next year.
Although I had planned to sit around on my butt all weekend, like everything in my life since my daughter was born, my plans were changed for me. It seems the hotel offers surfing lessons and my wife thought it might be nice for me to try since I have lived 41 years in San Diego without ever trying to ride a surfboard once.
As she puts it, “The best Father’s Day gift you can give your kids is being willing to try something new.” That’s a nice philosophy but not if all you want to do is eat, sleep and eat and sleep some more.
Still, my mind was made up for me, especially when Alex sounded really excited about me surfing.
“Are you going to be a surfer, Daddy?”
“Would you like that?”
“Well, that settles it.”
Huntington Beach calls itself “Surf City U.S.A.” – which is a great town slogan, as town slogans go. Especially since it doesn’t have the ironic baggage of “America’s Finest City” – but my lesson was scheduled to take place in Newport Beach, California, with an instructor from a beach-oriented business called Toes On The Nose.
I was a little bit afraid to surf because I’m not the best athlete and because wetsuits accentuate my love handles. Really accentuate them. Seriously, I look like the Pillsbury Doughboy’s black neighbor.
Despite my fear of looking silly and fat, my surf instructor, Todd, managed to make it easy for me – easy enough that I was actually staying on the board by the end of my lesson.
I’ve body surfed before but surfing gave me a feeling of empowerment that I took with me back to the hotel. I told my wife that I was a changed man and insisted to Alex that she call me “Surfer Daddy” from now on.
“Daddy, we’re going to the beach.”
“You mean, Surfer Daddy, we’re going to the beach.”
“You’re Surfer Daddy?”
“I am Surfer Daddy.”
That excited Alex. Owen, who was asleep, seemed nonplussed.
Still, I wasn’t going to let his lack of interest keep me from enjoying this emotional high.
So, we go to the beach. Even though it was just across the Pacific Coast Highway from our hotel, it was an expedition that required great planning on the part of my wife. Every bag, umbrella, tote, cooler and sand toys were carefully laid out so that nothing would be left in our room.
Once we got on the beach, we managed to have the time of our lives. My wife and Owen laid out while Alex played in the sand and attempted to build a castle for two sand crabs she found, which she named “Crink” and “Cunk.”
Meanwhile, I fell asleep and dreamed that she was working with developer Doug Manchester and trying to change the previously approved sand castle plans into something that would wall off the beach from everyone else.
Luckily, I woke up and it was all just a dream.
What happened later was more of a nightmare.
After a few hours, my wife and I decided to pack up so I took the sand toys to the water to wash them off. I dropped a few items so she followed me and helped me rinse the dirt off a bucket and a sifter.
Then we looked around.
“She was right there a second ago.”
“I don’t see her.”
Our neighbors on the beach noticed our worried faces.
“Are you missing your little girl?”
“I don’t know. Have you seen her?”
“Go tell the lifeguards.”
My wife ran toward a nearby tower, while I scanned the sand and the ocean. My stomach fell towards my feet when I looked at the waves and wondered if my daughter actually went into the surf.
At the same time, my wife ran around our area of the beach, while the woman next to us kept an eye on Owen. We never met her before but she was starting to cry at the thought that our daughter was lost.
Me, I tried to stay mellow and convince myself that everything was all right but, frankly, I was scared ****less. I didn’t want to think the worst but, admittedly, I worried that Alex might be lost forever and I would never see her again.
I started wondering if I would – or could – reverse my recent vasectomy when someone asked my wife, “Do you have a lost child?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Well, I think that’s her over there” and pointed to a small blonde-haired blob about 100 yards away.
My wife ran towards her as some beach cops on quads drove up as well. I stayed back to hold down the fort and watching Owen.
The woman next to us started crying harder once she knew Alex was safe. I appreciated her concern but wasn’t sure if I should thank her for having tears for our child.
What happened next was a mother and child reunion worthy of Paul Simon (but without the reggae beat). My wife was so happy Alex was safe that she didn’t want to spank her (especially because you never know how strangers will react to corporal punishment).
One of the police officers told Alex “never walk away from your parents again.”
But Alex didn’t get it. She wasn’t missing enough to feel lost herself so she had no idea of the hell she’d just put us through. With all the logic a 3-year-old possesses, (meaning none!), she told us that she walked away “’cause I just wanted to go away on my own.”
We kept trying to get it in her head that she did something wrong in all sorts of ways. But it didn’t get through to her. I’m all for spanking but I don’t think she would’ve made the connection of what she did with why she was being spanked.
Finally, I helped her make the connection during story time. There’s a character I’ve made up named “Humbadee Dumda,” who often features in stories. Almost as a dare, she asked to tell a story about him running away.
So I told her about how Humbadee Dumda ran away and ended up being taken home by “mean people” and added with dark emphasis, “He never saw his mommy, daddy, grandma or grandpa again – ever!”
Alex started crying and it finally dawned on her that the world can be a dangerous place. It finally dawned on me too.
My wife and I were completely emotionally exhausted by the experience and it made realize that now that I’m a father, I don’t want to go back to where I was before. I might miss some aspects of single life (like money, freedom, and renting R-rated DVDs) but I would never choose them over my kids.
Despite the emotional roller coaster, my wife and I enjoyed our vacation in Huntington Beach and plan to bring our kids there again. However, next time, we’re packing a leash along with the sand toys.
David Moye is a La Mesa-based writer whose favorite Father-related song is “Daddy, Don’t Live In That New York City No More” by Steely Dan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or write a letter to the editor.