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June 04, 2012

30 Days of Dads: Caleb Gardner

Today's 30 Days of Dads contributorCaleb Gardner, is an amateur father and husband who writes at The Exceptional Man and dabbles in photography, design, and music. When listening to the cacophony of modern-day America, Caleb prefers a side of Scotch. He calls Chicago home, and in winter, less-nice things.

This is Water. Really, Really Cold Water.

A little while ago, I was walking along the beach with my three-year-old son when he ran straight into the water. It was March, so the water was easily 50 degrees or colder, but that didn’t matter. He’s always been fearless in areas where his father tends to be kind of wimpy.

It was a very windy and wavy day, so I quickly took his hands so the waves wouldn’t pummel him to the ground and wash him out to sea. He resisted at first, but after realizing that was the only way I was going to let him be in the water – especially on a day when the ripe current warning was on high alert – he let me hold his hands as the waves crashed against him. Again and again, the icy cold water pounded against his tiny bare chest, and his reaction was to laugh and ask for more.

Occasionally the waves would get big enough that they would have gone completely over his head. Instead of allowing the briny water to get into his eyes, ears and lungs, I would lift him up over the waves so they would still only reach the edge of his chest. He got an extra dose of excitement out of this, because it meant a daddy ride in addition to the splashing water.

At that moment, I realized that he was depending on me for survival. That was probably a very dramatic thing to think, but it doesn’t make it less true. He was getting his thrills from the water, and I was letting it happen. But being the parent and knowing that the sensations he was experiencing came with their fair share of danger, I was letting it happen only to the extent that he could handle.

It’s at this point that I’m supposed to draw some kind of metaphor from this experience about what it means to be a father. Something about letting our kids explore the world, but still being their safety net. And so it goes.

Bullshit. The really amazing thing about this experience is that I remember it at all. That in the comings and goings of everyday life with my kids and wife and job and miscellany, an experience with my son can get stuck in my head long enough for me to write about it three months later. Maybe it was because I had presence of mind enough to realize what a postcard, footprints-in-the-goddamn-sand moment it really was. Or maybe the water really was that cold.

The only reason I bring it up now for you all is that I feel like I achieved in that moment what David Foster Wallace called “simple awareness,” or awareness of the little things that are hidden in plain sight during our everyday existence. Moments that remind us that we’re not, as much evidence as we have to the contrary, the centers of our own little universes.

As writers, bloggers, reflectors – don’t we know this better than most? I’d like to think we do. I’d like to think we use our writing as a way to point a mirror to the water all around us, instead of reinforcing megalomaniacal, cranky-about-nothing-important trivialities.

That’s my wish for myself at least this coming Father’s Day: that I’ll use whatever iota of influence I have, over my kids or whoever, to point to some kind of real consciousness. Because the alternative is having postcard moments that no one, not even me, notices. I’ll take cold water over lukewarm water any day.



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