I should lie. It won’t do my image any favors to admit the truth. A request to teach my 14-year-old son how to swim? How could any father ever show anything but the greatest willingness to help? And yet, the needle on my enthusiasm meter never soared much above the dizzying heights of 1%.*
Obviously, the moment my wife noticed my lack of eagerness, she started on my guilt buttons like someone playing Danny Boy on the concertina.
“How could you be so heartless?” she asked.
I didn’t know how I could be so heartless.
“Why would you dash his hopes so?”
I didn’t know why I would dash his hopes so.
“When someone makes a promise, isn’t it only right to keep it.”
When someone made a promise, I nodded, it was only right to keep it.
“Right then,” she said, “I promised our son you’d teach him to swim. How can you possibly refuse?”
Somehow, I felt I’d missed a step in this argument, but one look at my wife’s steely countenance was enough to persuade me that some avenues of thought are better left unexplored.
Since further attempts to persuade my darling sweetheart to change her mind offered little beyond the prospect of eye injury, I decided to approach my son directly and try to negotiate. I began by craftily noting that though swimming might sound like fun, it involved a certain amount of getting wet. As someone who didn’t even like washing behind his ears, perhaps he’d prefer learning to ride a bicycle instead.
I felt certain this argument was a sure-fire winner. Irritatingly, my son insisted on dredging up the fact that I’d already taught him how to ride a bicycle seven years earlier. This shouldn’t have been an insurmountable obstacle to a couple of sensible fellows of good will. Unfortunately, my son maintained an altogether unreasonable insistence that he couldn’t just forget how to ride a bicycle so that I could teach him how to do it all over again. My wife took his side, and it was soon obvious that I’d either be swimming with my son or swimming with the fishes.
In the end, I agreed to teach him, but with much the same level of enthusiasm with which one might enter an international bang-your-thumb-with-a-mallet competition. There were several reason for my reluctance. One was that, based on comments he’d had made, I suspected my son might have slightly overestimated my ability. Whereas for him able to swim meant something like “shortlisted for Rio,” for me it was closer to “capable of reaching the nearest bank of a particularly deep puddle.” Since I knew my son had already been getting lessons of some kind at his school, it did not seem impossible that he might in fact be a more accomplished swimmer than I was.
Then there was the question of revealing my torso in all its glory to the eyes of an unsuspecting world. Let me just repeat in this post, as I have in several others, that I am not actually overweight. My problem has never been the total amount of me, merely the fact that there is far too much me in some places and not nearly enough of me in others. In particular, I tend to put on weight at the hips and just can’t seem to move it, although I’ve tried everything – except eating less or exercising, obviously.
Still, there seemed no way of avoiding the swimming lesson, so the next question was to decide where and when this sporting masterclass was to take place. My preference was for a quiet, indoor swimming pool at a suitable hour, such as 3 a.m. My wife and son soon made it known, however, that they thought it would be better as part of a weekend trip we were already planning to take into the countryside. We would be going right past a number of suitable beaches, they said, so why not stop at one for a couple of hours?
Smelly seaweed, jagged shell fragments, stinging jellyfish, toxic oil spills, great white sharks, unexploded mines – I threw everything I could think of against the idea. Sadly, it soon became clear that no mere tsunami warning or sighting of the Loch Ness Monster, however credible, was likely to deter my wife and son.
The date of our trip was chosen and the most appropriate beach selected. At this point, it is important to remember the words of the great and very nearly comprehensible Scottish poet Robert Burns:
“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley [often go awry].”
So it was that despite my best efforts, on the day of the trip, tragedy struck. The skies were clear, the sun was shining and the seas were calm. Worse still, when we eventually arrived at the beach, I was immediately dejected to discover the sand was pristine, the water unpolluted and the facilities good. For a few brief seconds, it looked like I might yet achieve a last minute reprieve when my wife realized she’d forgotten to bring the pump for the inflatable rings. Obviously, there was no way I could allow my beloved family members, neither of whom could swim well, to wade up to their knees in the ocean without inflatable protection. I could always blow the rings up by myself, of course, but…
I gave a couple of heart-wrenchingly feeble coughs, and was just about to go full nineteenth-century consumptive heroine, when my son pointed to a free air pump next to the place where you wash sand from your feet. I struggled to contain my joy at this thrilling news, but managed it somehow.
All too soon, the rings were fully inflated, and so there was nothing for it but to make my way down toward the water, stare right in the eye of anyone who glanced in my direction, and challenge them to make something of it. Once I was safely up to my chest in the surprisingly warm and pleasant water, it was time for the quality father/son time to begin.
“Okay, let’s learn how to swim.”
“Nah, that’s okay, Dad. I’m happy just sitting here on this inflatable ring.”
And so it was that I spent the next couple of hours standing in the ocean, looking around for something to do.
* margin of error ±1%
Text and picture © Bun Karyudo and the BunKaryudo.com blog (2016)
(All rights reserved)
This post originally appeared on my main blog on August 10th, 2016.