Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Fetching Torpedoes

It’s summertime and my 11-year-old son wants to do nothing but three things -- swim, swim and after that swim some more.

He’s part human. I think his love for swimming, however, comes from the fish in him.

I used to be just like him when I was his age. Living in Southern California, I spent entire years in the pool. I definitely get it. But I have to draw the line at midnight. Hey, you’ve gotta rest. And so does everyone else in the neighborhood who can hear him swimming.

“Dad, can we go swimming?” he asked one summer night way past 11 p.m.

“It’s too late,” I told him. “In other words, no loud splashing.”

It was a glorious time, morning, noon and night. And then the torpedoes hit.

My son’s friend tossed a dozen missile-shaped dive toys into the pool for a game of fetch. The underwater dummy warheads plummeted deep into the deep, deep end. Eight and a half long feet down.

My son can swim. He just can’t dive. He’s touched the bottom of the pool once. With his foot. At least one of his toes brushed the floor of the pool, though it might’ve been more like the wall.

After failing miserably to reach one torpedo, my son retreated from the pool to his room where he’d never come out as long as he lives.

“You can’t just give up,” my wife told him, like that’d change his mind.

“OK, can you teach me, then?” he asked.

Back at the pool, my wife tossed a few torpedoes into the pool and told my son to fetch. He dove in. He came right back up, sans torpedoes.

“I can’t get them,” he said.

“We’re not leaving until you do,” my wife replied, going for tough love.

They weren’t leaving.

This is where I entered. Picture Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid.” Time for a little “wax on, wax off” and “paint the fence,” but with swimming. I sent the wife inside while the boy and I got to it.

“You can’t just jump in and chase torpedoes,” I said. “Swim over to the shallow end and go under for as long as you can hold your breath.”

He wasn’t under long.

“I think I’m ready!” he announced when he came up for more air than he could catch.

He wasn’t close to ready. I ordered him to go underwater again and to stay under until he was completely and absolutely out of air. Each subsequent time he had to beat his previous time. I was conditioning him to be comfortable while submerged, not panicked like I know he was when he was going after the torpedoes.

Then we moved further and further out toward the deep end.

Halfway out, my son announced that he had dreams of dying in the water.

“There’s more at stake here than mere life,” I said. “I told Mommy that I’d have you fetching torpedoes within the hour. You’ll stay alive until then.”

I wasn’t worried. The kid was progressing nicely, gradually becoming more comfortable with going underwater. Remember in “The Karate Kid” when Daniel-san discovers he can defend himself by demonstrating “wax on, wax off” and “paint the fence”? That’s where we were in the training.

“I think I’m ready now!” my son announced after being under water for 20 seconds.

He wasn’t close to ready. We kept working. He stayed under water longer each time. He went deeper and deeper in the pool. When he finally stopped saying he was ready, I told him he was ready.

“Let’s go get some torpedoes,” I said.

The kid took a quick rest on a lounger at poolside. Then it got real. He stepped into the water at the shallow end and swam out, way out to the deep, deep end, slowly to save energy and air. He took some serious breaths -- I’ve seen large air mattresses that could’ve been filled with just half of those breaths.

Then he just did it. He went down and came up with three torpedoes, no problem.

“It was like the final finale in ‘The Karate Kid,’” I bragged to my wife when we returned. “You know, where Daniel-san does the crane kick? Aren’t you glad our son is in my dojo?”

I should’ve known -- now my wife thinks that, since I have the “winning formula,” I can do all the teaching from here on out. No rest for me. Ever.

I presented her with this column. I told her that now she, too, has the “winning formula.” 

I shrugged. I'll take that rest after all.

-July 2014

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