Fatherhood what it Means to be a Father

My wife, 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter (A) and I were at the beach one day with a friend and her kids, and naturally a game of “beach ball catch” was initiated. Unfortunately this instantly became “beach ball chase” as the wind kept grabbing the wretched thing and tossing it towards the sea. Very soon the game had developed into “kids throw the beach ball up in the air and laugh at A’s daddy running to save it again”. After five or six 300-yard dashes and mumbled curses I said, “OK kids, no more throwing the ball now”. One of A’s friends asked if he could hold it, so I said yes, and we started back up the beach. Then the little rascal threw the ball up again with a chuckle, and I was off again, the sole competitor in the Over-40s Shingle Stumble. This is what you get, I thought, for playing with a bag of air on Hurricane Beach.

Anyhow, this time I didn’t quite make it, and the ball flew into the sea and started bobbing mischievously further out of my reach. I couldn’t get it, so I headed back to the family and the dreadful sight and sound of little daughter tears. We tried to comfort her, but she wasn’t interested in the idea that the ball was having an adventure, she just sobbed that she wanted it back.

“I know exactly how you feel, darling,” I said. “When I was little my ball fell in the sea, and Grandpa swam out to try and get it, but he couldn’t make it.” Suddenly that memory came flashing back to me. The ball is yellow, with red wavy lines and blue spots…I’m watching it bobbing out to sea…Dad’s swimming after it…no good…that awful feeling of loss. My dad died at the end of 2003 when A was just one, but she still remembers him and misses him. I looked up. A’s yellow beach ball was still in sight, the wind blowing it in a straight line towards the pier about half a mile away. The coast curves there, and I realised that with any luck the ball would return to shore at some point way off in the distance…before being drawn out for good on the ebbing tide. My brain ticked a couple of times, like a dusty grandfather clock in the attic. Suddenly I yelled “I’m going to get it!” and sprinted off down the beach, vaulting over groynes, leaping over pools, I’m SuperDad, unstoppable, invincible…

The wife told me afterwards she noticed the moment when I stopped running and started wheezing. I’d hoped they would’ve given up watching by then. But I kept going. I think in truth I was on some belated quest for closure. The only time I ever remember seeing my Dad in the water, ever, was on that beach long ago when he tried to save my silly ball from drowning. Well, fortunately the laws of physics didn’t let me down, and the ball came in on a wave just about where I thought it would – about a mile away from where we’d started. Oh yes! Now I know what it’s like to win a marathon! The World Cup! YES! I did it! Hahahahaha! In your face, forces of disappointment! For once I made a snap decision that didn’t turn out to be stupid, dangerous or just plain wrong! I saved my little girl’s cheap piece of plastic from a very slow trip to Holland…

Of course, by the time I returned, flushed but triumphant, she’d forgotten all about it and was enjoying a Wild West train ride. But that didn’t matter. Somehow, I’ve closed some connection that was unresolved. I feel I’ve done something, strangely, for my Dad. And when I put A to bed, she told me I was the best man in the world.