Swimming Lessons

The Guideposts senior editor shares a moment with his daughter swimming for the first time.


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The pleasures of parenting, no matter how small, are intense. This week Kate, Frances and I took a quick vacation trip to Cape Cod. Our last day there we spent the morning at a pond with a sandy beach. The weather was hot but the water was just right, like a bath after it’s cooled a bit. Perfect for kids.

I wasn’t sure how much Frances would like it, though. She’s not a huge fan of water. At the beach she steers well clear of waves. In the bath she wails against hair rinses. The one time I tried taking her in a swimming pool she flapped her arms in panic. “The water’s in my face, Daddy!” In two and a half years of life she’s had few experiences she hates more.

I admit I’m disappointed. I love water. I grew up by the beach and I’m rarely happier than when swimming. Just last week I could barely control my joy when I discovered the outdoor pool at the park where I swim here in New York was open early and I could get in it. Usually only the indoor pool is open before I have to leave for work. I swam back and forth, exulting in sunlight slanting through the water, the feeling of bright, unfettered movement. Water has always represented freedom to me.

“Want to go in the water?” I asked Frances at the pond. The day before, she’d surprised me by taking some tentative steps into the ocean at a beach. Still, I wasn’t prepared when she promptly declared, “Take me to the deep water, Daddy!”

The deep water! “Are you sure?” She was. I took her in my arms and waded out until the water reached my chest. She held on tight, pressing her face to my shoulder. We stood there a while and gradually she loosened her hold and looked around.

“What are those girls doing?” she asked. “Swimming,” I said. “Why?” (The standard reply to everything.) “Well, that’s how they get around in the water.” She thought about this. “Can I swim?” I said she couldn’t yet, but I was sure she would learn one day. She looked across the lake. “I want to swim to those trees!”

“How about we try some kicking?” I lowered her gently into the water and held her under her arms. “Kick your legs!” She paused, and then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, kicked for all she was worth, sending a great spray of water into the air. I turned her over and held her so she lay on her stomach. She kicked again. I gently moved her forward. Her face took on a look of wonder that nearly broke my heart. “I’m swimming!” she shouted.

We swam like that for many minutes, moving this way and that, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Eventually her face dipped into the water and she remembered all her old fears and scrambled back against me like a limpet. But for that time there under the hot sun in the cool water Frances swam, and loved swimming.

Why does it matter that our children like what we like? I suppose it could be a kind of vanity, an external ratification of who we are and what we choose. But I hope there’s more to it than that. I hope it shows that pleasures, true pleasures, the exalting kind of pleasures, have a reality that extends beyond any one person’s enjoyment of them.

Such pleasures, I like to think, are not merely personal, subjective experiences. They are moments when we dip into a deeper current of truth, a reservoir of joy that hints at the greater, more durable joys we will know when we shed our crabbed, selfish natures and acquiesce to the demands—which is the same thing as the pleasures—of the presence of God.

I don’t know whether Frances will grow up loving water like I do. We don’t live by the beach and we haven’t even signed her up for swimming lessons yet because they’re so expensive here in New York. Regardless, there we were that morning in Cape Cod, in the water, in the sun. We were swimming. We felt free.

Jim Hinch is a senior editor at GUIDEPOSTS. Reach him at [email protected].

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