Cameron Smith: Dads teaching the next generation to ride the waves

This is an opinion column.

“I see it coming,” I told my son as the wave grew. I held it steady as we flew over some of the Atlantic Ocean’s lesser tenders. “Paddle!” I shouted, giving him a helpful push and letting go of the surfboard. The wave crashed over me. When I surfaced, I saw him riding the wave with all the confidence of Neptune himself. This is not always the case for him or his two brothers. Sometimes they end up falling under the waves. The essential task of fatherhood is really to teach children to ride the waves.

The ocean is a force. He was there long before us and will be here long after we are gone. We cannot control it. The waves never stop. Some of them gently rock children to sleep as they float in the summer sun. Others send the mightiest of ships into the watery abyss.

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When I was little, I remember struggling against the waves. They would pull me out to sea, descend on me, and swirl my body in the wash. It was like wrestling with an older brother who was lifting me high and shaking me. By the end of the afternoon, I was so tired that I couldn’t move.

My dad would tell me about the waves whenever we were on a beach. The ocean was how he helped me understand my faith. The powerful waves that made me feel so insignificant responded to an even more powerful God.

My dad was waiting for the perfect wave, putting me in it and hoping for the best. He taught me to respect the ocean. “If you ever get caught in the current, don’t fight it,” he said. “Swim farther and to the sides.” It was advice that probably saved me a time or two, but it always seemed crazy.

I remember wondering why I let the Gulf of Mexico drag me further into the water when I could still see the shore. Over time, I’ve discovered that a big part of life is learning how to make the best choices with what we can’t control.

Watching my boys surf, they made mistakes. Sometimes they would send the nose of the board underwater and launch forward. They would be off-center and launch headfirst over the back of the wave. Even though they remained on set, getting up marked another challenge. Every few races the ride was glorious.

As my boys practiced, they didn’t hold me to the board as much. They needed my encouragement much more. The real challenge was convincing my sons not to rest on a big run or give up a wipeout. Life is no different. The waves keep coming at us, and we have so little control.

Resilience is the key to riding the waves, and riding the waves builds resilience. It sounds as crazy as letting a rip current run its course. That’s why a father’s encouragement means so much. Someone has to convince us that the experiences we don’t particularly enjoy are so often linked to the ones we do.

I’ve been running in crashing waves all my life. I was never scared because my father always stood there. He was stronger. He was safe. The waves knocked him down, but he always got up. He showed us how to climb the last little ridge to the shore. Even when I didn’t quite understand what I was doing, I was very reassured that he was there with me.

I almost lost him a few months ago due to a serious heart condition. He’s recovering, but, for the first summer in a long time, he won’t be in the waves. At some point, I won’t be either. We can’t survive the ocean. We can teach the next generation what we have learned.

We fathers hold the board and let our children go. That may not seem like much, but neither does a gradually rising tide that lifts large ships. The waves will continue to roll, but the fathers will always make sure the next generation knows how to ride them.

Smith is a recovering political lawyer with three boys, two dogs, and an extremely patient wife. It engages the media, businesses and politicians through the Triptych Foundation and Triptych Media. Please direct outrage or agreement to [email protected] Where @DCameronSmith on Twitter.

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