Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 9, 2003
Kids inspire dad to confront his fears
By GLEN ARGAN
It was July 1999 and I was sitting in the bleachers at Bonnie Doon Pool, holding my baby daughter Theresa on my lap. My three older daughters were in the pool taking swimming lessons, my wife Nora with the youngest of them.
My mind rushed forward to the future - to holidays spent at sunny beaches, the girls playing happily in the water at lake after lake, Nora with them while I sat on the beach, my white skin tempting a sunburn. At most, I might wade tentatively into the water up to my waist and try to join in the fun. But always I would be afraid of falling into the water, spluttering and thrashing about.
I imagined going canoeing and my boat overturning. My life jacket would save me from certain death. But I would be stuck helplessly floating in the water, unable to help myself or anyone else.
"Is this any way to be a father?" I asked myself. "Is it OK to be an invalid in the water because I had never learned to swim? Is it OK for a dad to wimp out at the lake with his four daughters?"
I thought about this for weeks. Finally, I steeled myself to go to the Kinsmen Sports Centre to sign up for beginner swimming lessons. As I left the Kinsmen Centre that sunny summer afternoon, I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I was going to learn to swim.
A few days later, I told Nora what I had done. She was overjoyed. "Girls," she said, "Do you know what? Dad is going to take swimming lessons?" "Yippee!" a couple of them shouted.
I still wasn't sure - I was afraid of the water, afraid of this new venture and afraid of failure. But at least I had five people on the home front cheering me on.
Finally, the day of my first lesson arrived. I stood in the pool nervously with five other prospective swimmers. Our instructor got into the water with us. His name was Mark. Mark was a big strong guy, less than half my age. He was cheerful, positive and he was obviously a good swimmer. Mark asked us to put our heads under water and blow bubbles. After a few tentative tries, I succeeded.
Then Mark asked us to float on our backs. "Are you serious?" I responded. I tried, but fear wouldn't let me do it. "Here, let's get you a PFD," said Mark. I put on the life jacket, Mark got behind me to hold me when I leaned back, then he let go and I floated. It was humiliating. In this class, I was the most "non" of all the non-swimmers.
The first lesson was the worst. But I came every week after that and I came a couple of times during the week to practise. By the end of 10 weeks, I could do the backstroke the full length of the pool and I had lost a lot of my fear. But I still couldn't put together all the elements of the front crawl - kicking, arm movements and especially breathing.
So I kept working at it. And on Jan. 12, 2000, I swam my first full length of the pool. To many people, it wouldn't mean much. But I see it as one of my greatest personal accomplishments - at age 47, after a lifetime of fear of the water, I had learned to swim. Several months later, I swam a whole mile, 64 lengths of the pool.
The story doesn't end there, however. Learning to swim touched something deep inside of me. I now wanted to try more new things. The next year, I took a Christopher Leadership Course and then I joined Toastmasters. I liked the challenge and the thrill of giving speeches before an audience.
I expect to take on other new challenges. And it's important to note that this all started because I took seriously the example of my own children.
Fatherhood involves giving of yourself to your children. But they give back and inspire you too. Learning to swim was a watershed point in my life. And it was my children who put me there. But another part of being a parent is showing your children that you're never too old to overcome your greatest fears.
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