From my balcony for the second morning in a row, I watch a family of three – Dad, Mom and daughter in her early teens – walk down the boardwalk to the beach. Both parents carry fishing rods and coffee cups. Dad clinches a cigar in his teeth. The girl trails unenthusiastically behind. It’s early, going on 6:00 a.m. I think, “What teen wants to be awakened at daybreak to go fishing with Mom and Dad?”
When they reach their destination, the girl drops to the sand, folding her coltish legs beneath her. She shifts, hugs her knees and leans her head against them. I bet her eyes are closed.
Her parents stab the ends of the poles into the sand, and Mom sips from her cup while Dad works on the lines. At one point he crouches down between his girls and tries to light his cigar. I’m not sure he succeeds. The wind is picking up to yellow-flag level.
Dad wades waist-deep into the surf to cast. Clambering back up the steep slope, he hands the rod to Mom. She works the line, reeling in nothing more than a string of seaweed. They patiently tear it away, and Dad casts again, this time from the shore. He hands the rod to Mom then moves a little farther down the beach. Apparently the fish aren’t biting. Cast and reel in, tear off seaweed.
At one point, Dad comes back and bends down to give his daughter an affectionate-looking pat. Maybe he says something like, “Come on, Pumpkin. This is fun. Want to try your hand?”
From where I’m sitting, I see no response. I imagine eyes rolling. Dad goes back to fishing.
After a while the girl rises and moves close to her mother. I can almost hear her say as she leans in, “Mom, why can’t I go back inside? I’m still sleepy.”
I wonder if Mom answers something like: “Just a little longer, Sweetie … humor your dad. This is important to him.”
The girl returns to her place on the sand. After 20 minutes or so, they gather their gear and head back toward the building. This time, the daughter’s in the lead, with Dad bringing up the rear, still chewing on that cigar.
I imagine the girl confiding to friends at home: “They got me up at 5:30 every morning – to go fishing!”
“Way! And Dad had that stinky cigar he always smokes on vacation.”
“Totally gross. When I have kids, I am NOT doing that to them. I’ll let them sleep ‘til noon.”
“Yeah, me, too.”
Then I imagine the girl as a mother herself, telling her children about this day on the beach, how she got up at 5:30 to please her dad. Maybe she’ll ask them what they’d like to do for family fun. If she’s lucky, she’ll have an involved husband/father, who’s enthusiastic enough to bait everyone’s hook. If she’s extra lucky, he might even wade waist-deep into the surf to cast out her line.
But maybe her family won’t fish. Maybe they’ll camp, hike, ski or any number of things instead. As I watch this little family, I think about the importance of making memories with our children before the siren call for independence draws them away.
I know it doesn’t matter what the family does as long as they have fun together. I’m grateful that my parents were good at making simple things fun. I wish I’d been better at it, but still, I think our family had our share of good times.
It was just regular growing up, of course, the kind everyone does – but it still hurt him … Catherine Chung, Forgotten Country