When I was growing up, my sister, mother, and I all had a problem communicating with one person – my Dad. Although it wasn’t so much an issue communicating to him, it was more trying to get a response. It seemed that though, try as we might, there were times when nothing was getting through. A little bizarre, right? How can you be talking directly to someone and not get a response? Unfortunately for us, it is just the way that my Dad is wired.
Over time this has played out in very different and often frustrating scenarios. But when I think about them, I laugh. I love my Dad despite his quirks.
The majority of memories have to do with traveling. My family liked to travel within the United States, so, by the time I was twelve, I had seen much of the West, and even made it to Florida and Hawaii. My Dad’s silence always equated adventure, and many, many opportunities to not have questions answered.
One particular spring we traveled to Florida. We did the typical family things to do in Florida; Disney World, a cruise from Miami to the Bahamas, and eventually the Florida Keys. My parents both love to snorkel, and have made many trips to Hawaii to prove it. While in the keys, my Dad decided that it was a perfect opportunity to take the entire family out for snorkeling. I don’t remember paying much attention to that detail of our trip (Disney World trumped all other thoughts) until we arrived and I was reminded of what we were doing.
We turned into the Coral Reef State park for a trip out to see the beautiful fish and coral. As an inquisitive youngster, I was excited to see fantastical things in the water, like clown fish. To match that curiosity, I was equally fearful of jumping into any water that contained a threatening sea monster. And by that I mean sharks, squid, jellyfish, and any other slimy, ugly, violent, or poisonous thing that would want to touch me.
After we parked at a little hut with a dock, I drifted down to the water’s edge as my parent’s negotiated renting a boat. Peering into the clear water, I noticed many small brown plants growing all over its sandy bottom. It was an exciting enough discovery that I called my sister over. As she came to the water’s edge, a leaf from the tree cover above fell onto the water’s surface. And I freaked out.
What I thought were little plants were not plants at all. As the leaf hit the water, three or four small jellyfish popped up from the bottom, fluttering in the water before they fell back to their places. I did not like jellyfish. And this place had a shore covered in them. I quickly found my parents.
Unfortunately my protests were ignored. The deal was done and we were going out in a pontoon boat. This little pontoon boat felt like an aluminum cage on floaties, hardly enough to protect us from the dangers of the harbor. Rest assured that the beach jellyfish were not going to be in the water once we got away from dock.
Somehow I didn’t believe it, so, like any ten year old, I started asking my Dad questions.
“Where are we going?”
The first few attempts merited the silent treatment, but as we cruised by green banks of mangroves with no coral reef in sight, my Mom chimed in too. Where were we going? Apparently the Florida keys were nothing like Hawaii.
“We are going to go snorkeling,” my Dad finally replied.
Of course we were going snorkeling, but where? We kept going down the inlet for what seemed like a half hour, before we started to see it opening up and the open sea beyond. But we were in a pontoon boat. Floaties were hardly good enough for me in a swimming pool at four; I had no confidence in the ship we set sail in.
My Mom was getting nervous and therefore began to overreact.
“Watch out for that marker. Look out for that buoy. Is it too shallow? Where are we going?” She tended to ask more questions when she was nervous, and coupled them with scowls when she didn’t get a reply. My Dad was calm and attentive as ever, putting forth his best effort to control the boat. While steering, he double checked his maps and charts, which made it appear that he knew where he was going, and frustrated us all the more. Although, I am not sure what answer would have satisfied us.
As we left the muddy swamps of the inlet, the waves started rolling in. At first they were not very large – but they started to grow. And by grow, I mean not more than the height of a small child. Like me. When you are in a small, flat-bottomed pontoon boat being driven by a man who is not currently answering questions, you start to get nervous. My sister and I began to complain.
“We want to go back,” we pleaded. “These waves are going to knock us over. They’re crashing into the boat!”
My Dad chuckled. “Those waves aren’t more than two or three feet. We are fine.”
“Where are we going? I thought you wanted to snorkel?” I asked.
“I do,” he replied.
The farther that we moved away from the coast, the larger the waves became. They began to splash so far over the bow that my sister and I were soaked. Then we loudly protested. And my parents laughed.
And so we continued on the open sea towards a cluster of boats off in the cloudy distance; large yachts and motor boats, all assumedly anchored at the same location. That must be the reef! In my mind, though, there was no such thing. My Dad was taking us on a mad dash to middle of the ocean, where either we would capsize and get eaten by sharks, or he would give us over to pirates.
Alright, none of that was real. But both my sister and I were crying, and we didn’t get any answers.
Eventually we passed the cluster of boats and my Dad, while scouring the map, seemed to be lost. My Mom was nervous, and my sister and I didn’t need to find a shipwreck to act like one. Even though my Dad was still convinced that great snorkeling lay ahead, the open sea did not hold many opportunities. At that moment, though, we started to notice some bright orange flags scattered about the rolling water’s surface.
My Dad, triumphant, carefully gathered the anchor as the ship bobbed, and dropped it off the front of the boat. The line fell farther than he expected, but he was set on going.
“Anyone coming with me?” He quickly removed his shirt and shoes, and put on the face mask and snorkel. By that time the open sea was knocking us around like bowling pins. Was my Dad leaving us? Was he kidding?
Before we could say much more, he was in the water. I remember being very afraid. I didn’t really know where I was, the water looked ominous and dark, and it all felt, well, out of control.
Then my Dad dove under water.
It seemed too long to be a dive, and again my sister and I got upset. My Mom started fuming.
But he came back up and soon was back in the boat, soaking wet.
“Did you see anything,” we all asked.
There was a short pause as he dried himself off and restarted the boat.
“Kind of rough,” he responded, “and the reef was at least twenty feet down there.”
So we turned back around and went back in.
That little adventure made us all skeptical of riding with my Dad in a boat. His actions didn’t seem to add up for us nautical novices, and his lack of reply made us nervous. Had the boating adventure brought us to new realms of experience, perhaps we would have trusted him in the future. Looking back at it from today, there never really was any danger. My Dad had control over that boat, and the many others he took us out in while I was growing up. Was the flaw his lack of communication or our lack of trust in him? What are you supposed to do when you don’t get answers to your questions?