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Oct 22nd
My Young Men and the Sea PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stuart Sheldon, BT Contributor   
August 2019

The capacity for wonder is a lifelong gift

GPix_FamilyMatters_8-19ive them the sea. The rest is details.

I snorkeled hand in hand with my nine-year-old at Fowey Rocks Lighthouse off Key Biscayne. Beneath a gentle blue sky and circling cormorants, we kicked against a considerable current, and I felt trepidation in the tug of my boy’s arm. Still, we swam forward and approached the hulking, rusted beacon.

Suddenly, he pointed with excitement at a large parrot fish, followed by a multitude of snapper and grunt swimming in Fowey’s shadow. But eventually his fear won out, and he could go no closer. He had not yet made this foreign environment his own. I accompanied him back to the boat and carried on with my own exploration.

This ocean-acclimation process began years ago and is ongoing. Because I wish, more than anything, that my boys, and every single child, will share my sense of wonder in all that happens beneath the waves. To stand barefoot in wet sand on the shore of an ocean somewhere. And connect with what every poet has written about. And every lover has gazed upon longingly. And know the place where society falls away and we find ourselves. And lose ourselves. Clarify. Exhale.

My heart soared when my 11-year-old began surfing this year and, along with my wife, got certified for scuba diving. Now he and I share countless moments, sitting on our boards, reading the water as it reveals its opportunities. We dove with sea lions recently, watching in amazement as they swirled and danced with reckless abandon inches away.

My father gave me these same gifts when I was a youngster growing up in Miami. We spent weekends surveying the horizon outside Elliott Key for subtle brown patches to dive upon, the teeming reefs that stretch the length of the Keys.

These islands, our islands, represent the jewels in Miami’s crown -- the only coral reefs in the Continental United States. They represent my original touchstone for fantasy and awe. And I sincerely want for my children to understand and revel in that same sensation, with its creatures and majesty and power. I want them, and all kids, to become its stewards. In our digital world, the sea remains analog, its multitude charms and terrors immediate and not to be toyed with, as anyone who’s fought a riptide or surfed a big swell can attest.

My mother forced my brother and me into swimming lessons as tykes. I remember that public pool being frigid and long. No water slides. Strictly business. I didn’t enjoy the experience, but my square-jawed swim instructor had no interest in complaints. I left there able to swim, and I shall be ever grateful to my parents and my taskmaster. I believe it should be mandatory that every child in Miami learn to swim at a very young age, if for no other reason than to ensure their safety should they fall into any of the countless natural and man-made bodies of water that surround us.

We handicap our kids by not providing this basic survival skill. Earlier this year, both of my children experienced gut-wrenching hold-downs on their surfboards, after which they told me they actually thought they were going to die. Not what a dad wants to hear, but the most effective way to learn respect for the elements in which you live and play. There is little harm in children touching the hot stove once. I too have had a few close calls with Neptune. Each has deepened my wisdom and appreciation for my preferred environment.

We used a private swimming teacher for them, though Miami-Dade County provides low-cost classes starting at age two: 305-665-1626. But it’s about far more than safety. I believe the ocean is the birthright of every living person, doubly so if they live in Miami. It is no coincidence that at the water’s edge and in her embrace, every child squeals with delight, for we are, literally and primarily, water. It is our essence. As parents, it is incumbent upon us to unlock that small door which allows our children to know that major part of themselves. For that part of them, from the moment they are born, is waiting to splash, dive, float, and frolic.

My boys will have the sea as a lifelong companion; my wife and I saw to that early on. They were both conceived on a houseboat in Sausalito, rocked to sleep in utero to the music of the waves lapping on our bedroom walls. They too were forced to learn to swim as infants, because the opportunity cost of not doing so was unthinkable. That small effort has changed our entire existence. And theirs. Forever. And for better.

 

Stuart Sheldon is an award-winning artist, author, and Miami native. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram @stuart_sheldon, and his blog, FancyNasty.us.

 

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