I try to not let an opportunity go by without seizing it. So when the NYC Dads Group asked if I wanted to jump into the water with Diana Nyad in her quest to swim 48 hours to raise money for Sandy victims, I said “yes” right away.
Here’s the problem, though – I’m not a good swimmer.
I appear to be a good swimmer when I’m surrounded by other poor swimmers in a pool or at the lake, but my real skills (or lack of skills, I should say) are apparent when I’m not swimming next to a little kid that is splashing around.
Since I wasn’t scheduled to swim until 11:30 p.m., I stopped by the pool in Herald Square early in the morning to watch Diana swim laps with other people. That was when I realized that I had made a bad decision.
For some reason, I had assumed that I would be in there with others, kind of like an adult pool party, not actually swimming, alone, right next to her. I didn’t think that people would actually see me as I swam, but I quickly understood I would be front and center. That’s when I began to get nervous.
Later on, my children and I watched the live feed of the swim. Throughout the day, I cleaned, cooked, cleaned some more, did laundry, tried to potty train my toddler, and helped my kids with their homework. Every once in a while, though, I would glance back at the computer and watch some volunteer swim next to Diana. And most of the time, they did in fact swim right along with her.
As the hour of my swim approached, I put the kids to bed. My 9-year-old was the last one to fall asleep and just before he nodded off, he asked about the swim and how I was feeling. I told him that I was nervous and a little scared.
“Are you afraid that you’re going to make a fool of yourself?” he said.
I smiled and said, “Yes.”
He looked at me puzzled and replied, “But you’re a daddy. Why do you care what people think?”
I told him he made a good point. We prayed and I kissed him on his forehead and said, “good night.” Suddenly, I found the confidence that I had been lacking all day. It didn’t matter what happened, because I knew at the end of it all, I would still be a daddy.
I took the subway into the city and comforted myself with the thought, “Since it is so late, there will hardly be anyone around to watch me.” As I exited the subway station, I saw a crowd standing around the pool. My hope for a small audience dimmed. I had arrived early and so I walked up to the pool and looked over as the swimmers went back and forth. A woman struck up a conversation with me about Diana and how impressive she was and I told the person that I was about to climb into the pool with her. A couple of guys nearby asked me my name and I told them. Then they proceeded to make fun of me and tell me they were going to harass me in the pool. I regretted telling them my name.
I made my way into the pool area and met some women who were swimming after me. They were so kind and encouraging. Then I saw my wife and a friend of hers in the stands and I felt myself relaxing. One of the guys from Nyad’s team walked over and asked how well I swim and I told him the truth. We had a good laugh, then he told me to have fun and not to worry, some people had to float on their backs.
I slid into the pool and had the honor of shaking Diana’s hand and chit chatted before she turned and we began to swim. The first 20 yards were fine, then my body began begging me to stop. It turns out I’m an even worse swimmer than I thought. I made it down to the end of the pool and turned back. As I swam back, I could hear the drunk guys cheering me on instead of booing. Then I passed my wife and she was the one heckling me, so I gave her a splash.
When I was back to where I started, I decided not to press my luck and climbed out of the pool. The last thing I wanted was for the life guard to have to jump in. I talked with Diana’s team a little bit and they were all so supportive. I changed and found my wife and together we headed home. I was exhausted. (Yes, I realize that I’m complaining about exhaustion in a post in which I talk about Diana Nyad swimming for 48 hours.)
Parenting is like my swim with Diana Nyad in the middle of New York City — you don’t realize what you’ve gotten yourself into until it’s too late to back out, you feel like the whole world is watching, and sometimes it seems like you are flailing and just trying to keep your head above water.
But just like my swim with Diana, it’s an amazing experience. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if we make fools of ourselves, because we have a family that loves us. So I’ll keep jumping in the pool.
** Diana Nyad is no longer swimming in Herald Square, but you can still donate to the Hurricane Sandy victims by clicking here.