In life, or at least in the part of his life that took most of his time and energy, he was the one at the helm. His hand firmly on the wheel, steering toward an un-seeable destination, he never doubted his ability to keep his course. He smiled at this thought as he sat on a fishing boat in the middle of the Keys and watched his young daughter standing at the helm. Her knowing smile told him that she, too, realized what a privilege it was to have literal control of the direction of her father’s life, if only for just a moment.
What she didn’t know and what he couldn’t quite find the words to say to her was that she always had been true north for him. She was his guide whenever he was drawn toward a different horizon. From the moment she came home from the hospital to him, pink and fragile, he knew it was his duty to love and protect her in all the ways he knew how.
He brought her to the ocean, this place he loved so well, because he knew she was growing up. He wanted a weekend, just the two of them, to capture a moment that he knew was fleeting. He wanted to tell her why he believed the ocean was miraculous. He wanted to show her the art in casting a line and the beautiful, horrible dance of bringing in a catch. Showing her that nature is to be respected even when ... especially when ... we find dominion over it. And if those grandiose lessons were too grandiose, then he hoped and prayed that at the very least he would be able to stop time for just a bit to keep her as his little girl.
Soon, he feared, she would be gone. Drifting off into that adolescent world where friends and boys and school fill up the space that once only home and family could fill. And while he worried about all that she might face in the years to come during her adolescence, he also feared for himself. What would become of him when she didn’t need him so much? What would happen to him when she stopped running into his office to be scooped up, full of tears and skinned knees?
Returning from these deep and melancholy thoughts, he noticed that she was now sitting at the bow peering over the edge. “What a picture,” he thought as he smiled once more. Gangly, crisscrossed legs poked out of an oversized shirt. Wide brimmed fishing hat a little too wide for her still childish face. The ocean and endless sky stretched out in front of her, so much like the promise of her future. He loved her so much it hurt to look at her sometimes.
He walked up to see what had captivated her attention. As he knelt beside her, he noticed that the lemon sharks had finally been attracted to the chum they set for bait and they were swimming alongside the boat. She grabbed on to his arm and he could feel a slight tremble in her hand. “Look, Dad! … I’m afraid”, she said in a small voice, fearing she might have disappointed him. But he couldn’t look at the sharks; he could only look at her. He pulled her close and kissed her head, “It’s ok. Daddy’s here.”