The year was 2006. I had only one week earlier proposed to my wife (well, she wasn’t yet my wife; that’s why I proposed). She had been in the habit along with a handful of friends from college and their ever-growing families of traveling to the Outer Banks of North Carolina every year around the end of summer. They would all rent a house and enjoy a week of fun at the beach. Now that I was entering into this fray I, too, would be invited along. It was lots of fun for about two days. And then… a tropical storm struck the Carolina coast. One of the group, heeding the weather reports early, decided to pack his family and bailed. He’s Canadian, though, so I think tropical storm warnings are especially traumatic. I had been assured that “these things happen all the time” and that there was “no need to worry” and that I should “stop being such an amazingly good-looking but dreadfully cautious killjoy”.
The storm came. The roads flooded. After one day of looking out the window and NOT seeing water recede I decided I should probably try to make a break for it. I got in my car and headed south on the beach road for exactly one-half mile. Attempting to drive through standing water that didn’t look that deep my car – a brand new Dodge Magnum – shorted out and died. Long story short: I walked back to the beach house, a friend of my wife helped me push the car to a local supermarket parking lot, and I borrowed my new fiance’s pickup to drive back to New Jersey. The insurance company sent an adjuster who deemed a new engine was in order. Turns out it just needed spark plugs. A few weeks later I had reclaimed my vehicle and life went on. The following summer, as a newly married man I returned to the beach with my wife. We were already expecting our first child (though we had not yet told anyone) and we enjoyed a few days of sun and sand. The summer after that, with a six week-old boy in tow we ventured on the first of many family cross-country road trips and I began documenting them in writing.
Which brings us to today – Monday or Day 5 if you like.
The thing is that even though nothing much happened yesterday, even less happened today (hence the long and winding intro). We played on the beach During the day and in the pool when the sun went down. My wife and I prepared dinner and drinks for 50 people. You know, typical stuff. But one thing that did happen struck me as ironic considering how this all began…
I always have a hard time sleeping on vacation. I don’t know if it’s the change in bed or the change in atmosphere. Something just seems to prevent me getting a good night’s sleep. Today was no exception. I woke up around 5:45 because of the sunlight pouring into the room “like butterscotch” as Joni Mitchell would say. I was excited because at least I would see the sunrise over the Atlantic. Look, it’s not like I go looking for these things but when they happen in my presence I try to make the most of them. I’ve seen the sunrise before but there is something really awe-inspiring watching it come up over the ocean. It truly gives one a sense of the majesty of God. I stepped outside onto the balcony. And I immediately realized that Mr. Golden Sun was already over Mr. Horizon by a few degrees. Damn. I missed it. No worries though. I opened my laptop, went to Youtube, and entered “sunrise ocean corolla nc”. Within moments I was watching what I had just missed – time-lapsed, no less! Saved me the trouble of waiting through the whole boring thing. Then I went upstairs to the kitchen for my black coffee, then downstairs to the driveway to jump rope for a half-hour.
In 2006 there was no going to Youtube to watch a sunrise. I mean, I think there was a Youtube then but it wasn’t a part of everyday life as it is now and there wasn’t nearly as much content. There also was no “black” coffee. Until four years ago I used to give my dad a coronary every morning when I’d pour cream and sugar into my morning Joe. “Why not drink it like a man?” he’d ask me. “Dad, I’m 37 years-old. You shut up because I am a MAN!” I likely never said those words but if I did I likely said them like the guy from that episode of Law & Order called “American Jihad”. Yeah, you’d have to have seen it I guess. In 2006 there certainly was no jumping rope for this guy. I think at the time I fancied myself being “in shape”. I also fancied myself having great flexibility despite already having had my spine fused five years earlier. I did not care what I ate (which included nothing that wasn’t meat). If you had asked me to pick up a rope and jump over it for 30 minutes I would have accepted the challenge and then promptly died. Times change. People change. The sun still comes up. Man always desires to better himself. And Dad will always be right. I still can’t imagine why I ever put anything into my coffee.
One more thing that wasn’t a thing in 2006 was you, son. And yet, this morning after I did all of my ridiculousness I walked into your room, shook you from your sleep as only a dad of an 11 year-old young man can, and said loudly “WAKE UP!!! It’s time for fun!” See the thing is I didn’t care if you slept. I wanted your company. I love hanging out with you and my waking hours are kind of boring if you’re not a part of them. You grumbled. I jumped on the bed. You muttered something about hating life. I pulled the covers off. It was great fun. And where did we go from there? Well, since you share my DNA I’ve often planned our time together based on what I want to do. The thought is that if I enjoy it, you will too. And if you don’t we’ll blame your mom. In short order you were dressed and we were off on a morning walk. The Dunkin’ Donuts is only a mile away and I was craving something more than black coffee. Figured you’d like a donut and we could enjoy some father-son time together.
What I didn’t count on was your determination to be even less physical at that hour of the morning and on vacation than I was at any hour of the day when I was in my 30’s. Three blocks from the beach house and you dropped this gem on me: “Dad, when we get there do you think we can Uber back?”
Yes, I did just hear that correctly.
Uber wasn’t a thing in 2006. And it wasn’t going to be a thing today either. We got to DD, grabbed our breakfast, and WALKED back to the house. And you know you’re happy we did because along the way we passed something really neat. We took a slightly different route and encountered the rather sizable fire/rescue station. Since the Outer Banks are kind of isolated one might figure that a rescue station would have to be well-equipped to handle any kind of life-threatening emergency. What neither of us figured was that they would have “it” right out front. “It” was a concrete pad – but not just any concrete pad. “It” was a concrete pad with a giant letter “H” painted in an even gianter circle smack in the middle of the pad.
“Look!” we both said in unison. “A helicopter landing pad!!!” Like two little boys excited over the dumbest thing we both squeeled with delight at the prospect that a helicopter might swoop in at any point during the day. We walked a little further. “Of course, son,” I said, “that would require someone to have to kind of die or something.” We paused in sadness for a moment. And then you looked up at me.
“But it would be kind of awesome.”
It would indeed my boy. It would indeed.
For moments of clarity when God allows me grace to compare my life today with my life before kids and to know that it’s so much better now; I am most thankful.