Fatherhood: The Changing of the Guard

We just finished up a week-long family vacation at the beach. All our kids and grandkids were there with us. The photo at the top of the post is my son teaching his three-year-old how to boogie board – kinda.

Our family loves beach vacations. We love the sand, the sun, and especially the fact that it is 50 degrees cooler here than at home right now. One of our favorite things is to swim in the ocean together. We head out to the breakers and body surf/boogie board, dive over and under the waves, and swim around.

On Thursday, I was out swimming with my four boys. I appreciated – in the moment – that I was out there with all four of my boys. I call them “boys,” but, in reality, they are all grown men, now- two of them fathers themselves. We were swimming and just goofing around having fun. It just felt right. I’ve been swimming in the ocean with those boys their whole lives, and it is just part of our family culture.

The ocean was acting a bit weird. The wave patterns were choppy, and the tide was pulling out hard. It got progressively more difficult to stay in place, and we noticed that we were having to work pretty hard to not get pulled out farther than seemed safe. It was tiring work “running to stand still.” One of the boys decided he had had enough, and headed back into shore.

Just a few minutes later, I decided that he was the smart one and began to follow him back to the shore. I was starting to get tired, and was ready to pack it in. I swam and let some of the breakers carry me in. After a few minutes, I realized that I wasn’t making any progress. In fact, I was going the wrong direction. The water grew deeper to where I could no longer touch bottom and stand between waves – swimming or treading water were the only options.

And I was getting really tired.

I wasn’t scared, but I was getting worried. As my fatigue set in, I was getting concerned about how I was going to get back to shore. This was new to me. I’ve been swimming in the ocean all my life, and have never been in the situation where I was simply not strong enough to find my way out of the water.

My worry and fatigue must have been showing on my face and in my behavior, because my eldest, Taylor, noticed, “You okay, Pops?”

I didn’t say anything, but made eye contact with him and simply shook my head, “No.”. He responded immediately, took a few stokes, closing the distance between us.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“I can’t touch the bottom, and I’m getting tired.”

“Do you need help?”

— Here was the big moment —–

“Yeah. I do.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Help me in: Just hold onto my arm and help me get to where I can touch bottom and stand up.”

The other boys saw what was going on and came over to help. Taylor held my arm as we swam against the tide, and rode with the breakers. After a few minutes, I was able to touch bottom and began the walk/swim trudge to shore. It still seemed to take forever, but I eventually got back and headed up the beach to where the family was set up.

The “moment” – out there in the water – did not go unnoticed.

I was exhausted. And releived. And grateful.

That moment was the realization that I experienced a significant role-reversal with my sons. Probably the first of its kind. I have spent the last 30+ years as a father, helping my kids – even rescuing them at times. This was the first time I had ever experienced being rescued by them.

The significance of the experience was not lost on me, and I’ve thought about it a lot since then. It is a very humbling moment for a man – a dad – to realize that the page is being turned, and getting a first glimpse of “the changing of the guard.” It was weird for my sons, too.

I am one of those typical guys who does not like to ask for help from anybody, and yes, that includes the cliche of not asking for directions. I am slow to ask people to help me, even when I am in need – always have been. I’m getting better at it, but there is still a lot of growth to be had in that department.

But out here in the powerful, unpredictable sea, I needed help, and I needed my son, who is half my age, to rescue me.

It was humbling. I didn’t feel stupid, but I felt old. This was an entirely new experience. My wife pointed out how grateful she was that I was humble enough to ask for help, instead of struggling by myself to the point where we were in crisis. I’ve always been proud of my humility, but sometimes pride wins the day. Thankfully it didn’t win that day.

I have a big birthday coming this September: I’m staring down 60. This experience at the beach reminded me that I’m not getting any younger, and that as time goes on, there will be situations where I might need help more often from others. Scratch that – I will need help more often from others. No, I don’t like that idea, but I accept that idea.

Thankfully, we are a crew of 17 now, sons, a daughter, a bonus son, 3 bonus daughters, 6 adorable grandkids, and my Chrissie. I am surrounded by people who love me, and whom I love. I’m in good hands.

Watching my kids become parents, and seeing their challenges and joys is a wonderful thing. However, it makes me nostalgic for that time in our lives when Chrissie and I had little kids and were trying to figure things out. I know that being a dad has a built-in role of being the guy who steps up to rescue his kids, and there were plenty of times that I pulled a sputtering child out of the surf. Literally and figuratively.

But it was a different – significant – thing to be the one on the receiving end.

I experience my first glimpse of the changing of the guard – and I’m in good hands.

Happy Father’s Day!!!

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  1. I just turned 70, so I appreciated this article immensely! My children are gently trying to help me over the ‘changing of the guard’ hurdle. It’s tough, forcsure

  2. A scripture from D&C 128 comes to mind. Speaking of our progenitors, Joseph Smith taught, “for we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.” The hearts of the fathers and children turn to each other and in a sense, save each other.

  3. I looked forward to turning 60. I expected to be wise and mature by then. It hasn’t quite turned out that way, but maybe there’s still time.
    Not to mention we can’t have cute and brilliant grandchildren without getting older.

  4. I’m two-and-a-half steps shy of my 80th. I’ve experienced the “asking for help” a few times. As you mentioned, it was hard the first time – still is. Every time I pull myself out of a chair, walk, try anything physical, the vision of my paternal grandfather pops in view…and the word “helpless” – loud and irritating – bellows at me from out of nowhere. I haven’t fought attacking water, but I surely can identify.

  5. This was so hard for my dad. He really needed help, but had such a hard time accepting it from his children. As a child, I am so happy to help my parents if they will let me. It allows me to show my love and especially my appreciation for ALL they have done for me.

  6. Yes, it hit me in my mid-50s while working on one of the cars — loss of strength, endurance, and flexibility. it should not of have been a wake-up call but it was. Just thinking that another page was tuning — (intersections, or another position on the chess board of life). I’ll turn 76 next week. I’m actually liking nap time now.

  7. I remember helping my grandmother move out of her home. It was the first time I ever noticed that I was able to outwork my dad, and it hit me hard that he was getting older. He was 60, I was 32. Now, 23 years later, my kids are all in their 20s, and I can feel the day coming (if I were humble, I’d admit it’s probably here already) that my boys will be able outwork me. It’s a weird feeling.

  8. “There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.” (Benjamin Franklin)

  9. A lacrymal read for me. (I’ll be 85 in month, and have kindof worshipped my independence.) Ah, pride!

  10. Beautiful post. Past the 70 year mark, I’ve experience much the same, minus the 50 degrees cooler and salty surf. Great quote: ” I’ve always been proud of my humility.” Happy Father’s Day.

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