He was there at the end of the diving board. He would tread water for hours watching while I practiced my dives. For years it was our Sunday afternoon ritual . I was 4 years old when we began. Daddy was there in the deep water, waiting for me. On those Sunday afternoons I believed that if he was there at the end of the board I could do anything.
He would wait, treading water, off to one side. He would look around and give me the sign that it was OK to dive. And I would stroll to the end of the board, tugging my stretchy lavender swimsuit, and bounce in the air before I dove in.
I would rise to the surface sputtering, and look for his face. He would hesitate a moment to let me right myself. I would cough and beam. He would grab the back of my suit and give me a push toward the side. “Swim to the ladder,” he would say. And he would stay out at the end of the board waiting.
I remember the feeling as I paddled to the ladder. The world was perfect: I was diving in the deep end of the pool; there was no pain, and no evil in the world. There was no need or want in my life. I was a perfect, grinning, sunburned, waterlogged four-year-old, in love with the world, herself and her daddy.
He died when I was 18. In the intervening years life happened to me and to Daddy. By the time I was 13, he was traveling a lot, and when we did spend the occasional weekend together we did not speak of personal things. There were no talks about plans or dreams. As a teen-ager I felt awkward with my father so I would interview him about his job. I know a lot about industrial engineering. It filled our time. By then my addictions had begun.
On a July evening, when he was 56, my father had a stroke and died.
Has it affected me? Of course. To have had that closeness and to loss it; to have had those timeless moments of being safe and special and then to lose him when I still needed to ask what happened.
It took years of my life, of other relationships, addictions and even years in recovery for me to wrestle with those two men--the daddy who waited in the deep water and the man who left suddenly, without a word, when I was 18.
Somewhere inside, that four-year-old still wears her lavender bathing suit. She is at the end of a diving board and leaning forward to hear someone say, “You are so special.” There is a deep hunger for those words. Can I ever get enough?
I’ve learned a lot from listening to that little girl. I know that in romance we get some of that need met, but romance has its own path and after a while no one wants to admire us every day. Another way to meet this need is with an affair. Having an affair is a way a four-year-old can twirl in a 40 year-old body and hear again, “You are the only one.”
In the first five years of recovery I practiced healthier solutions. I practice in the mirror: “Diane, You are very special.” But all the praise and promises in the present cannot fill a hole that exists in the past.
Later I learned to meet this need in a spiritual way. In the rooms I began to meet people who had a connection with their God or higher power that helped them to live believing that God smiles warmly on them.
So what is the gift from a father who left when we were both too young? It’s this: For a long time I resented the missing memories; no father-daughter chats, no drives to college, no adult conversations. But I have this other thing--a picture in my brain and in my heart of my father still there at the end of the board, smiling and waiting.
Today I believe in a God who looks around my life and says, “Hold on a minute. We don’t want anyone to get hurt; then, “OK, go for it, I’m here.” I have a God at the end of my daily diving board who says to me, “Okay now, catch your breath. I’m here.”