Facing Fear to Follow Father’s Footsteps
I squealed and talked into the camera. A selfie video. I was going to take the calculated risk of being drowned in an endless ocean to do what my father had done. To follow his footsteps.
Are you afraid? I am sometimes. I was afraid after my father died. I was afraid of a life without him, an ever-present anchor. A friend. A fan. A guide. Grief generates fear. How would I manage?
Honestly, I was always a person of fear. As a child, I feared the dark. Now I fear the water. Not so much that I won’t go into a pool that’s over my head, but I don’t venture far from the edge. I’ve never been on a cruise. The Titanic comes to mind.
Maybe my fear stems from the day I raced down a slide at a Florida hotel like I was covered in grease. Dad was supposed to catch me at the bottom of the pool. He misjudged my landing spot.
I’m not sure I’d ever been in water that deep. I did not even know enough to close my mouth. I came up coughing and sputtering. Dad took me to Mom in the shallows. She’d been terrified.
My father grew up in Milford, Conn., which sits along 17 miles of shoreline. He could walk to Long Island Sound from his home. Of course, Dad could swim.
The first time I ever saw Charles Island off the coast of Milford, I learned that as a boy, my father occasionally walked to the 14-acre forested speck in the water via a sand bar bridge which appears at low tide. A Mississippi land-lover, I was fascinated.
For years, as I visited my dad’s brother in Milford, I never saw the bridge. But I was cautioned just in case. The tide comes in quickly. Others miscalculated trips to the island. They’d drowned.
And then in the fall of 2015, my husband and I spotted the land bridge at low tide. About a third of the sandbar was covered. However, I walked part of the 15- to 20-foot-wide pathway with an eye on the water, lapping at the edges. I started back, and on the beach, watched as my husband lingered on the bridge. I was afraid he’d be swallowed up.
We lost my uncle last year, but I visited my aunt this past weekend and discovered the sandbar bridge fully exposed. As I observed several people travel to and from the island, I conceived a plan to do so, too. I asked a local – is it safe? He estimated the tide would be out long enough for me to make the trip and return.
I set out. As the ocean licked at the edges, I hurried past other walkers. I watched for signs of the tide coming in.
Upon arriving at the base of the island, I imagined walking in the exact spots my father had as a boy. I picked up a stone – a memorial of my trip. And before I left, I found two sticks of wood and arranged them in a cross as a memorial to my dad.
One of the last things my father told me is he was proud of me. After returning to the beach at Milford, I imagined him meeting me and telling me that again. Because I’d faced my fear. And because I’d done it to honor him and connect us.
This time, I wasn’t flailing in a panic. This time, Dad caught me.
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