Four chairs on the beach. That’s the picture. Four identical chairs. Same size, same color…four chairs all the same. A family of four but the spacing is not the same. The two chairs in the center are placed close together. It is a family of four but the two middle chairs are closest as if an anchor for the other two around them, an inseparable pair.
The chair on the left in the family of four beach chairs is placed slightly farther away than any of the others. Four identical chairs, still clearly with the family of four but separated slightly more than any of the others. Separated as if that chair could be on its own yet still close enough. Still identical to the other three, still together in the family of four but on its own too.
The chairs are the same but the spacing is not the same. To the far right a chair is slightly askew and further from the middle two. It’s almost as if that chair is figuring out what it wants to do. Not yet not as far from the middle anchor chairs as the chair on the left but not right beside. The chair on the right is making its own space. That much is obvious. Still the same, an identical family of four but slightly separated.
The chairs in the photo belong to my brother Dan and his family, his wife Krista seated closely beside him and to their left and right their two children. Their son Ryan will attend Columbia University this fall. He will be slightly further from the family of four but still the same, only the spacing will be different. Their daughter Anna will be a freshman at Webb School in Knoxville this fall. Freshman year is a big season in life. It’s a season when you find yourself, when you begin to make your own space and solidify who you are separate from your parents.
It’s a season when you feel slightly askew and that’s ok.
In truth the picture of the family of beach chairs is four years old. The chairs were probably placed in no particular order. Placed purely for their family of four to enjoy the sun and the sand and the sound of the waves with no underlying meaning whatsoever. A family of four identical chairs, only the spacing is different.
I was going through some old stuff and found this piece I cobbled together seventeen years ago titled Things a Dad Can Fix. In truth, I can fix very little. I have light bulbs that are burnt out and I’m thinking about calling an electrical engineer to see what to do. I’ve heard you can replace them but that’s above my pay grade. If you have some time to kill give it a read.
June 20, 2000
Things a Dad can fix.
This past Sunday was Father’s Day. It was a dismal dreary day dedicated mostly to sitting inside away from the rain. It was the first Father’s Day since Griffin died. I tried not to think too much about his absence. It is so obvious no one must point it out. We did not go to church. We made that mistake on Mother’s Day and were determined not to repeat it.
Hannah put on her rain boots and played outside with her friend Mitchell. They splashed in puddles and walked in the ankle-deep water in the drainage ditch in front or our house. They played with little plastic characters in the water. I watched as a miniature Spiderman splashed down from an imaginary high dive. Even on a day like this puddles can be fun.
While they were playing Spiderman accidentally floated away. They noticed he was missing and the search was on. The toy was soon located in a catch basin beneath an iron grate for the storm sewer. Maybe Spiderman wasn’t lost after all. Hannah ran to the door and announced the trouble. He was gone but we know where he is she said. Dad, can you save him, can you get him back?
Can you save him? Can you get him back? It was just a tiny plastic toy. It was rainy. It was the first Father’s Day after my son had died. It was a bad day all around. Can you save him? Can you get him back? I should have been a better father. I should have been more thoughtful and not so self-absorbed but without thinking I offered a quick no. No, I didn’t think I could get him back. I didn’t think I could save him. Her big blue eyes flooded with tears and her lip began to quiver. She started to cry. The little plastic Spiderman had been Griffin’s. Neither of us had to say so. We both knew.
This was Father’s Day and who better to rescue Spiderman than an all-American Father. In truth, it’d be generous to say I was even half a father, but I walked out into the rain to see what I could do. They led me to the catch basin and showed me the toy. He was circling in what seemed to be slow motion in a little whirlpool beneath the steel grate. We could see him but couldn’t reach him. I grabbed the steel grate and began to try to lift it. Truthfully, it appeared heavier than it was and the children seemed amazed by my feat of strength.
As I lifted the grate they cheered and peppered me with questions. Can you save him? Are you going to climb down and grab him? Do we need a rope? I can only imagine it seemed much bigger of a problem to the kids than it appeared to me. I reached into the drain and grabbed Spiderman. He was safe, Hannah was happy. Then I put on my dad cap and offered the stock lecture about the dangers of storm sewers and the importance of being safe around water. Dads are great at talking about safety. That’s how I was a borderline hero on Father’s Day.