“Mind if we share the lane with you?”
I made eye contact with the man who had just entered my lane. He was middle-aged, obese, and white hairs dotted his once dark-haired head. Underneath his beard he sported a friendly smile.
“Sure, no problem.” I replied.
“We’ll try not to get in the way!” He was there with his son, who was a slightly smaller and somewhat paler version of him.
“Don’t worry about it.” I said as I waved my hand in a palm-out “it’s okay” motion and smiled.
That’s when I noticed his son wasn’t “normal”. He didn’t speak and had this absent stare on his face. The only sound I heard out of him was a droning “ah uhhhh” that he would make when he exhaled.
I have had to share my pool lane with many people, but this father-son pair were different. Usually, I would be annoyed to no longer have the lane to myself and at times even hope my speed would scare off those who dared enter my territory.
But this father-son pair were different. I felt honored to share my lane with them and even lucky they chose me because what I would witness was nothing short of beautiful.
I watched as they pushed off the wall together, the father supporting the son from behind by holding him near the hips. The father would direct them and make sure they swam straight while the son swam freestyle and pulled.
They would reach the other end, briefly rest, and be off again. On the way back, the father would move backwards facing the opposite direction while his son laid on his back and kicked with a kickboard across his chest.
They didn’t move fast, but they moved with determination. I found myself distracted from my normal swim workout and instead observed the two of them move as one. The father kept looking in my direction to see when I would swim, making sure he and his son would be out of the way. What he might not have realized is that it was the other way around: they shouldn’t be worried about getting in my way; I was much more worried about getting in theirs.
One might expect the father to be unhappy, to feel burdened by having to care for his son like this. But instead I saw the opposite: a father with an immensely cheerful smile who enjoyed every second he got to spend with his son. I saw a father who loved deeply and patiently persisted to help his son learn how to swim.
I also saw a son not disabled but enabled, not a burden but a blessing. For in each stroke I saw strength, a relentless drive embodying the proverb it does not matter how slow you go so long as you do not stop.
Back and forth they went. I couldn’t tell who I admired more: the father for supporting his son or the son for working so hard each and every lap. They were a team.
I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be a father, and tonight I’ve found one of the simplest yet purest examples: unconditional love, a supportive smile and spirit, and moving forward together.
Even though I couldn’t hear them as they made their way across the pool, I felt I could hear the father’s voice: I’m here for you son, I’m here.