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Swimming with our dads

The Talmud tells us that “a father is obligated to teach his son how to swim.”

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As I write this piece early on a Sunday morning, I hear my husband in the next room whistling a Bruce Springsteen tune to our 7-month-old daughter. On most weekend mornings, while I sleep in an extra hour, my husband and daughter share a bonding ritual. He fixes a bottle for her and a cup of coffee for himself, and the two connect over their respective beverages on the couch.  

He'll make funny voices, sing lyrics to a Macklemore or Counting Crows song, impart life lessons, and repeat a line from a Simpsons episode or Jim Carrey movie. Though she may not catch the Homer Simpson references just yet, she already recognizes what's important. She gets that her dad is present, that this first man in her life is here for her and loves her more than anything else in the world. 

He reminds me of someone. My own dad. He has been present for me every day of my life--and still is today--even if lately his presence comes in virtual Zoom form. 

In thinking about the presence of my husband, my father, and so many other wonderful dads in the lives of their children, I am reminded of the Hebrew word "Hineni," which translates as "Here I am." Hineni contrasts with the more passive Hebrew phrase "Ani poh," which means "I am here," the typical response of students in Hebrew school when the teacher takes attendance. 

Rather, Hineni--which is written 178 times in the Bible and is uttered both by people to God and between people--holds a much deeper meaning than just being there in body. Rather, Hineni signifies a profound spiritual presence and readiness. Great dads are the embodiment of Hineni, showing up for their children every step of the way. 

I'm excited for summer to heat up, and hopefully for the stay-at-home restrictions to ease, so we can take our daughter swimming for the first time. So far, she's a big fan of splashing around in her baby bathtub so I'm guessing she'll like a bigger pool, too. I can't wait to watch my husband help her feet touch the water for the first time, there to guide her all along.  

Some of my favorite childhood memories center around my father taking my sister and me swimming. In some of the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota, where I was born and raised. At the neighborhood swimming pool. On the beaches of Long Island, where we'd visit my grandparents every summer. I spent much of my childhood playing in the water, alongside my dad.  

The Talmud tells us that "a father is obligated to teach his son how to swim." That directive can be taken literally that a father-and mother-must teach their children to swim in order to survive in actual tumultuous waters. But this verse is also meant to be interpreted metaphorically that parents must guide-but not shelter-their children through the tumult of life.  

That's certainly true of my father. My whole life, he's been guiding me, and pushing me, to take on the challenges of life with confidence, but at the same time he's always been there to help me when I fall, too.     

To the wonderful fathers, and father figures, who show up, and who teach their children to swim, we thank you. 

"Great dads are the embodiment of 'Hineni,' showing up for their children every step of the way."

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