As a younger man, I loved few things more than snowy weekends—those endless stretches of duty-free hours to read or watch movies or hide beneath an old quilt dreaming about my future.
Ten years later, my future has arrived. My sons, Galen and Hayden, are eight and six and snow-bound weekends are seldom restful. Close in age and nearly equal in size, their energy is as contagious as a virus. If one boy’s feeling wild, the other can’t help but join in, and vengeance rides hard on the heels of every provocation. A finger in the ear is met with a sneaker winged across the room. A dollar stolen from Hayden’s wallet results in Galen’s underwear floating in the toilet. Their wrestling wakes us on Saturday morning and continues until we shoo them upstairs at night. Even then, we hear them jumping on their beds, taunting each other from behind their closed doors.
By Sunday afternoon, we’re all on edge and desperate to escape. My wife volunteers to go to Woodman’s, but only if she can go alone. I gather the boys’ swimming trunks and goggles, bundle them in heavy parkas and gloves and set out for the YMCA. We hang our jeans in a locker, tie our suits tight, and exit through the showers to the pool. The boys long ago declared the shallow water for babies. They head straight for the deep end.
When they were younger, the boys used to take turns playing “elevator” by holding onto my shoulders as I slid down the wall toward the bottom. As a boy, I learned to hold my breath this same way: clutching onto my own father’s shoulders as he plunged toward the deep end of our neighborhood pool, the shadowed grates to the pumps like a door in the earth’s crust, a realm accessible only to him and to me. It’s a father’s job to lead his sons into the deep end, to show them that every abyss eventually has a bottom, to teach them not to fear it.
I’ve taken my sons swimming on so many Sunday afternoons that they have become good swimmers by nothing more than repetition. They jump over my head and slither through my legs. They can hold their breaths almost as long as I can. They can touch the deep end without my help. Most Sundays I float beneath them, in the quiet enclosure of the water, watching their legs bicycle above me. When they scurry up the metal ladder and disappear from view, I understand a little of what it will feel like when they grow up and move away. Before I know it, my Sundays will be as quiet as they once were. Already I miss the days when the boys clung to my neck. I call their names, and my words bubble silently toward the water’s mirrored surface.
But, just as I start to feel sad, Galen dives in. His eyes are wide behind his goggles and his hands are outstretched, reaching for me.