79: Waterskiing with Dad Is Okay

79: Waterskiing with Dad Is Okay

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Waterskiing with Dad Is Okay

Your children need your presence more than your presents.

~Jesse Jackson

Most water skiers yell “hit it!” But when my dad is driving the boat, he knows my “okay” is the cue to push the throttle as far as it will go and pull me out of the water.

Dad has been pulling me out of the water for twenty-seven years, since the summer he taught me to ski. I was ten and we had rented a lakefront cabin for the week. Every morning, afternoon and evening that week, he climbed into the boat and, with my mom or brother or uncle spotting, he threw me the rope. My face tense with concentration, I’d grip the bar until my knuckles turned white, watching the boat slowly move away until the slack in the rope disappeared.

Then I held my breath and struggled to keep the ski tips above the water until I thought maybe I had the balance to holler “okay.” I didn’t like the command “hit it.” I’m not sure why, but it didn’t matter, Dad knew what I meant. His response was quick and the boat lunged forward. But my untrained muscles and mind didn’t respond so well.

Sometimes the skis went under immediately, like they were diving for lost treasure, and I’d get a face full of water while my body flopped forward and my skis flipped free. While I coughed and snorted, my dad pulled the boat around so the rope came right to me. He’d offer several encouragements and a suggestion; then we’d try again.

Sometimes just one ski went under and I fell to the side. Other times, both skis surfaced while my bottom stayed in the water and I fell backward with a splash. And then there were the times I got up for a moment, but then couldn’t control my unruly skis, which seemed to go in every direction at once. Those were the hardest falls. Water went in every orifice and my body performed unnatural contortions as I crashed. Each time my dad circled the boat back around, offering encouragement and gentle tips. Sometimes it really hurt and I gave up for a while.

But a few hours later, when I asked Dad, “Can you take me skiing again?” he’d put down his soda, his card game or his book and back to the water we went. I don’t remember him ever telling me no. If he was tired of spending his vacation driving in watery circles, he didn’t show it. Over the course of that week he responded to my “okay” at least a hundred unsuccessful times.

On the last day, we had victory. I got up and skied around our bay. It was like flying, the wind whipping my wet hair as my skittish skis skimmed the water. The joy was worth suffering through a week of failure and I’ve skied every summer since.

Since then, my dad has taken me skiing countless times, often rising at 6 AM with me so I could ski the glassy water of early morning. It is always exhilarating — gliding across the water’s surface, whipping around the outside curve on a tight turn, jumping the wake and waves. Skiing is my happy place, but I think it’s more than the sport. While fun, skiing isn’t quite the same behind another boat or driver, where I yell “hit it” like everyone else. It’s best when Dad drives.

My dad has since taught my three kids to ski and with each one I saw again the same patient encouragement he had for me. He’s proud of them, joyful at their accomplishments and happy to teach something that provides pleasure. And he’s shown them, like he showed me, that success can come after failure, and a word of encouragement can literally pull you up.

My kids are light and pop out of the water like corks while I now have to hold my breath and hold on, praying the boat has enough power to heave me to the surface. But when I’m done flying across the water and the boat circles back around, I love that my dad still says “nice run” or “good job.” It makes me feel like I can do anything.

I still say “okay” when I ski with my dad. I think it fits my mood about my favorite sport. It’s also an understatement for how I feel about my dad. He’s a lot more than okay.

~Jill Barville

More stories from our partners