Going to the swimming pool in Bethany, Oklahoma on Saturday mornings was as basic family fun as you could have. In those days when the kids were young, sandwiches, chips and drinks was all that was needed to spend an entire day outdoors. Nowadays, first of all you can’t get them outdoors, and secondly, they definitely wouldn’t settle for sandwiches. But I digress as this story is more about me, and my then seven year old daughter, and facing the fear of the swimming pool diving board.
Shortly after we started going to the swimming pool the 12’ diving board caught her attention and for the precocious and daring little girl she was, it did not faze her at all. Although she was slow at first, once up the ladder and on the board she had no trouble jumping and splashing into the water. She would do this over and over again without tiring.
During one of her breaks to get a drink and sandwich she came over to me and asked me to join her jumping off the diving board. So as I normally did when I didn’t feel like doing something, I tried to brush her off and send her on her way. But this one particular time she didn’t scurry off as she would otherwise. She again said to me, “Come on, Dad! It’ll be fun jumping off the diving board!” So again I tried to make her go away, but I think this time she noticed I was more serious and there was something more than just not wanting to do it.
And so she started teasing me and telling me I was afraid to go jump of the diving board. And although she was right, I didn’t want to admit it and told her we’d go later hoping she’d go back into the pool and forget about it. Well, as most of you know, kids don’t forget. So here she comes again, but this time she took a different approach. Instead of teasing me and telling me I was scared, in her sweet and caring voice, she says “Come on Dad, I’ll go with you, it’ll be okay.” So she reaches out to hold my hand and we start walking side by side towards the diving board. When we get there she goes first as if to say you’ll see, there’s nothing to it.
So now she’s on the diving board and I’m by myself at the bottom of the ladder wondering if I can still get out of the dilemma I’m in. I’m thinking to myself that I really, really don’t want to go up that ladder because first of all, I’m afraid of heights, and second, I have no idea what to do after I get on the board. On the other hand, I don’t want my daughter to be disappointed and have her think her daddy’s a wimp.
At this point she jumps off the board and starts swimming to the edge of the pool as was the rule in the swimming pool, and now it’s my turn to start climbing up the ladder. So what do I do now? Do I forget this nonsense, turn around and go back? Should I face my fears and not quit on myself? Do I turn around and perhaps have my daughter bring it up in the future and use it against me? Yes, all of those things, and more, went through my mind in those few seconds in which I was literally frozen.
Having been in the military and having faced much more difficult situations, including once rappelling down a mountain, this seemed to have gotten the best of me. But alas, I started up the ladder and finally stepped onto the board. Trying not to look down, I could sense people looking at me, including my own daughter, and I also noticed the teenage lifeguard focusing in on me, and how slowly I was moving towards the end of the board. So now I’m at the point where I can either dive forward or jump feet first into the water. But that’s not what’s I’m thinking. I’m still thinking I can get out of this by turning around and going back down the ladder. Yes, I was that scared.
Additionally, I normally am not one to get talked into doing things I don’t have to do ,and don’t want to do. People can say all they want, tease me, make fun, say whatever and I can do a good job of ignoring them and not letting it faze me.
But with my daughter it was different. She had this way of being sweet and understanding and it was hard not to want to do things for her. Even when I would initially say no to her she had a way of getting what she wanted, most of the time, anyway.
So wanting to please her, and wanting her to have the pleasure of helping me conquer this fear, I did a half jump and fell straight down, feet first into the water. I noticed as I was falling that I was going in on an angle so as soon as my entire body went into the water I started flapping my arms to slow my descend down to the pool’s floor. Once I regained my senses I broke the water’s surface and swam back to get out of the pool, as fast as I could. And of course, once this is over, I’m trying to act cool and hoping no one noticed other than to let my daughter know I did it. But I did made sure to tell her not to ask me to do that ever again.
I think she actually understood how difficult that was for me as she never brought it up again. Except for one time, years later. When she was about 18 or 19 years old we were shopping at the Galleria mall in Dallas, TX, I was looking down from the second floor towards the first floor, but making sure I stayed a few feet from the railing. I didn’t see my daughter as she came up to me from behind, put her hands on my hips and pretended to push me forward. And of course I’m startled and my feet get that tingling, burning sensation that only people that are afraid of heights experience. She then says in her loud, megaphone voice, as I used to call it, “WHAT’S THE MATTER DAD? YOU STILL SCARED OF HEIGHTS!” And she let out a big hearty laugh as I quickly turned around and headed back to the safety of one of the shops.