Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Incredible Dad Deserves His Own Middle Flipper Post

It's Father's Day.  It's a time to celebrate all of the things that make our fathers and father-figures great.  If I were to enumerate all of the life lessons I've learned from my amazing dad, this blog would approach Biblical length.  So instead, I pay tribute to the Rust I love the best by sharing with all of the skills my dad David taught me so I could become a marine mammal trainer and good person.

My dad always does things just a little differently

1) Don't just learn how to swim, LOVE to swim.  So much that you make questionable decisions when in or around large bodies of water.

Swan Lake?

Not only did my father encourage me to take every swim lesson available below the Navy Seal level, he set an excellent example for me as a young child to stay physically fit.  Since I can remember, my dad has swam laps four to five days a week every week (even on vacation).  But that isn't enough.  He swims in all bodies of water, which may or may not have included a little face-plant into the Dead Sea.

But probably the best dad-swim story - the one that inspires me on a daily basis to always put basic safety first - is when my dad lost his glasses for the 903,582th time.  

My family and I had taken a boat ride around Lake Thompson on one of our annual Rhinelander trips.  We stopped the boat in a quiet bay to read and enjoy the breathtaking surroundings.  It wasn't surprising that my dad slipped away into peaceful slumber amidst the sound of a gentle breeze brushing through the trees, the songbirds singing their lilting, melodic tunes, and the lake water gently lapping against the hull of the boat.   

Not a bad place for a nap

We sat in the middle of this placid bay for half an hour before they found us.  They knew how long to wait.  They knew that the calming nature sounds placed my dad into such deep sleep that it rendered him completely helpless to defend himself against them.

They flew towards us, their evil laughter cloaked by the high-pitched sound of their wings beating.  They wanted to drink our blood and make us suffer.

By the time I realized what was happening, a deer fly the size of a quarter had landed on my sleeping dad and began to bore a hole into his flesh.  The shock of this painful bite jerked my dad awake so violently that his $600 glasses he'd perched on his chest flew into the air….and into the murky lake water.

After several loudly-delivered choice expletives (which, in my ethological expertise, frightens away most parasitic insects), my dad declared he would get into the water to get his glasses.

"Dad," I said.  "There is no way you're going to find your glasses.  You have no mask or goggles.  The water has essentially zero visibility, and it's so deep there will hardly be any light.  Not to mention, the bottom could be silt.  It's way too dangerous for you to even try it."

My dad then recanted with a plan.  He could ascertain the general vicinity of the glasses by simply paying attention to the subtle cross currents at different points in the water column. He'd assist himself down by using the anchor line, then feel around in the silt for his glasses and emerge victorious.  

Despite the rest of our protests, my dad dove into the water from the bow of the boat.  As expected in physics, the boat floated away in the opposite direction of my dad's dive.  This event did not alarm my sister, me, or my mom.  We focused on dad to make sure he didn't drown.

But the sound of the deer flies returned.  This time, in greater numbers.  In fact, the amount of flies buzzing around our heads seemed unusually high for us being in the middle of a lake.  When we looked around to figure out what was going on, my sister said, "We're floating into shore."

"That's impossible," I said.  "We're anchored to the bottom."

My mom crawled up to the bow of the boat. 

"Oh my god," she said.  "The anchor line is gone."

We all looked out to the middle of the lake, where my dad still had not resurfaced.  Immediately I thought, my dad's drowned.  And the three of us are floating into Death-By-Exsanguination on the Shores of Deerfly.

My dad suddenly popped up and looked around.  He was too far away for me to gauge his facial expression.  "Why are you guys over there?" he yelled.

"Because there is no anchor line!" we all replied.

My dad swam over to us and got himself back in the boat.  He explained he must've forgotten to tie the anchor line onto the boat.  The force of his dive sent the boat floating away from the line, eventually letting it fall into the water.

"Don't worry though," he said.  "I'll go back down and find the anchor."

A resounding NO was all he got, despite his various schemes to find the anchor (and maybe his glasses?).   But of course, the most important thing was that we were all safe.  And somewhere in Lake Thompson, one lucky creature gets a pair of really nice glasses.

My dad showing his son-in-law Chris where his glasses likely are.  Lake Thompson in mid-February. 

2) Network, network, network.   And you can't be good at networking if you're a gigantic a-hole
My dad knows everyone's story.  He is the most socially-intelligent person I know.  He genuinely cares about other people and wants them to feel comfortable around him.  It's a quality I've loved about him since I was a little kid.   I've tried to emulate his friendly, warm demeanor and I think it's responsible for a lot of my success.  Being friendly with people not only makes someone else's day great, it sets you up to learn about experiences and ideas you'd never be exposed to otherwise.  It helps you network.  There are boundless benefits to treating other people with respect and kindness for everyone involved.

Look at that life of the party!

My dad taught me to network at a young age by setting up meetings with people in the marine mammal field.  The very first time I met someone who actually worked at an aquarium was when I was doing a news story for my junior high school paper.  My dad's journalism background and publishing profession made him the perfect ally when it came to any scholarly writing task.  He set up an interview with a young man in the education department at the Shedd Aquarium.   A couple years later, he met someone who knew someone who was a trainer at the Brookfield Zoo.  I got to interview her as well.  

My dad is now such a master at networking and Getting To Know People that it is now at the Transcendental Meditation Level.  He loses focus on all other external stimuli when he talks to you, which is why you instantly start liking him.  It is also why he's lost his cell phone more than any human being on the planet.  Here are the best two ways this has occurred (a result of his deep conversations):

1) Forgets it in a cab (subsequently is stolen and sold to a person who called my mom to demand she turn the phone off so they could use it)

2) Places it inside a to-go food container at a restaurant (subsequently sits in the fridge for a week; is discovered after my dad bought a new phone and felt a little hungry)

3) Napping is important
Deep Sleep Thy Name Is David.  I realize this is likely genetic.  Nonetheless, I am eternally in his debt for this most precious gift.   My dad and I could sleep through everything*.

Sweet, sweet slumber.

My dad has done nothing but support me and my sister in all of our interests.  He's the most selfless, caring person I've ever met, and he's my father.  I know every day how lucky I am, and how lucky the people in his life are.  He makes a mean spaghetti sauce (and is in general, a great cook; a skill I completely lack).  He is one of the leading experts in educational publishing (so much so that National Geographic contracts him) and owns his own company.  He has to be successful, though.  How else could he afford to replace all of his lost cell phones, glasses, anchors?

To boldly lose glasses, where no man has lost them before.

*Obviously, this does not include deer fly bites

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