Walking Across Sea World

Because yesterday was Father’s Day, I want to share with you a little (true) story I wrote for the Encouraging Dads Project. Those of you who follow my Facebook page might have seen it before, but I hadn’t shared it on the blog yet.

This story goes out with a big “Thank You!” to all the dads and father figures making positive differences in their children’s lives. Even the “little things” you’re doing mean more than you realize.

Me and Harpy in 2002

My father dislikes shopping of any kind. Gift shops are particularly pointless. We just paid how much to get in, and now they want us to buy overpriced junk just because it’s got their logo on it? I don’t think so!

I share that so you’ll understand how rare it was to have him inside a gift shop, let alone offering to buy something in it. The setting is Sea World Ohio, a well-nigh forgotten theme park along Geauga Lake near the city of Aurora. Summer sun beat down on the pavement, sending trickles of sweat down my dad’s back as he pulled two little princesses around in a red wagon. My sister and I had been treated to an orca show at Shamu Stadium, sent through a playground with a sea of ocean-colored plastic balls, and given the chance to pet stingrays. And now, we needed stuffed animals.

I’m not talking about just any stuffed animal. It was a pure white harp seal pup nearly as large as I was at 5 or 6 years old. He had big brown eyes and a friendly smile. He was perfect, except for one thing. The only one left in the gift shop had a big stain discoloring his side.

If there was one thing my father disliked more than buying overpriced promotional items, it was buying defective overpriced promotional items. But let me tell you what Daddy didn’t do. He didn’t tell me I was stupid for wanting that stuffed seal. He didn’t tell me I wasn’t worth getting the best seal Sea World had to offer. And he didn’t tell me to suck-it up and live without the seal either. Instead, he sent a message that has stuck with me my entire life.

Daddy walked to the opposite end of a 50-acre theme park to retrieve a better version of my baby seal. At the time, he probably just thought he was doing a nice, and rather inconvenient, thing for his little girl. But he was doing so much more than that. He told me I was valued. He told me that he listened when I talked about things I wanted. He told me he’d go above and beyond to make me happy. All by walking across a theme park to pick up a stuffed animal.

In the grand scheme of things, a stuffed seal isn’t the most impressive present a dad could buy for his daughter. But the love behind that gift solidified Harpy’s position as my favorite toy. He slept in my bed, went on vacations, and attended slumber parties with me for about ten years after Daddy walked across Sea World for him. Now, another 10+ years down the road he’s a bit fragile and has lost some of his fluffiness and most of his white color, but I’ll never get rid of him.

We remember the big moments with our dads because of the intangible things that go along with them. My dad gave me other gifts. But this one sticks in my memory because it was a visible reminder of the sort of things he did, and still does, every day in the many ways he took care of me and told me I was precious to him.

This article originally appeared on Encouraging Dads.com, January 2017.

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Picnic Anniversary

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looking out from behind the shelter house

I spent yesterday at the event highlight of the summer — Wilson’s Picnic by the Pond for the local church groups. This being the 20th anniversary year, I really don’t remember a time when I haven’t been going to Wilson’s picnic every summer (I’d just turned 6 when they started hosting it and I’ve never missed a year). I suppose that actually makes it the most stable, long-lasting thing in my life other than my family.

My pictures here are a bit dated, since I rarely take time from swimming for photography, but it hasn’t really changed much in the past 4 years. Just some of the young people are taller now.

Come to think of it, it really hasn’t changed all that much in the past 20 years. It’s just that now, I’m one of the teens and young adults hauling little kids up onto the dock instead of one of the girls bobbing around in a life jacket waiting for a “big boy” to fish me out so I can jump back in.

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Three of the picnic’s main attractions: paddle boat, the dock, and Saturn

Wilson’s Picnic might be one reason I love the water so much. I think I’ve swam every year, even if it was only for 1/2 an hour between rain showers or when it was so cold we literally started turning blue. Most years, though, it’s warm and sunny enough to spend all day in the water and come out with a lovely lobster-red sun burn. When we were younger and less worried about sunscreen, my sister and I would spend the next couple weeks after the picnic pealing flakes of dead skin off our sunburns. A bit wiser now, only my shoulders burned this year.

In addition to swimming, the picnic is always stuffed full of good friends and good food like my peach cheesecake squares. At any given time throughout the day, you usually have the option to eat, swim, play corn hole, chat with friends, or get into a deep Bible discussion. I checked off all except corn hole this year, and I’m already looking forward to next year. Thanks to the Wilsons for 20 years of amazing memories!