Harrison’s dadAugust 14, 2014
From where I'm sitting at the lifeguard station they start out as a dot, growing larger and taking shape as they slowly paddle across the pond. There he is, sitting straight and proud, for being 5 foot nothing, his barrel chest straining his yellow life jacket and his tiny son in his little orange life jacket, cinched around his neck so tight he has a chubby little double chin.
Halfway across the lake, I can start to hear his voice talking to his son. They keep paddling up alongside the swimming area and don't slow down until they slide up on shore.
"Okay now Harrison, let's pull the canoe all the way up and unload our stuff!" Harrison's dad leaps out, looking like a hairy, stout, lumberjack leprechaun of sorts. It's my job to watch every swimmer, but it's hard not to just fixate on Harrison and Harrison's Dad.
"Now Harrison you grab the towels and I'll grab the cooler. Then we'll head over to our favorite spot and set up our area. Then you can take off your shoes, we'll put on sunscreen, and go swimming!" Harrison's dad proceeds to narrate their every move. Harrison carefully gets out of the canoe, picks up the towels, and follows his dad, his little orange life jacket strap giving him a wedgie as he waddles up the beach.
They plop their stuff down and Harrison's dad whips out a bottle of sunscreen. He squeezes out roughly 3 cups of sunscreen into his lumberjack palms and proceeds to slather Harrison's tiny pale body like it's butter on a Thanksgiving turkey. Once Harrison is sufficiently covered in oily paste, they proceed down to the water to have some good old fashioned summer fun.
Harrison tip toes into the water gingerly, and Harrison's Dad marches right in like he's fording a river. Once they are in, Harrison's dad proceeds to sidle up to some other young swimmers and introduce himself.
"Hi, I'm Harrison's Dad. This is Harrison," he says, pointing at his son, who is just standing there silent and wide-eyed. "What's your name?"
"umm.. Sarah." A sheepish girl looks around, confused and wondering if she should yell "stranger danger" or just go with it.
"Want to play catch with us?" Harrison's Dad asks.
One by one, Harrison's Dad lures children into his friendship trap. Then, the game begins.
"Ok Sarah, I'm going to throw the ball to you, then you can throw the ball to Jimmy, then Jimmy throws the ball to Harrison, and Harrison will throw the ball back to me. Then we'll do it again!" Harrison just stands there like a doll, a ring of sunscreen oil shining on the surface of the water around his body, a miniature freshwater Valdez (the swim teachers described their lessons as 'trying to teach a greased watermelon how to swim'). This goes on; facilitated play by Harrison's dad, until the ice cream truck shows up, or the other kids' parents call them in for lunch. Later, Harrison's dad introduces himself to the parents, also as "Harrison's Dad."
For seven summers I lifeguarded at this pond, and for five of those summers I watched this routine happen 3-5 days per week. Harrison and Harrison's Dad make their way across the lake in their canoe, then Harrison's Dad negotiates every move that Harrison makes at the beach. I watched him instruct children on sand castle making in great detail, I watched him introduce Harrison to a myriad number of "friends" who may or may not have been actually interested in making a new, painfully shy, friend, and he did it all covered in SPF 9000.
In five years, Harrison's Dad not once spoke his real name. He was always "Harrison's Dad." In five years, Harrison never made a single introduction for himself, nor did Harrison's Dad ever encourage him to do so.
It's been 8 years since the last time I worked at that beach. I don't know what made me think of him the other day, but I looked at my husband and said, "woah. If it's been 8 years, and Harrison was about 9 or 10, that means he's 17 or 18 years old now."
"Holy sh*t, do you think he is going to college?" My husband asked. "Do you think Harrison's Dad will go with him to frat parties to introduce him to friends?" I tried to picture Harrison as a young adult. He most likely had excellent skin. My husband proceeded to imitate Harrison's Dad teaching underage coeds how to play drinking games... "Now Jimmy, you'll throw the ball into the red cup, and if you make it, Sarah must drink the whole cup. Then Sarah will throw the ball back to your side, then Harrison will have a turn."
I can't make any judgements as to whether or not Harrison's Dad's participation in his childhood development ultimately helped or hurt Harrison. It probably was a combination of both. Harrison was painfully shy, and Harrison's Dad was doing a great job of making sure that Harrison felt included and connected. But, whether or not that turned into a crutch, I can't say.
Parents want the best for their children, and that includes positive play and healthy peer relationships. I can't fault Harrison's Dad for being heavily involved in his everyday childhood interactions. Whether or not he remained over-involved in his life into his young adult years is where I would take issue. The horror stories of kids sending home college assignments to their parents for editing, or even parents attending job interviews with their kids (seriously!?), makes me cringe. The best thing that parents can do to prepare kids for the road ahead is let them do the hard work, push themselves out of their comfort zones every once in a while, and make mistakes."Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child." http://ctt.ec/fD62F+ (Click to tweet)
I like to think that Harrison is out there killing it, and Harrison's Dad keeps his involvement to Parent's Weekend and graduation.