One summer years ago when Olivia, my youngest, was learning to swim, we spent a great deal of time at the local swimming pool. The summer I was writing my dissertation, the kids and I agreed that if they left me alone until 1:00 pm, we’d spend the afternoon in the water. I could be found hoping to transcribe just one more interview as they beat on my office door at 12:59 pm.
That summer, Olivia discovered the diving board. She loved to get me to tread water in the middle of the deep end of the pool so I could watch her go off the board. Cries of ‘watch me, daddy,’ never failed to bring me from the edge. She’d jump, swim to me, attach herself to my neck, and catch a ride to the side of the pool. I made a deal with her that if she would go off the high dive, I would also leap. “Give me a few days on the low dive, Dad,’ she said in acknowledgment of her new skill.
A few days later, she was ready to tackle the high dive. I looked up from the middle of the pool; she jumped, swam to me, and panted her excitement. As we made it to the poolside, I told her it was my turn, and she begged me not to honor my deal. I could not understand why, but Olivia did not want me to go off the high dive. I explained that I’d committed and needed to stand firm in my agreement. I walked off dripping. She sat at the side of the pool, shaking her head.
You see, I am afraid of heights. As a kid, I had never managed the nerve to go off the high dive.
I stood in line with a string of 10-year-olds going up the ladder and more behind. At about the halfway point, I remembered…I’m afraid of heights. I did not want to climb that ladder, but it was too late. What was I going to do, embarrass myself by asking the third graders to let me down? I continued up.
When it was my turn at the board, I ran right down the broad, white line and into the open. I hit the water, and then I hit the bottom of the pool. Breathless, I made it to the poolside, and Olivia looked at me through the spaces in her fingers covering her face.
“That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” she said, “I thought we’d have to sit here and wait for all the water to drain back into the pool.”
Last week I moved that kid to college. It was bittersweet. Her move was two months behind our transition to Maryland. I felt all the things. In every way, getting her to college was a life success for us. I realized that sometimes success doesn’t feel great. Sometimes success is scary.
Sometimes we must pick a line and commit.