I used to hate the beach. I loathed the bright, hot sun that makes my eyes malfunction and my pale skin burn brighter than the reddest lobster after three minutes of exposure. I couldn’t stand the smell of the sea, a smell that can only be described as ten-day-old seaweed covered in iodine and set on fire in my nostrils. I was never comfortable with the fact that no matter how careful I was, I was always a magnet for small packets of sand that found their way into my car and laundry for days to come.
Then, I became my daughter’s father.
A truly great parent puts their child’s needs above there own. I try my best, but I’m not always great. Fortunately, any deficiencies I have, I am able to compensate for in the the fact that I basically married Mary Poppins. I love to watch her be a mother. I learn so much. She’s so good at it. One of the greatest choices I ever made in my life was to track her down on MySpace after lacking the courage to ask her out in person.
My daughter has to endure many physical challenges in her life. She has to spend a lot of time with doctors at hospitals. She can walk short distances wearing her braces and having someone’s hand to hold. We know she’s going to need help in her life to accomplish some day-to-day physical activities. She rarely likes to make eye contact. She also currently does not speak. With all of this, it can be challenging to know what she likes, what she hates, when she’s hungry, and when she’s sad and needs comfort.
We find answers to a number of these questions through trial and error. We try different things with her to see what she likes. We bring her different places to see what she enjoy. We’ve learned she likes the duck pond by our house. She likes her preschool and her teachers. She likes the waiting area for Turtle Talk at Disney’s California Adventure. She even likes going to see her physical therapist. None of these things compare to the beach.
She loves the bright sun and the way it feels on her skin. She adores the feel of the breeze on her face. She finds the waves hypnotic as she watches them come and go. She takes joy in slowly moving her hands through the sand. She breathes in the ocean air the same way I breathe in the smell of freshly made chococlate chip cookies. She looks at everything. She enjoys the beach so much that I made a photo book of our trips that we look through at bedtime. It brings a smile and peace to her face that could end all wars.
The first time we sat together in very shallow surf and she felt a small wave touch her her skin, I heard a laugh so pure and full of happiness I became hooked. I became a fan of the beach. We now have a whole routine. We begin our trip to the beach by asking our daughter at home if she’d like to go yell, “come, come waves!” When we make our way down the highway, I love to watch her smile grow in the rear view mirror as she realizes that we are getting closer to her heaven. My smile grows even more when I hear how much she vocalizes when we park in that parking lot right by the sand.
I become overcome with pride as I hold her hand and we walk down to the waves. Every time she takes more and more steps. I’ll close my eyes with her as we feel the wind on our faces. I watch her watch everything and am amazed by how much she’s noticing. I laugh when the day is too cold and she still grabs my hand to get me to take her in the water. I even smile when she cries when she knows it’s time to go home because I know she loves being there more than anything. I don’t know if I can put into words how much it means to me to know that my daughter loves the beach that much. The beach gets to be our heaven away from doctors and hospitals. It’s made me love the beach. I love that sun, and the smell, and even that freaking sand that takes me weeks to clean out of my car.
I am my daughter’s father and I love the beach.
This post originally appeared on Medium.
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