The past week I stayed glued to the Discovery Channel so as to get my fill of Shark Week. I’ve been watching episodes highlighting the serenity and beauty of the sharks as they glide through the water. I’ve seen how scuba divers and underwater cameramen cautiously interact with the sharks without immediate fear of winding up being dinner. Then I have seen stories of survival from savage attacks, equal parts vicious and surprising.
The end of the week culminated in a marathon of all the shows that had aired the past week. As I was sitting in front of the TV watching all of it again, trying to get my wife to appreciate Air Jaws (in spite of my best a cappella rendition of the Jaws theme she was not impressed) and in between watching Great White Sharks gorge themselves on a floating whale carcass and Andy Samberg act like an idiot, I started thinking about (besides how sweet it would be to see Samberg in the middle of a shark feeding frenzy) my kids.
Not because my kids remind me of a Tiger Shark cracking the shell of a sea turtle open with its teeth and devouring water fowl (although, watching my kids eat ice cream, comparisons could easily be drawn) but because of how quickly a moment like feeding a sharks from a steel cage, that seemed completely under control, can change in an instant. Having kids is not completely unlike the tranquility of swimming laps in a calm ocean only to have all hell break loose in seconds in the form of a Bull Shark who is quickly dismembering you.
One minute you’re walking in from Christmas at your in-laws with your two year old happy as can be and the next she’s projectile vomiting in your living room. You’re giving your daughter a bath, all is going well, and then she lets her bowels loose. In a moment, you’re eating breakfast together as a family and the next your daughter is grabbing the hot pot of coffee, and not by the handle. Riding bikes and laughing can turn in to screaming and crying in the blink of an eye with one rock on the macadam and playing with her cousin in her bedroom ends up with a trip to the emergency room and a neck brace on, going in to get an MRI. A simple cold, overnight turns in to a 104 fever and a daughter who is as limp as a wet rag. And those are relatively minor things.
Too often there are stories in the news about a walk home from school or day camp resulting in tragedy, or how alcohol or drugs claim another young life. In an instant, when we all thought the waters were calm, they turn to viciousness and surprise. And what, as parents, can we do about it?
Then I’m watching spotters in South Africa sitting with binoculars, looking for sharks near the beach. They realize it is impossible to make their beaches completely safe but they understand how to reduce the chances of something happening. And all I can think about is, that’s the only thing I can do as a dad, reduce the chances. Because it would be foolish to think I could keep my kids completely away from the proverbially beach, but I can watch and be ready if anything does happen.
As futile as an endeavor as I know it would be to keep my kids completely away from the figurative beach, I also don’t want to keep them from it. I don’t want to minimize their opportunities or experiences in life out of the fear that something, possibly, might happen. Yet, I want to keep them safe from having their legs sheared off at the knees by an 18′ Great White, so to speak. So I’ll make sure they are a little more cautious riding their bikes, playing in the rooms, and keep them from eating three pieces of ice cream cake for Christmas dinner. And I’ll continue to keep a lookout and be ready if something happens. Like the men sitting high up from their South African beaches with their binoculars who know the beaches aren’t 100% safe as the people swim. Yet they continue to diligently keep watch for any sharks that might be lurking in the water.