My father was what I’d describe (and he’d humbly hate) Soave Bola; Ricardo Montalban without the flirty wink or cheesy grin, approachably sophisticated and elegant.
He had olive oil skin, an easy smile and a Mediterranean warmth that radiated gentleness born of surviving decades of pain and landing in gratitude.
In one of my favorite pictures he’s sitting in a white Catamaran with my three year old daughter Tara in his lap dressed in a black crew-neck fitted cotton tee shirt and his usual pressed khaki shorts. His thick waffled salt and pepper (more salt by then) Russian-Italian hair is slightly puffed.
It’s July twelve years ago during our annual summer trip to Anna Maria Island. Dad and Sondra rented the same beach house every year. That season we decided to take a sunset cruise.
The sun is dimming over the wide channel as the captain pulls away; the sapphire blue water softly peaking. My father holds Tara in his lap, his hands pressing flat against her hips.
“Dad whatever you do, hold her tight because she’ll want to get up and move around. If she does, I’ll come get her from you. I’ve got her pacifier if she gets cranky.” I yelled.
I was helicoptering as our clawing generation does when we release our kids to people removed from our fine print rules of parenting. Catamarans can be unsteady, their expansive barge-like structure forces passengers to balance their weight. This can be a challenge for an unpredictable toddler, especially one trying to calibrate with her grandfather’s stiff, uneven Parkinson’s movements inside a vessel designed to lean into wake.
But my father looks relaxed, happy, settled into his glass of white wine. My daughter, usually cautious at the start of any new adventure is giggling through her pacifier-pushed overbite. Her short, wispy blond hair is blowing across her face, her eyes mirror exactly, the hue of the ocean. Tara’s tucked inside a snug blue and red life-jacket over one of my favorite dresses, a white ruffled-sleeved cotton frock hand sprinkled with threaded navy designs, a gift Dad and Sondra brought from Portugal. Curling her small honey sun-tanned fingers against her chest, she’s giddy and expectant as she looks across the water.
We sail past green, branchy estuaries, salty mangroves layered with white Egrets, Ibis and black slick feathered Cormorants spanning their wings to dry. The volume of bird chatter and stench of hundreds of avian droppings overtake us as Tara points and my father says“Sweetheart, look, know what that is?”
In the picture, through his amber tinted glasses my father seems to be looking down, smiling broadly at something or nothing. The moment feels nurturing, full of quiet familial symbiosis and mutual leaning between an aging grandfather and sprouting granddaughter. My father seems to bask in his care giving role, that part of his identity turned inside out when he got sick.
He is my child’s anchor across breezy waters. She buoys his spirit, illuminating each moment with her excitement, unearthing my father’s sunken ocean memories as they move together across water that can at will, caress or devour.