My three sons stand with me on the bank of Bundick Creek. It's a special day in late May -- our first swim of the summer. The two oldest, Clay and Clint, know how cold the water will be this early in the season. Their 3-year-old brother Terry doesn't realize it yet, but will soon experience it firsthand.
I gather the boys around me. "Guys, we need to pray and ask the Lord to bless our swimming this year." I put my arms around them and pray, "Lord, bless our swimming this year and keep us safe. Amen."
Then I shove all three of them into the cold water. They come up hollering and yelling, and I know another year of creek swimming has begun. Quickly, while my courage is up, I jump in with them. The icy water takes my breath away and I think to myself, "This is absolutely crazy!"
The boys and I will swim often during this summer. Many times we will go to the pool at the nearby campground with its clear water and smooth bottom, but the best place to swim is right here in Bundick Creek. It is the spot where I, and now my boys, learned to swim. It's also where baptisms took place in my childhood years.
There is something about the smell of creek water, the current and the soft slimy creek sand between your toes that stays in your soul long after you are home and dry.
Later as I sit in the sand watching the boys splash and play, I think of how many children never experience the uniqueness of swimming in a creek, the exhilaration of swinging off a rope tied to a limb high above the water, or just soaking in the quiet tranquility of a sunset beside a creek bank.
Because my boys are growing up so quickly, I know the day will come when going to the creek with their dad will not be "cool" and I'll be begging them to go, instead of them begging me. A man facing his final moments of life, I've read, never regrets that he didn't spend more time at the office, but often wishes he had spent more time with his family.
How sad it is when a person, standing in the doorway watching a teenager walking out into life, regrets not seizing more of those special moments that fill a parent's heart. I know that sometimes this summer when I'm busy with chores or paperwork, one of the boys will come to me and say, "Daddy, do we have time to go swimming today?"
I'll think of the tractor bush-hogging needing to be done, or bills to be paid, but hope I'll reply with the "swimming daddy's" motto, "Boys, I can think of a lot of things we need to do besides going swimming. However, right at the moment, I can't think of anything more important. Let's go."
I'm thankful to have another summer of swimming in the cold water of Bundick Creek. Walking up the creek bank, I whisper a silent prayer, "Lord, help me gather every precious second and moment of all of these blessings You've sent my way. Teach me to number my days. Remind me of the importance of creek swims and anything else that can be a memory-making and growing time with these boys You've given me."
Twenty years later....
An old Indian saying is true: You cannot stand by the same river twice. That also applies to creeks. You can go back but the creek will have changed and so will you. The three boys in the story above are all adult married men with families of their own. Now, it's my grandchildren I take swimming.
There are three words that sear my mind as I re-read "First swim of the summer."
First, time. It goes by so quickly. It's the best gift we can give those whom we love -- especially our children. The adage, "Children spell love 't-i-m-e'" is true. I encourage young fathers to carve out that time. It has to be taken hold of and made a priority. A father will never regret it and it will help avoid the rueful father's words of "We'll do that later."
The second word is fun. Having fun with our children is where lifelong memories are made and relationships cemented. I think back to several horrific camping trips when the boys and I were rained on, stayed wet and cold for days and faced tough hikes and biting insects. In spite of that, we had fun. This is proven by the fact they still mention those trips. Your source of fun with your children will be as unique as you and they are. Find that common ground and build on it. It's the key to maintaining a close relationship through the teen years.
Finally, pray with, and for, your children. My pre-cold-swim prayer may seem trite and shallow (pun intended) but it was sincere. I always prayed for safety as we swam in the creek. My wife DeDe and I tried to weave the fabric of prayer into the lives of our three boys. This investment of prayer is always honored by our Lord and influences the lives of our children.
Time, fun and prayer. Three diverse words that fit together in the lives of three boys and their rural father. May these words guide every father who reads this.
Curt Iles (on the Internet at www.creekbank.net) is a writer and speaker based in his hometown of Dry Creek, La. His eight books chronicle life among the good folks in the Piney Woods of rural Louisiana. Iles is a deacon at Dry Creek Baptist Church. He and his wife DeDe have three sons and five grandchildren.
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