Identity

Haleiwa_Barrl

The waves are perfect today. Head-high, clean, glassy right-handers peeling down the point. This spot only breaks in the Winter and then only rarely. This and the difficult access keeps the crowds down. Usually I see the same people in the water over and over. Mostly more mature surfers, lots of women and local kids just getting started. Today there are only 6 of us out and more than enough waves for everyone. The rides are a quarter mile long so every paddle back up the point is a long effort returning to the take-off spot. My adult daughter is smiling broadly as I arrive from another such journey. “Beautiful wave.” she says as I approach. “Yeah, phew!” I say sitting back up on my yellow and white Harbour 9’6″ longboard. “Yours was really nice too.” I return. She is riding a much shorter board so has to work harder for every wave. The short surface of the smaller board fighting her as she paddles the less buoyant craft. “You got a few good pumps down the line.” I add. She smiles her beautiful smile. Large white teeth, white blonde hair and fair complexion, she is like a Winter Goddess I think to myself. Always so comfortable in the cold water she lounges easily next to me in the 60 degree ocean. “Wow” look at that set!” she says excitedly pointing to the West as another perfect group of waves come marching in. We both begin paddling again up the point in the direction of the oncoming lines. Further out a single male surfer turns to catch the first of the over-head swells as it feels the bottom and begins to break. He paddles into it hops up smoothly and slides down the face angling in our direction. He races towards us as we take the whole scene in. There are 3 more waves behind this one and the lush green trees that line the point silhouette against a luminous stormy sky. An image we both feel burning into our memories. We clear the wave just as he wooshes by. My daughter gives him a hoot, feeling the contact high from the beauty we have all just shared. The next wave turns towards us and begins to stand up. My daughter is just in front if me and spins to catch it. I am filled with joy seeing how expertly she judges the wave’s position and her own, adjusting her paddling speed and direction to be in just the right place to catch it but not be caught by it. “Woo-hoo!” I shout as the wave rises up under her, her board suddenly lifting like a bucking horse its tail coming up and its nose down. She lets the nose drop and pops her legs under her as it falls away landing her feet on the deck of the board just before it careens end over end. She redirects the energy across the wave and slides away down the point another big smile spreading across her face. My eyes follow her like they have so many times before as she learned the skills necessary to be here now. Everything so much the same but then again so different. She is an adult, I can speak to her as a peer now in the water whereas before I was her parent and instructor, lifeguard and father. I am still her father however no longer in that male body. Today I sit in the surf line-up as a woman with my grown daughter after so many years as her male parent. The experience a completion of a long journey finally realized on my own part and hers.

As my children approached adulthood it became clear it was time for me to begin considering my own identity. I had spent all my energy safe-guarding them and nurturing their selves even as my own slowly drained from me. The more realized and conscious they became the more apparent my own stunted self was revealed. I had been living a half-life, always knowing there was someone inside whom no one could see. Every experience done as a voyeur, knowing I should feel more but always looking at it through a veil that separated me from the direct emotion. Having children broke through that initially. The profound moment of watching your child arrive still gives me chills and woke me from my sleep. They became the most precious things in my universe and my all consuming meaning. At the time they arrived I was married to their Mom and began to imagine a traditional family life. Perhaps this visceral connection to someone other than myself would be enough for me to let go of the constant awareness that I was not whole. Painfully and perhaps mercifully their mother could not live that broken reality and we parted ways as intimate partners but not as parents. I fought to be near them at times feeling short changed as their father but understood the deep need young children have for their birth mother. I became a weekend-warrior. I spent very Saturday and Sunday with my children for 5 years never taking one off. I worked the other 5 days but felt such a strong bond that I needed it as much as they did.

All was well or so I thought. I attempted other traditional male-female relationships but I could never get past the veil and my incomplete self. I dated multiple women, some met my children and some didn’t. Some I told of my incomplete self and others never knew. Some bitterly condemned me when I shared and others empathized but left anyway. None could live with someone who was only half present. As my children became teenagers I saw them less. I attempted to bridge the widening distance from my children by teaching them to surf and sharing my joy of the ocean. When my son turned thirteen I realized he needed a father to show him how to be a man. He wanted to feel special as a boy who could have his own unique time with his male role-model. My daughter had her Mother already. They shared experiences my son was not privy to nor interested in. He was all boy and wanted to feel that we had our own things and activities. He needed to bang his shield and spear together and I had to show him how. I began taking him surfing. We started with the easy spots and the smaller days. He devoured the experiences eagerly. Often we would get up before dawn and school to arrive at the ocean just as it was getting light. After dozens and dozens of surf sessions he slowly improved. I watched as his self confidence blossomed his body grew and began to display the lean muscles of a young man. This confidence spread into school and other areas as he started wrestling and playing football. He embraced the toughest male sports loving and reveling in activities I used to cringe at. By the time he was 18 he was a supremely confident Alpha male. It seemed whatever we had done had gone right.

My daughter I picked up again, perhaps a bit late after realizing she needed that same male influence. We suffered through a more difficult adolescence together. She trying to figure herself out in a world significantly more hostile to young women than men and I struggling with my own growing pains. I pushed hard trying to keep her near hoping she’d feel the love of the ocean as a grounding force in her life. Her strong intuition seemed to know I was hiding something. Her Mother worried I was harming her in some unconscious way. I felt my day of reckoning approach even as the waves come relentlessly across the water. I finally shared my struggle and split identity to my daughter in a therapy session when she was few weeks shy of her 18th birthday. I had always hoped to wait until she arrived at the that magic adult number to somehow preserve her childhood from my own complications and had nearly got there. Her struggles made it seem more imperative to finally be honest and let her in on who her father actually was.

Initially there was disbelief. This grizzled, athletic very male father was in fact a woman? I can’t even imagine how strange that must have been for her to wrap her mind around. My heart broke to disappoint another woman, but this time the single most important one of my life. I felt myself fall from her esteem. I, like every parent had the sudden descent from the Olympian pedestal to the shattered reality of a common flawed mortal. I pondered her mother’s need to help in the crash even as I knew of its inevitability. I shared with my 21 year old son, now a 6-foot-six heavily muscled man a few weeks later. He embraced me now towering over me and said, “I love you no matter what Dad.” Tears rolled down my cheeks at those words. The fear I had held so long at this moment dissolving on the shoulder of my beautiful child.

He has held onto that position even though I know there has been struggle for him to comprehend it. We surf less since he has graduated college and lives in another town with his fiancé but my daughter has recently returned. In the interim she has found her understanding of her world and herself and how I fit in it as a woman. In some ways she has become my mentor. After all ironically she has lived as a woman longer than I. She arrives from her long paddle back after her last wave with a huge bright smile. “Gorgeous wave!” I say as she sits up next to me. “Yeah, thanks Dad.” she grins. Just then the man who caught the wave right before hers paddles up. “You ladies still killing it over here?” “Oh yeah!” I respond. “You know it!” He gives me a big smile stopping for a moment to chat. “Girl Power!” I hear him say as he paddles off. My daughter and I look at each other and laugh out loud. “You have no idea!”

 

 

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