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A salute to fathers ... and sons

Local Commentary

Posted: June 15, 2008 2:28 p.m.
Updated: August 16, 2008 5:02 a.m.

From left: Will, Peter and Eric Christiansen get ready to surf at a local beach. Will recently made his father proud when he saved a swimmer from drowning at Bolsa Chica State Beach in Huntington Beach.

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This year, my Father's Day came early.

Sunday, June 8 was a beautiful, almost-summer day. Our family - my wife, Kate, sons Peter, 10, Will, 8, and daughter Kathryn, 6 - and I decided to spend the day at the beach with our friends, the Simpson family.

We met at Bolsa Chica State Beach in Huntington Beach. The surf was running a nice 2-4 feet, the water was a warm 64 degrees and the beach was fairly crowded with families enjoying the day. The two dads (Derek Simpson and myself) and the two boys enjoyed a nice two-hour early afternoon surf session.

Back on the beach, after lunch, Will and Peter decided to go back into the water. Suddenly, I was interrupted by two women, one carrying a baby, in hysterics pleading, "My husband is drowning! Please help him!"

I spotted a man struggling to stay afloat approximately 50 yards out beyond the breakers, apparently caught in a rip tide. I took off my shirt, grabbed my board and headed out to the drowning man. Derek quickly followed.

Jumping in the water, I noticed another surfer, down the beach, confidently and strongly paddling out toward the stricken man. We were at the lineup in less than two minutes. We then both punched through a wave and I was overcome ... there was my son Will with the stricken man safely and calmly clinging to his board!

I looked at Derek and shouted, "That's my son!"

Derek came alongside Will and the man then clung onto Derek's longboard. I was speechless. What do you say to your 8-year-old son after he's just saved somebody's life? His work finished, Will turned and caught a wave in. Derek and I started to bring the man in; about halfway into shore the lifeguard met us and took the man to the beach.

Catching a wave onto the crowded beach, I was greeted by this man's tearful wife, who profusely thanked me and blessed me. All I did was point proudly to my son Will and tell her he was the hero. I gave Will the biggest hug.

I asked him what happened, and he said "Dad, I heard this guy yelling for help, and I just started out there. And you know what? I got a wave in, and I stood up!"

The man had recovered by then and came over to thank Will. He explained that both his legs had cramped up and he was going out and under. His wife added this was their first time going to the beach with their brand new baby boy.

My wife Kate was astounded. She asked Will how he handled it. Will nonchalantly replied, "I got to the guy, told him it would be all right, and to hold onto my board and turn around, and together we will kick towards shore."

Later, when Will and I were in the parking lot loading our car, a car drove up and stopped. There was the smiling man, his wife driving and baby son in the car seat. He leaned out and thanked us. He then paused and looked directly at Will and said, "Thank you. You saved my life."

Will was tongue tied for a moment as the man drove off. Will then looked at me and said, "Dad, it's weird when somebody says you saved his life. ..." I looked at Will and told him, "God put you there, and you took the action! Thanks to you, that man can celebrate his first Father's Day next week!"

Thanks to a remarkable 8-year-old boy, this Father's Day will be special for two dads. When the chips were down, not only did Will have the presence of mind to react quickly and calmly, but also had the physical skills to react effectively.

Looking back, I am so grateful we forced him to take the swimming lessons at such an early age. So often I am told, "My child does not want to take the lessons." It is our job as parents to protect our children and sometimes decisions we have to make are not comfortable for everybody. With summer here, it is parents' absolute responsibility to make sure their children are water safe.

Reflecting back on that man and his brand-new family, I remember a powerful bit of parenting advice I was given early on: "A father never baby-sits his own children, but instead he has the honor of spending time with them."

And what an honor it has been for these last 10 years. I am so grateful for board sports (surf, skate and snow), because around these, we have created a unique bond.

Built upon my direct participation with my sons, this bond is stronger than any that could be built just by dropping them off and watching them participate in organized sports. We enjoy genuine interaction, adventure, shared challenges and, on occasion, possibly life-threatening situations in which we have come to rely on each other.

I have realized my participation in these sports with my boys is my ticket into their world. It is my plan to continue this participation well through their high school years. It is also my hope and prayer that my body holds up.

This Father's Day, I can surf assured that my surfing buddy has my back.

Eric Christiansen is a Santa Clarita resident who directs and edits TV commercials and documentaries. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.

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