The really tough parts of being a dad often catch you by surprise. Seemingly innocent things can turn terribly wrong. Take visiting a lighthouse for example. We vacationed last month in the Outer Banks and one morning we went to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla, NC. I didn’t think the boys would be very interested, so I give it little thought as we looked up at the lighthouse. To my surprise, however, Matthew decided that he wanted to make the trek to the top and was quickly copied by his younger brother. “Daddy, can you take us?” After my initial excuse of it being to expensive was eroded by the revelation that kids were free, I had no choice but to do what any good father would do and journey to the summit and conquer the mighty tower. After all, wasn’t that what happened in all of our stories of knights and wizards and maidens? This is what we’d been practicing for!
Now I’m not one of those weak-kneed guys that are petrified of heights. Why just last month I was up on our roof cleaning leaves from the gutters! But your perspective changes a bit when you are guiding your 4 year old, hand in hand, 163 feet into the air, up the 10 towering spirals of death. The problem, truly, was not the heights. It was the kids. I could have made it without a whole lot of problems by myself. (Really) But now I had to coach my son up these stairs without him leaping over the railing to his doom. How would I explain such a thing to his mother? Admittedly, I couldn’t remember a lot of ‘death by lighthouse’ stories in the news, but honestly you never know what your kids are going to do next. When Matthew was 4 we let him sit in the front seat of the car in a parking lot while we waited for something. He decided to jump off the seat, hit his head on the glass and cracked the windshield from top to bottom. (He was fine) I didn’t see that coming either and I swear, calamity lurked around every turn as we began to wind our way up the tower.
Somewhere around the middle of the second tier of stairs, it hit me that I’d made a terrible decision. It is hard to say which of us was actually clutching the railing more tightly, Josh or Daddy. My hands were wet with fear and perspiration as sweat poured off me on that hot July day. “Josh, don’t look down,” I encouraged my son as I silently prayed to God above that he would keep us safe. Of course, on the outside, I was calmly guiding Josh to the top of the tower. But I have to wonder whether the boy believed me, surely he noticed my skin tone slowly turning the shade of my white t-shirt. Thankfully, my brother in law, Ryan, apparently a rock of a man without fear, was ahead of us with Matthew so I did not have both of them to contend with. There is little doubt in my mind that had I been leading both of them, the three of us would have plummeted headlong to the bottom.
The steps are the problem. Their open design, combined with the ability to peer down the center over the railing for what seems like an eternity to the bottom make my stomach swim. Despite your mind knowing that there is no possible way that your body can fit through that 8 inch gap between the metal steps, it seemed inevitable. Suddenly I remembered an experience as a child at state park monument in New Jersey. The spirals of the staircases and the 1 million bricks that made up the 134 year old structure started to spin – it was all just a bit too much.
Somehow, we eventually made it up the 214 steps to the top. Breathtaking views of the small strip of land extending northward to Virginia lay ahead of us with the bay and ocean on either side. The breeze felt good to my clammy skin and I clung to the railing as my strength rallied. After a few minutes, the amazing views started to sink in and I began to enjoy myself, mindful to keep a generous handful of the boys’ shirts in my grip just in case they had any sudden Spiderman sensations. Visions of the little boy at Niagara Falls in the Superman movie danced through my mind. Josh looked up at me and exclaimed loudly to everyone on the deck, “Daddy, I’m even taller than God!” Even in the toughest times, they still can make you smile.
I’d like to say that the way down was cake but in reality it got worse. Going down causes one to look earthward, which was not helpful at that height. “Look at the brick wall on the side Josh, look at the bricks” I kept repeating, more to myself than to the boy. His poor fingers must have been nearly numb from my vice grip. At long last we were within sight of the bottom and I knew we’d probably make it. Or if not, at least Matthew was already out and we’d only lose one child. Trying to maintain my dignity, I fought back the urge to get down on all fours and kiss the ground when we emerged from the lighthouse. I looked into Josh’s eyes and told him what a big brave boy he was as we headed off to find Mommy. “That was pretty scary wasn’t it Daddy. Were you scared too?” he asked innocently. “Maybe just a little bit”, I answered, as I slowly looked back over my shoulder at the brick beacon’s looming shadow.
(pictures by Ryan Davis)
Copyright 2009 Steven K. Smith & MyBoys3.com
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