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When Dad Taught Me to Swim

June 5, 2022

Another Way for week of May 27, 2022

Up for a Swim?

How did you learn to swim? In a pool? A river or lake? Did you take lessons or learn on your own? Or perhaps you’ve never learned.

I keenly remember my experience. We had a pond near a creek in one of our hillier fields on our Indiana farm. Over time, Dad built us a cute log cabin, added a brick grill, a picnic table and: a raft for the pond. That raft was the crowning touch for us kids and we loved to use paddles and poles to push ourselves around the pond. The pond also held bloodsuckers in the muck but that’s another story.

My older two sisters took to the water like fish and soon were not just swimming but jumping carefully off of the raft into the water. I watched with a certain amount of envy, fear, and desire. I got down into the water but couldn’t make myself let go of an innertube (for floating) or the edge of the raft. Daddy was an excellent swimmer and dared me, encouraged me, illustrated the moves, and probably inwardly prayed that I wouldn’t drown in the pond. Momma couldn’t swim either, and he so wanted me to learn.

One day when discussing the same old issue, he gently pushed me off the raft into the water. Abruptly I had to sink or swim. With some shock, surprise, and maybe a little anger, I started paddling—knowing my dad wouldn’t let me drown and getting more surprised by the second that I was staying up in the water. I wasn’t going under!

So “doggie paddling” came first and I began to finesse some arm strokes. Finally in college at a small school without a pool, the college arranged for us to participate in swimming classes at the neighboring state school, then named Madison College. This introduced me to the finer skills of side, back, and breast strokes, and even the butterfly stroke (never mastered). I would not ever recommend my Dad’s method of teaching me to swim but I’m thankful he truly launched me into the swimmer’s world. I think floating on my back in some quiet water is my favorite thing.

Oldest sis, middle sis, and me looking just dreadful. Our pool before we had the pond enlarged for swimming. I think.

And I’m hugely grateful for a nearby retirement center’s pool and my husband’s push for us both to belong—mainly for exercise. We both have developed friendships and countless connections with the folks there. I used to hate the rigamarole of changing clothes, getting out of wet suits, rinsing out suits and so on, but it has now become a routine like brushing your teeth.

As young parents, we knew the importance of teaching our children to swim early in life. They all participated in the “Charlie Arnold Swim School” at the same college where I refined my strokes, which is now James Madison University. Since Covid, I don’t think the swim classes have been offered and other swim schools have been similarly curtailed. Unfortunately.

My Mom had a push too: not literally but a deep desire to learn to swim. So she took swimming classes at a nearby pool sometime after the age of 50. She enjoyed finally joining all of us in the water. I don’t think she advanced beyond doggie paddling, but she helped children get water exercise as well, as a volunteer during winters spent in south Texas. She and Dad helped children with mobility issues get in and out of the pool, and to play. We were all so proud of her and even though her legs became too weak in the wavy water of the ocean as she headed into her 90s, I know she was humbly proud of her earlier efforts as well.

Sometimes we need just a little nudge to move us in a good new direction. Jump in and try something new whether it is a hobby, a job, a position at church or in a club, or a class with other newbies doing something you’ve always wanted to try. You might surprise yourself!

Some family members enjoy water and sand last summer at Deep Creek Lake.

Memories, stories, comments? 

Share here or send to or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. I swim poorly because I never had swimming lessons. My dad was afraid of the water although my mother loved to jump the waves at Atlantic City or Ocean City, NJ. Technically, neither could swim.

    My husband taught both of our kids to swim in a crystal clear lake across the street and down over the bank where we lived before the move. It was just in time because the lake was breached with creek water later on, which came with alligators.

    When we go to the pool in our community, I can float or swim for several yards, and that’s it. I like looking at water rather than swimming in it. One memory from my childhood was touching the squishy mud in a farm pond; I was terrified of not being able to touch the bottom. You are fortunate your dad taught you to swim. It’s really an essential skill, I think.

    • Not so fun to swim in alligator country!! Yikes.
      I guess when we moved to Florida, we all loved jumping the waves, but it was after Mom and Dad moved back to Indiana that she finally took lessons.
      Not everyone’s cup of tea, and I know you get plenty of other good exercise. Our pool at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Co. is closed right now for renovations. I can tell my legs and arms are not as toned, so it is something I hope to continue once it all gets revamped! Thanks for sharing your story.

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