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Matt Liere: Father’s Day all about teaching – and learning

By Matt Liere For The Spokesman-Review

This past Father’s Day, I had the rare opportunity to teach my kids something they didn’t already know, or at least profess to know.

I, myself, never learned to water ski until my mid-twenties, hindered by a lack of athleticism and a not-insignificant amount of fear. Fortunately, neither of my children appears to have inherited these particular characteristics and looked to me for instruction, regardless.

It’s uncommon for teens to seek guidance from anyone above the age of 18, much less a parent far exceeding that threshold, so I was thrilled. My kids, apparently, still needed me.

The lesson was quick. I’d learned extended instruction could induce eye rolling and near-immediate ADHD – I needed to get to the point fast.

My son, Walker, was the first in the water as I barked out a series of short orders, falling back on military training.

“Keep your tips up.”

“Lean back.”

“Keep your knees bent.”

“Let the boat do the work.”

He bobbed behind the boat and gave me a thumbs-up, indicating he could, at least, hear sound coming out of my mouth. “Hit it!” he yelled.

Walker is especially adept at anything requiring athletic prowess. So good, in fact, I sometimes eye my ex-wife with a degree of suspicion. Aside from his exceedingly good looks, our genetic relationship remains questionable. Ice hockey, snow-skiing, soccer, hunting, fishing – nearly everything he touches for the first time looks as if he’s been doing it forever.

I suspected water skiing would be no exception, and I was right. In four attempts, he was up and skiing around the entire lake, one-handed, jumping wakes, waving at passing boats. To finish, he glided up the beach and walked out of his skis. Of course.

My daughter went next, after a recap of instructions from myself and her brother, whom now viewed himself as professional.

“Do exactly what he says, Claire,” Walker advised. “Dad knows what he’s talking about. It totally works!” I beamed.

Praise from teenagers is like winning the lottery – chances of both are highly unlikely, but when it happens, you become that much richer. In contrast to Walker’s squat athletic build and ability, Claire is tall for her age, mostly legs, and needed only a little fine-tuning to get up.

Like a newborn giraffe trying to find its footing on a floor covered in marbles, she searched for balance on rubbery legs for a few precarious seconds before stabilizing. The transition was stark – like a beautiful woman entering a monastery unannounced. My jaw dropped like a monk as she gracefully mastered her craft with a grin that stretched ear-to-ear.

My kids don’t need me so much now that they’re older, but I need them more now that I am. I need them to remind me that life doesn’t need to be so serious all the time, that there is more than just lists to check off, tasks to complete and money to make.

I need to witness their youthful exuberance, their stretch for independence, and the incredible joy they exhibit with the smallest of successes. They needed me to teach them how to ski – I needed them to show me how to venture outside the wake. I’m beyond grateful for both.

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