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Back in February, my life changed with the news that I was going to be a father. Fast forward a couple months to a warm Easter Sunday. While social distancing in our backyard, with friends and family watching along via Facebook, my wife and I twisted a pair of confetti poppers. I’d been preparing myself for news that we were having a girl, because, you know, karma and all. I thought for sure that tutus and dance recitals were in the offing.
Pop, pop. It took a few seconds to process that a stiff breeze had sent BLUE confetti sailing into my neighbor’s yard. Whoops. This is where I need to say that I would have been happy with a son or daughter; my wife’s huge smile and literal jumps for joy revealed she was not-so-secretly excited to become a boy mom.
A boy, wow, I thought as I shook my head. The reality of impending fatherhood came into focus. I spent a lot of time thinking about the future over those next weeks and months (thanks a lot, coronavirus). I wondered what kind of kid he would grow up to be and worried about being a good father. The future offered an entire world of possibilities, enough to make my head spin.
I also thought about the past. I thought about my own happy childhood and summers spent on the docks. I thought back to long days in the sun and afternoon naps in my parent’s V-berth, of long dinghy rides with my brother and the freedom (and trouble) we discovered together. I thought of the second family I inherited through my parent’s marina. Of neighbors on the dock who watched out for us, snuck us cans of caffeinated soda and taught us how to hit a baseball or put backspin on a jump shot.
I thought about long summer cruises to Maine where we hiked for the first time. I thought of the first trip Karen joined my family on.
Mine was a childhood filled with a lifetime’s worth of memories. There were storms and squalls, interesting characters and the kind of adventures that would make Huck Finn jealous. It was filled with family meals served on a table in the salon and family games under a starry sky. Boating was the lens through which I first saw the world.
At 5:50 p.m. on September 11th, my wife and I welcomed Connor John Harding to the world. With an LOA of 18.5 inches and a displacement of 8 pounds (w/ full diaper), it’s no exaggeration to say that I loved him immediately.
I’ve encountered—and mostly enjoyed—a whole host of new firsts since then. First changed diaper. First sleepless night. First sleepless month. First bath. Everyone tells me how fast the coming years will soar by, so I do my best to stop and savor these small moments. Like when I catch my wife singing to him or when our dog, Salty, lays her head on the pillow beside him. That’s the good stuff.
But I can’t help but get excited about the firsts yet to come. First boat ride. First fishing trip with grandpa. First summer vacation on Block Island. First time laying eyes on the clear water of the Bahamas. I’m excited to show him how to tie a cleat and teach him what side of the buoy to stay on. I can’t wait to watch him take the dinghy out for the first time by himself and taste that intoxicating freedom. I’m looking forward to having a new friend to help me clean the boat and hold the flashlight.
Time is a funny thing. Day after day drags along while decades fly by in a blink. Some days it feels like just yesterday I was running around the boatyard and docks as a sunburned kid, and now I have a son of my own.
If I could choose one chapter of life to slow down, even just a little, it would be this one here. This chapter, I’m certain, is going to be my favorite yet.