Just before we brought Lincoln home from the hospital I took Penny and Zero to the beach. The dogs soared joyfully over the fence and I jumped the rail in their wake. A familiar routine in an unfamiliar time.
For each of us, there is something restorative about crossing that boundary. We leave behind the things that leash us to the world and run unencumbered. It is meditation in motion. A calamitous communion of teeth and peace. A raucous, panting tranquility in which we inhale love and exhale everything else.
This is how I carried my son home unafraid. Not because there was nothing to fear, but because my trip to the beach – both that day and all the days before – left no room in my heart for anything but love.
Of course, the transformation was not permanent.
I gave my love to Lincoln, Emily, the dogs and the world. Doubt, difficulty and (sleep deprivation induced) delirium took its place. None of these things are as powerful as love but they are attracted to empty spaces and fill them with insidious speed.
That’s why it is not going to the dog beach which is important to me. It’s going back. Because each trip we take, the dogs carry my heart with them into the water and cleanse it of life’s corrosive grime.
After Lincoln’s birth most of my friends and family assumed trips to the dog beach would be put on hold. Emily didn’t even bother asking if I would take Lincoln to the beach with me. She was more curious about how I’d pull it off.
“I promise I won’t jump over the fence with him,” I assured her.
On a warm summer morning I dressed Lincoln in a sunsuit and hat, strapped him to my chest and brought him to the beach for the first time. The dogs flew over the fence, while I kept my promise and gingerly stepped over the rail at its lowest point.
The dogs dove into the lake and I waded in after them, rocking Lincoln. Penny and Zero danced a wild orbit around us, and at the center of this jubilant solar system was my son, sleeping peacefully against my heart.
I stepped from the water, leaving my worries for the tide to wash away, and we crossed back over the fence. As we left the beach a woman laughed and said, “Well…I used to think bringing my one dog here was a lot of work, but I see I’m mistaken.”
Though I had Lincoln on my chest, a camera on my back and a dog in each hand I couldn’t have felt less burdened.
Since then, I’ve visited the beach three or four times a week with Lincoln. The summer crowds faded and we traded Lincoln’s sunsuit for a bright red snowsuit that covers everything but his face. Many mornings we walk the frozen shore alone. A man, his dogs, and what appears to be a large starfish riding on his jacket.
Lincoln is a content passenger, but there will come a day when he walks ahead of me in search of his own identity. I can give so much to my child. I cannot give him that. He will have to wander and stumble like the rest of us in order to find himself.
It’s taken me the better part of a decade to realize that what we do for our dogs we do for ourselves. When we feed them, we nourish our souls. When we let them run unleashed, we let our hearts run with them. And when I find my dogs racing around Lincoln and me on an empty beach, I find myself.
I cannot give this inextricable gift to Lincoln, but I can show him where to look in his own heart. When it is time for him to begin that journey into the inner darkness of himself I hope these trips together will help light the way.
There is so much I do not know about being a father (roughly, everything). But I’m certain that to be the best parent I can be, I must be the best person I can be. To be the best person I can be, I need my dogs and our trips to the beach.
Getting to the beach is not as easy as it once was, which is why it has never been more important we go.