Friday, December 23, 2011

Letting Go is the Hard Part…Dude!

It’s Saturday morning and, as usual, with sketchbook in hand, and coffee (Peppermint Mocha – love Christmas time) and a bagel I didn’t really need, I’m hanging at my favorite “thought spot” on the pier watching the surfers, checking out the ocean view, studying the early beach dwellers and hoping inspiration happens for my Dude an Dude comic strip. It’s hard to stay focused because the view is incredible and the waves are nice due to an offshore breeze - so the surf action is kicking. But, there are cartoon deadlines looming, and so, I must “find the funny” out here somewhere and capture it in comic strip form so I can continue to convince myself I’m chasing my dream of being a full time cartoonist. A dream I’ve been chasing for over 30 years…dude.

It’s a dream I still aspire to today for a couple of reasons - One: Because I flat out love doing it, so I motivate myself to keep trying every chance I get to be better at it, and grow a bigger audience. 
- Two: Because of all the encouragement I have received over the years to keep going, even as I tirelessly shoved drawing after drawing in the face of anyone I knew, and even some I didn’t, asking if what I had just scribbled on whatever piece of paper I could find had merit.
“Do you get it?” I’d ask, agonizing at the thought of rejection. “Do you know what it is?” Hoping it was drawn well enough there would be no doubt. “Is it funny?” Lie to me!!
Self determination and a push from those around me have been the keys to my chasing this insurmountable goal all these years.
Which I realize is no different for many of us, is it.
I’m reminded of this as I watch the surf action happening below me.

Enter, Lauren, a bleach blonde surf chick. Not uncommon here. There are lots of girls, world champions, who began their careers surfing in the waters below me. She had on a traditional wetsuit but rode atop a pink and purple girly looking surfboard. "That’s different" I thought. 
In fact, there is a lot about Lauren that was different from all the other surfers as I watched her more closely. One of the more glaring differences I notice was, unlike everyone else, Lauren had a surfing chaperone.  A man in a wetsuit, wading alongside her and assisting her as she paddled over wave after wave to reach a key spot in the surf to catch waves. He didn't leave her side and guarded her against the on slot of water looking to topple her over with each surge.

Why he was so protective soon became apparent. Enter dad. 
You see, the other noticeable thing that separated Lauren from the rest of pack was her age. Lauren is only six years old, and at a point in her young surf life where she still needed some extra strength, direction and guidance. Someone to put in the time to help her reach her try and reach her goal, and who better than dad himself! Everyone watching this budding superstar could tell dad must have put in many hours before this day too because this girl knew what she was doing once she stood up. I started to consider the "dad" hours it would take to get a six year old (who might have started at four or five) up and riding a surfboard, and this guy slowly became a hero to me, and all of us…a dude!
Way to go daddy-o! You are full-blown awesome!
I spent the next two hours (yes, two hours) watching dad line her up with an oncoming wave, give her a slight push, watch her take off, stand up and ride the wave to its end. Dad would flash a thumbs up and then swim in to get her and bring her out again as she paddled vigorously to meet him.

I watched carefully to see if this seemed to be more of a dad’s dream than Lauren’s. Was she being forced, or pushed, to do something against her will? I’m kind of an expert on spotting these parental parasites, having raised a figure skating daughter. Watching for nine years as figure skating parents, who have so much time and money invested in their future Olympian, would demand they continue and improve or else. What they usually got was not an Olympian, but instead, a son or daughter who ended up hating figure skating…and their parents. 
And trust me, having also raised a childhood actor, I realized a lot of the reason they end up such a mess is the true driving force behind the insanity – a stage mom or dad who sees dollar signs (for themselves) in little Billy’s talent. They push and push…but they rarely let go, and when they do, the child actor ends up on a road to destruction.

But, none of that was happening here. The photographer (Bobby Z) who took these pics for me had a camera that could zoom in so close to Lauren I could see the color of her eyes clearly. I could also clearly see the giant smile on her face. A face filled with the joy of doing what she loved and was glad it was dad there to send her off in the right direction wave after wave.
That was a defining moment for me that morning. Watching, as a dad myself, as Paul would line Lauren up, aim her and then, whether he wanted to or not, let her go and let the wave take over, hoping the whole time he had shown her enough and put in enough quality time to feel somewhat certain she could attack the wave on her own. All he could do was watch and hope she’d be okay. What a helpless feeling as his little girl would be swept out of his reach and have to go it alone! What a life lesson for all of us!
Dude, have we done enough? Have we put in the time? Quality time? Dad hours? Mom hours? Grandpa hours, Neighbor hours...
Are you ready to help make someone’s dream come true while you’re chasing your own? Talk about hard! Talk about commitment...dude! But, the reward is so great. Dudes, we need to focus on the reward!

My next door neighbors are both avid surfers. I think they even met surfing. They have two young boys. One is three and the other is one. There are lots of reasons to be tired here, and yet, every day, in the afternoon and on weekends, you find dad with the three year old watching him ride a bike with furry, encouraging him, and teaching him how to skateboard. At three the dude can already pop an impressive Ollie. Mom usually has the other one in a stroller and it’s off to the beach for a walk or to check out the sunset. Total “put in the time” parents. Oh, and he’s a full-time Algebra teacher with over 200 students at the local Jr. High and she’s a full-time attorney. Where do they find the strength?
It’s in the reward!
That morning, as I watched from the pier I realized what kept dad going. It all came down to the thumbs up between him and his daughter.
“You did it, Lauren!”
“No, we did it, dad!”
I don’t know if you’ve been checking out our world lately, but it’s getting kind of crazy, and yet, kids, our kids, want to attack it! Now, more than ever it’s time to find the time and put in the time! Find that extra hour or two to help make someone’s dream come true.
Trust me, with love in place, lining them up, aiming them and directing them will be rewarding and seem easy.

Letting go is the hard part.

Photos of Lauren and Paul are courtesy of photography icon, Bobby Z of Bobby Z Images. His incredible photos can be seen throughout the surfing and sports world. Have him capture your little Lauren chasing a dream with the eye that only a pro photographer can do...dude.
Contact Bobby Z: or 714.742.3404

Keith Poletiek is an author, speaker, graphic designer, Award winning Political cartoonist and creator of the daily comic Dude and Dude ( Distributed by Universal Uclick for United Feature Syndicate.

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