My father has put his life into my hands once in my lifetime already – when he taught me to drive. Stubborn to a fault, I drove my poor Mum to the brink of nervous breakdown – speeding up when she said slow down, insisting that ‘people just don’t drive like they did in your day any more’, and shouting over the discordant wailings of my indie rock mix-tape that my driving instructor said it was ‘totally fine’ to have music playing while driving. It came to a head when, after pulling over for a terse dressing down, I slammed the gearstick into reverse so obstinately that it came clean off in my hand. And there ended the car’s no-claims-bonus and my mother’s patience. After that, I had to wheedle my Dad to take my out to practice as often as his nerves were up to it. Finally, after months of permanently white knuckles from gripping the grab-handle and toes permanently cramped from slamming on the phantom break, I emerged successfully as a bonafide driver. Quite a good one I’d like to think.
After the ordeal that was teaching me to drive, you’d forgive either of my parents for never wanting to engage in a similar student-teacher scenario again. But they say that time is a healer and perhaps enough time had passed in the last decade to convince my Dad to place his life in my hands once again. Except this time, the fin would be on the other foot, because I’d be the one doing the instructing, as I taught him how to dive.
After enjoying a ‘discover scuba dive’ in Cuba a few years ago, my Dad had been keen to learn to dive for a while. When my plans to become an instructor in Costa Rica came to fruition, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for him to take the plunge and enjoy watching the tables being turned.
It was during the first session of the Open Water course, the classroom based theory section, that I got to try on the ‘teacher’ hat for the first time to see how it fit. I think it’s fair to say that the role reversal took a bit of getting used to, but the near-perfect test scores Dad finished with hours later is testament to the fact that we quickly adjusted to the new dynamic. Perhaps even more exemplary is that we did so argument-free; that’s a big achievement for us. Huge. We once engaged in an hour long shout-a-thon over whether or not I had to wear a raincoat into town. Dad won, I wore the coat. I then pierced my own ear later in defiance. I was an argumentative teenager. And Dad? Well, Dad is just an argumentative person, so it was nothing short of a miracle that we managed to emerge unscathed from a lengthy training session during which I was required not only to explain the finer intricacies of dive physics but also, shock horror, to correct wrong answers. Or perhaps it was an indication of my superior teaching prowess. One of the two.
Surviving the classroom may have been an impressive milestone, but the real test lay in the water. It would be here when, robbed of the luxury of speech or sound, my communication and teaching skills would really be put to the test. Knowing that my Dad gets easily irritated if her can’t quickly get the grasp of things (so that’s where I get that from), I was curious to see how he’d handle learning a wealth of alien new skills, especially when his daughter would be the one pointing out where he was going wrong and how he could improve. Fortunately – for both of us – Dad was perfectly comfortable in the water, mastering the majority of the skills on the first attempt.
After successfully making our way through the pool work both argument and drama free, we headed off to the nearest bar to debrief over a well-deserved beer. As we toasted the most recent achievement, I began to prep Dad for the open water. After hours in the pool, I knew that he was looking forward to putting his newly acquired skills into action, and the opportunity to see something other than just turquoise tiled walls and the occasional floating plaster was more than enough to get him psyched for the sea.
For me, the open water was the section I was most looking forward to. Although this is where the bulk of the responsibility lies, for it’s here where accidents can happen, I was excited to experience my Dad’s first proper foray into the open ocean alongside him. Although there are important skills to cover in the open water dives, the emphasis of this section of the training lies in getting the diver comfortable and relaxed and in encouraging them to enjoy the experience of exploring the sub-aquatic world. Although the visibility was pretty poor, Dad had a lucky streak when it came to spotting marine life. Both hawksbill and green turtles showed up to say hello, and rays, sharks and giant moray eels were among the many creatures that paid him an underwater visit. To be able to guide him through the amazing dive sites that Pacific Costa Rica has to offer was a real privilege.
Teaching your father to dive is certainly not something that many people can claim they’ve done and, for me, it added another dynamic to our relationship. I love that our common ground is, in part, built upon strong opinions, spirited personalities and a mutual determination to always be right, but there’s more to it than just bickering and banter. Diving together was the perfect opportunity to highlight our other similarities – our love of adventure, our thirst to try new things and get stuck in, and our mutual appreciation of the wonderful experiences that travel affords. Getting to know my Dad as an adult and a friend over the past decade has shown me how much we have in common; I’m so pleased that diving has given us yet another way of exploring new interests together. After being taught so much by my Dad, it’s an honour to final be able to give something back.