When Your Father’s a Seafarer

When your father’s a seafarer you grow up listening to stories from lands so far and distant that most of the names he talks about are those you’ve never heard before. You read about flags and accents and cultures and you don’t know your geography because you can ask him and he can tell you the distance between two ports by heart. He knows all the canals ever built, visited every world wonder, tasted every flavor of coffee in the world. He can look at the night sky and read the stars like his favorite book, he can tell you what time the sun rises or the moon sets and he knows the sky and the sea, and he surprises you each time.

When your father’s a seafarer you can look at him and see in his eyes the sea, the dark and stormy nights that he slept on the floor close to the door because the TV screen might topple over and there’s only so much you can run with shattered glass on your sole. When your father’s a seafarer, photographs become your favorite way of communication. In exchange for your pictures of growing up- scribbled at the back your first word, are his pictures of orange trees and cobblestone streets, the kind of trees that don’t grow in your country.

When your father’s a seafarer, you learn to wait- because it’s only still November, and he won’t be back till March. You learn ways to busy yourself while time gallops two steps slower than it does when he’s around. When your father’s a seafarer you learn to compromise- he won’t be home for your school concert but he’ll be there whole summer long, every day and he will teach you to play table tennis.

When your father’s a seafarer, your teacher asks you to speak about your visit to the ship in front of your class, and you learn how to do it. Your friends are full of questions, and you suddenly feel like you know something in the world that the others don’t. When your father’s a seafarer, stories of ghost ships and  lonely nights are stories that keep you up through the night, not knowing if he’s awake or dealing with another unexplained blackout somewhere in the middle of an ocean. You learn to keep the scary stories to yourself while telling your friends the stories of beautiful sunsets and Christmas dinners.

When your father’s a seafarer your first hobby becomes a collection of coins from around the world that he bottled for you before you knew the meaning of “hobby”. You build ships inside bottles together, and when he’s home he lets you glue together all the pieces of his newest invention. When your father’s a seafarer you become his favorite story to speak about at the dinner table when the closest he can be to home is to draw out his memories for his crew to hear. When your father’s a seafarer, you learn to grow up fast- through the nights that you’re afraid of the pirates and through the nights that you’re reminded that there are unnamed storms yet to arrive.

When your father’s a seafarer, phone calls become lifelines. And every second past 08:15 is a tidal wave, every minute a thunderstorm and every hour a missed heartbeat.. until you can’t hear your own voice as you sit by the phone.

When your father’s a seafarer, he becomes your north star, your inspiration, your biggest fan, your hero- because you watch how he can be at two different places at the same time, and save them both!

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Distance

5,842 km away from dad, 5,197 km away from mom and 10,381 km away from my brother

I looked at the horizon one day and couldn’t see for myself where the ocean ended and the sky began, as though the distance between the last drop of water in the ocean that I could see, and the first blue of the sky were just too close to say apart. I looked at my father that day, a silhouette against the setting sun, and suddenly his shadow was more beautiful to me than the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen. I drew distance on navigation maps, and home was mid-ocean, between breakfast and lunch, encrypted in morse code, enclosed as a message in a bottle addressed to someone I didn’t know who.

I walk outside and stare at a reflection of myself on a storefront, and for a moment it’s my mother and I stare long enough so that when night falls I could look for the North star that would lead me to my father who sails in an ocean that blends into the sky. And as I write, I find my brother in my words, his mind full of unfinished thoughts just like mine.

Sunsets and oceans and letters and evenings- this is how I know distance is only just an imposter.

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