James Abbatiello has been a teacher for the past 14 years, working in schools from rural North Carolina, to Chicago, to Washington, D.C. But his favorite job by far is being a dad.
I found out my wife was pregnant the day we left for a vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We were planning to start a family, so it was welcome news. But the joy of this new reality was muted by a giant question: Would I be a good dad?
I'm risk-averse to begin with and can see hidden dangers in everything. I carry hand-sanitizer with me at all times. I never step on sidewalk grates. But I found myself wondering if this tendency would paralyze me when it came to keeping my own child safe.
Trips to the Outer Banks were a ritual for us, we got married in Beaufort, N.C., and had many good memories from the shore. Though my wife loves to swim in the waves and run barefoot on the sand, I steer clear of the shark-infested waters and wear shoes at all times to avoid getting cut by shells. We appreciate each other's differences. But on this trip I was petrified of what a ride on the boat could do to the baby, terrified about her swimming while pregnant, prepared to be a nervous wreck.
As I walked over the sand dunes and the ocean came into view, I could see that the waves were tall. I was watching one family, when all of a sudden a boy, about 3 years old, began to be dragged out by the riptide.
The boy's mom began to scream for help and I looked around expecting anyone from the group of ocean-swimmers around me to jump to the rescue, but no one moved, or no one heard.
So I ran in.
Eventually I reached the boy and luckily the mother had swum out behind me. We formed a chain, grasping onto each other's hands, moving haltingly toward the shore.
The waves crashed and threw us forward and then pulled at our legs. I thought to myself, “I cannot believe I am going to die trying to save someone else's child and never see my own." But finally I felt the sand beneath my feet and crawled, gasping, onto the beach. The mom thanked me and she and her son quickly disappeared. I responded, "No problem," and rejoined my stunned wife and her family.
I still do not swim in the ocean, and I am even more afraid of the dangers in the world now that I have my own child. But I learned that day that I would be a good father, and that gives me the confidence to overcome my fears.
Our series on lifelong learning is a partnership with the Faces of Learning Campaign to share personal stories of powerful learning experiences.