When I adopted my son, Alyosha, six years ago, I promised myself that I would give him experiences that would burnish his spirit and broaden his horizons. A scuba adventure was one of these. I have been diving for over 20 years, and ever since my inaugural dive in the cold, clear waters of New England, I had envisioned taking a child of mine under the sea.
Events finally aligned themselves in our favor a few weeks back. A colleague of mine was housesitting in the Dominican Republic and invited us down for a visit. I was unsure about being able to accept her offer until, one day, a line of e-mail illuminated my computer screen: "The diving's great."
Before my son could fully get his mind around the idea of the Caribbean in the off-season, we were winging our way south, to a place as different from Maine as can be. From a land of pine woods, blueberry barrens, and a bitterly cold ocean, we had arrived in a place of coconut palms, pineapple fields, and a sea of striking clarity and welcome warmth.
One day, while we were walking along a beach on the island's north coast, I spotted a dive shop, and opportunity beckoned. "Hey," I remarked to Alyosha as I gravitated toward the shop, "Look at this."
My son was mildly curious and trailed along. We watched as the Dominican divemasters readied a batch of tourists for an underwater outing. Alyosha noticed that one of the customers was a little older than he. When my son looked up at me I arched my eyebrows. "How about it?" I queried. "The water's warm."
After a moment's hesitation, my son assented. I explained to the divemaster that my son was a newcomer. "No problem," he said. "I'll show him everything he needs to know."
I watched as the man sat my son down and went over the equipment and safety procedures with him. "I'll be with you all the time," he reassured Alyosha. And then, glancing up at me, he added, "So will Papa."
A short while later we were in a boat, motoring out at a good clip to the dive spot, about a hundred yards offshore. It was a bluebird day: clear sky, brilliant sun, and cooperative sea. We anchored, and the tourists popped into the water to a waiting divemaster, who took them down to the bottom, one by one. Alyosha was already in the water and bobbing at the surface as I donned the last of my equipment. He looked handsome in his gear, in a way that only another diver can appreciate. I could perceive through his mask, however, the slightest hint of apprehension in his eyes.
I was totally unprepared for what happened next. Before I was even out of the boat, the divemaster had grabbed hold of my son from the front and deflated his buoyancy vest. I watched with my own brand of apprehension as my son disappeared beneath the gentle waves.
Suddenly, my head was filled with all sorts of unpleasant images of Alyosha down there without me, perhaps forgetting some detail of his cursory training. I adjusted my mask, bit into my regulator, and flopped over the side. Then I began my descent to the bottom, wondering if Alyosha would ever be able to forgive me for getting separated from him. I had wanted to give him a new experience, and now I was faced with the likelihood of having ruined it for him.
I continued my descent through the impossibly clear, blue water, making minor adjustments in my gear as the pressure increased. A few seconds later I felt bottom. I folded my knees and looked around for my son. Where on earth - or under the sea - was he?
And then I saw him, about five yards to my left, sitting on the bottom as placid as a pumpkin. I swam over to him, solicited his attention with the "OK" sign, and was rewarded with the broadest smile one can manage through a mask and regulator.
I reached out and took Alyosha's hand in mine. Lifting off from the bottom, slowly, we started off on our odyssey, rounding one small reef after another. Here we saw a sea urchin reminiscent of a huge snowflake; over there was the long figure of a trumpet fish standing on its nose to give the slip to potential predators; and all about and between us swam curious fish in shocking golds, blues, and reds.
We stayed under for 45 minutes, after which, our hands on each other's shoulders, we made our slow, angel-like ascent. We broke the surface and felt the warm Caribbean breeze wash over our heads. "How was it?" I asked him.
His reply was immediate. "Cool!" he exclaimed. "Let's do it again." We did do it again. Only this time he took me by the hand and showed me the reef. Not a word could pass between us during those dives, but despite the silence, I can't remember when I have ever felt closer to my son.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society