I have a bucket list, it’s not a particularly great one, but it’s mine. Some items on the list, like ‘shoot an AK-47’ have been achieved. Others, like ‘jump a car on to a boat’ are more difficult, long term goals. But there is one entry on the list that stands out for its altruistic merits – ‘Save a beached whale’.
The recent and regular whale strandings at Farewell Spit, got me thinking more about those poor whales and what it might be like helping them out. Stranded by the dozen are the Pilot Whales, an ironic name that would suggest they’re capable navigators. They clearly aren’t. I’m not a huge Pilot Whale fan myself, I like Sperm Whales best, on account of their name lending itself nicely to innuendo opportunities and also my favourite fictitious whale, Moby Dick, was a Sperm Whale.
But if its pilot whales that need saving, then I’d save the shit out of them. In my ideal whale saving scenario, I stumble across the beached whales one evening while on holiday in the area. I find one poor soul among the masses and we bond, I cover the whale in wet towels and tirelessly shuttle buckets of water to pour over it all night. I only stop to stroke its smooth side and whisper “everything is gonna be ok.” Then come the dawn and the return of the tide, I summon my last remaining strength to lift the giant beast back into the water. Then I hold it gently in the shallows while we regain our strength together. I weep a little because while our time together was short – I feel like we had a genuine connection. Finally, my whale swims away, stopping only to do a few tail splashes. Then in an ultimate Free Willy moment, I throw my fist in the air as my rescued pilot whale leaps clear out of the water, and dives down swimming off to lead a fulfilling life in the South Pacific.
But unfortunately this is real life and as awesome as we all are in our metaphorical thoughts, it would probably go down more like this:
It takes me ages to get to the Spit and all the best-positioned whales are already baggsed by other have-a-go heroes. I end up with an ultra dumbass whale that’s somehow managed to get up to the dry sand. I realise that skinny jeans were a bad choice of attire and can only roll then up one roll from the bottom. I forget my bucket and instead use an empty 1.5 litre coke bottle from the car. Name my whale Chip because that’s how dry he is. Tell other rescue people cause I think it’s clever. After an hour of pouring coke-bottle seawater on him I get tired and decide to go for a nap in the car, but I’ve lost the keys. See keys have been accidentally dropped in Chip’s blowhole. Sleep too long in the car, wake up at dawn and find Chip living up to his name. Can’t push his unsurprisingly heavy butt back into the water at high tide, give up, think about how to jump the rental car on to a boat. Other rescuers, smug after re-floating their whales, help roll Chip back into the water. Cross it off my bucket list and go to my hotel for a cold beer in a hot bath. Return a few hours later because I left my hoodie on the beach. See Chip has re-stranded. Convince myself it’s a different whale.
So what the hell has bad amateur whale rescue got to do with parenting? Well, allow me to make an unplanned and tenuous link. Because like rescuing a whale, parenting is unfathomable amounts of hard work in tiring conditions, and the early payback may be just an occasional moment of magic.
So much of dadding is just about being there, and giving it a crack. I have no doubts that I’d be pretty crap at rescuing a whale, I mean a city boy like me on a windswept South Island beach – I’d be the fish out of water. But I know that I’ll never rescue a whale if I don’t try to rescue a whale. And I’ll never be an awesome dad if I don’t try and be the best dad I can be. Like anything in life, if you try, there’s a chance it might not work out, but if you don’t try – it definitely won’t. How bad can it be? If you’re having a go and staying in the fight, then you’re already ahead of all the absent fathers in this world. And remember, the sun will always come up and the tide return, and there might just be someone there to help push your beached ass back into the water.