My son is fascinated by water. He loves to swim in it even if it's ice cold in a refreshing sort of way. We both know that summer has arrived in an eternal sense when we are spending time together at the beach. My son is a tall, athletic, energetic and handsome five years young. He loves to spend the early part of an afternoon learning how to be properly dashing into the waves—running in and out of them with such energetic force that seawater streams from his nose. Or running into the ocean till he is fully submerged and swimming back to the shore. Although he is a good swimmer, I often have to get into the ocean with him just to make sure. Then the tide starts coming in, and it becomes time to build sand castles.
Here is an essential human pleasure: to fill your hand with sand, turn it over, and call it architecture. We pick a spot. It is prime sand real estate—towards the top of the hill, with perfectly sloping moist sand—but also, high risk: our work once complete would in time fall as the tide returned. In only a few minutes, Cadence has flung together a hamlet of sand mounds protected by a low, curving wall. I dig a moat in front of it, to slow the first waves when they come, and build a break-wall in front of that. My son looks on with gleeful amazement. “We always have this much fun!” he declares with delight.
Nietzsche once argued that you can gauge a man’s relationship to time by the way he builds a sand castle. The first man, he wrote, will proceed hesitantly, intent on craft, fretting all the while about the inevitable return of the waves and shocked by his loss when they finally arrive. A second man won’t even start building: Why bother if the tide will only destroy it? The third—the paragon of manhood, in Nietzsche’s view—embraces the unavoidable and throws himself into the work regardless, joyful though not oblivious.
I would like to think that I belong to this third category, and I see myself all too keenly in my son. He has started his own construction project—a small mound that he had patted and sculpted into some elegant shape—beyond the protective wall of the sand town.
My son stands facing the waves, his arms outstretched, the grin of ages on his face. He is a giant. He always looks happy, and I love every moment we spend together on the beach in Aquatic Park in San Francisco.