Get Back Up: A Dad’s Lession

Dad’s method of teaching waterskiing made water-boarding look humane. You’d hang onto the rope until you got up. And when you did, he’d do his darndest to knock you back down.

There was no crying in waterskiing. But you did drink a lot of lake water.

One of those lake-drinking times was in the middle of Fort Loudon Lake. Fort Loudon Lake is on the Tennessee River near Knoxville, Tennessee. My grandparents had a cabin on it and we’d go there for our family vacation at least once a year. We’d ski all day long, get more gas and keep skiing until the sun went down. It was a blast.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (who run the lake) fluctuated the lake levels everyday. It was almost like an artificial tide — I think to help reduce mosquitos. I don’t know for sure. But what I do know is that it flushed lots of driftwood into the lake. Let me tell you how I know.

We were out skiing one July afternoon and dad decided to teach me about centrifugal force. He threw the boat into a tight circle, causing me to either eat several feet of ski-rope slack or be slung like a planet trying to escape the sun’s orbit. I chose the “be slung” option and proceeded to be spun at the speed of sound.

It was really fun. Really. Well, until I hit one of those pieces of driftwood I just mentioned. If YouTube had existed, I’d have gotten at least 10 million views on my ABC Wide World of Sports opening tumble. I spun and crashed as my skis flew off — and yes, one of them conked me in the head. I hit the water like it was concrete. I saw a flash and then the world went gray.

My ski vest had to earn its keep. I was half-conscious bobbing in the water like a dead catfish.

Dad pulled the boat up next to me and cut the engine. He grabbed a paddle and started poking me.

“You alright?”

I groggily replied, “Go away.”

Seeing I was alive, he continued, “Grab the rope.”

“No. I’m swimming home.”

“It’s three miles. Grab the rope. We’re going to make your story about how you got back up, not how you fell down.”

Dad wasn’t Yoda. But he had a way of hitting you with wisdom (like the ski that hit my head) that got your attention. I grabbed the rope and kept skiing. There were no pity parties on Dave Ramsey’s watch.

Flash forward 20 years. I had just had melanoma surgery and was cut up and swimming in a toxic cloud of opioid painkillers. It was the morning after my surgery. Mom and dad were there helping Amy with things (although I don’t know how much they actually helped. I think they were just worried about their son.) Both were cancer survivors. They knew what I was going through.

Dad walked into my room, started poking me in the forehead and said, “Get up.”

I opened one eye and said groggily, “Go away.”

“C’mon, we’re going for a walk. We’re going to make your story about how you got back up, not about having cancer.”

And I did. We walked around the block as he help my arm. Then a little later in the day, we did it again. And again and again over the next few days. Like he once told my sister who complain that she felt was face down in the mud, “Then roll over.”

Dad’s solution to pain was action.

I sit here today mourning him and my mother after losing them both to nasty diseases in a short time. I have to admit, I’m tired and am a bit sad.

I wish dad would come into my office right now and poke me in the forehead, but he can’t. But if he could, this is what he’d say:

“Grab the rope, Marshall and get back up. We’re going to make that your story.”

About Marshall Ramsey