My daughter loves mermaids. It all started with Ariel, the Disney mermaid princess, and we’ve progressed from there. Mermaid books, mermaid movies, mermaid shows on Netflix. So she was overjoyed when I told her about the Swim Like a Mermaid class at the Ocean Pines Sports Core Pool. She wanted to get signed up immediately and talked about the class for a week.
But when the day of the class came she was nervous. “Daddy, I’m a little scared,” she told me as we waited outside the pool building before it opened.
“It’s healthy to be a little trepidatious,” I told her, then explained, “That means nervous or scared. Remember what we say: be brave through your fear.”
And she was. When the class started, and all the other girls showed up, all of whom were older than she was, the fear dripped away. She gave me not even a parting glance as she joined the class on the edge of the pool and waited for the instructor.
First, each girl (there were only girls here) demonstrated their ability to do a butterfly kick, feet together, knees together. Then they put on a Monofin. It is exactly what it sounds like: a neoprene sleeve that covers both feet with a plastic insert shaped to look like a fish tail. The girls then got back in the water and swam with just the fin. After a short time all of them moved swifter and faster, gliding as effortlessly through the water as, well, a mermaid.
Then it was on to the tail skin, a spandex fabric that slips on over the legs with an extra bit of flap that covers the fin. The resulting effect is magical. Each girl in the class became transformed from a swimmer with a black fin to a sparkly mermaid who glides through the water with ease and grace. For my daughter it was like a light clicked on in her head. She simply got it.
Then it was my turn. Before class the instructor had told me that one of the fins might fit me and that it would be cool if they had their first merman in the pool. So when the girls got their skins on, I took my chance. I borrowed a pair of swim trunks from the lost and found and slipped on the only tail that would fit a man of my height. It was bright pink, with sparkles, and when I got it on I, too, felt transformed. From just regular middle-aged man to King Triton. The only thing I needed was a tri-tipped scepter and a crown, my daughter told me.
Something else happened, too. The girls in class giggled a little, and the mothers began snapping pictures of me, and one of the other instructors rushed out to take a photo of a lounging and smiling merman in a pink tail. “Best dad ever,” she said and gave me a high five. The lifeguard snapped more pictures, and my wife was there of course to record it all and post it on social media. (“So it could really have happened,” I joked.) There seemed to be such a bru-ha-ha about a grown man in a pink fish tail, owning the fish tail, embracing the fish tail.
Not that I didn’t enjoy the attention, and the small spotlight that shone on me ever so briefly. But it seemed to me that donning a pink tail and jumping in the water like a mermaid is something any father would do for their kid. My daughter has painted my toes and my fingers. She’s put clips in my hair and had me play the princess in her princess castle game. That’s what you do when you’re the father of a little girl.
And like my daughter I love to swim. Sometimes I feel more comfortable in the water than out of it. Becoming a merman was something I’d wanted to do for a long time, too. To get to share that moment with my daughter was even more priceless for me, a moment I’ll not soon forget.
Later, I asked my wife why she thought everyone made such a big deal about it. “You’re crushing gender stereotypes,” she said. “Men don’t do that sort of thing.”
Which didn’t make any sense to me. Men should embrace their inner mermaid. I think the world would be a better place. A place where a man in a pink fish tail is not such an extraordinary sight at all. Maybe even somewhat normal.