The Water’s Fine

Always in acknowledgment of Father’s Day, I pull out a particular photo album that chronicles my father’s 1968 backyard project.   This was no ordinary project, but like every other project he took on, it was accomplished during the daylight hours after he got home from his full time desk job. It consumed most of his weekend waking hours.  He had been dreaming it up for a number of years, and then one day, grabbed a shovel and simply got started and didn’t quit until it was finished a year later.

Henry Polis 1968

My father departed this soil nearly 24 years ago, having completed umpteen “projects” in his spare time.  A swimming pool built by hand for his family was undoubtedly the most remarkable.   No matter what it was, Hank Polis dove right in to whatever he decided to accomplish.

In the very bottom, installing a drain
Pouring the sidewalk by hand

He was determined to build a full size swimming pool, by himself, with his own two hands.  He did use our little Farmall Cub tractor to blade away the first layer of topsoil, but the rest of the digging was by the shovel-full.   He wanted a kidney shaped pool rather than a rectangular one, so he soaked the wooden forms in water to form the graceful curves. The cement was poured by a cement truck, but the sidewalks were all self-mixed in our own little cement mixer that ran off a small engine.  The tile that lined the top of the pool was all hand grouted and placed, square by square.  The pumphouse/changing room was built alongside.

I was in a hurry for it to be done…

I turned 14 that summer, not truly understanding how extraordinary an effort this was, but simply accepting it as another “dad” project like any other he finished through sheer will, stubbornness and a desire to go on to the next challenge.   Now, over 50 years later,  as an adult who is plum tired at the end of an office/clinic work day, I marvel at his energy putting in another four or five hours of physical labor when he came home at night.  No wonder he never suffered from insomnia.

Grouting the tile perimeter

Once the pool was declared finished, a hose ran water for several days, and it took 2 more days to heat it up to a temperature that was survivable.  Then my dad took the first dive in.

The best dive ever…

Once he had taken that first dive, he was happy.  He swam every once in awhile, but was soon onto another project (reconstructing a steel walled gas station that arrived on our farm in piles of panels on the back of a flat bed truck, so that he could have a full size “shop” to work on indoor projects during the winter).  It was sufficient for him to just to be able to say he had done it himself.

As I study the look on my father’s face in these photos, I am startled to see my self looking back at me, like a reflection in the water.  I now realize determination and utter stubbornness can manifest in DNA in different ways.  I have no mechanical skills whatsoever,  but like my father,  I always have a dream I’m pursuing, and I keep at it until it is accomplished.

Thanks Dad for showing me how to dive right into life. 
The water’s been fine.

And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
~Li-Young Lee from “The Gift”


7 thoughts on “The Water’s Fine

  1. One particular memory out of hundreds that live on, hallowed and clearer with the passage of time. It seems that so many of the memories that we have of
    family, childhood, are rooted in our fathers. For me, they have become bittersweet. I find that I would be grateful for just a few more minutes with my father to tell him that I now understand so much more about our relationship. In the 30s and on, up until about the early 60s, there was an unspoken code for the most part that seemed to separate the mother-father emotional roles that were accepted and adhered to at the time. In many ways that code kept us children from truly understanding that man whom we called ‘father,’ ‘daddy,’ ‘pop.’ That artificial, inhibiting socially-accepted code no longer exists. I now see through it in all of its mystery and, perhaps for our fathers, a time of confusion and frustration. I remember my daddy’s love, shown in myriad ways – with a look, a compliment, a knowing smile that translated very clearly his love for me, for us. Fathers now seem to be free to express their love and affirmation in natural ways, no longer held back by a society that requires men to not exhibit their emotions. They allow us now to see their imperfections, their concerns and worries – those emotions that make us all so human. But, most of all, I believe that fathers’ openness and admiration in showing their love
    for their children is what gives them the courage – and the blessings – to plunge into life, as you say so lovingly, Emily.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow – remarkable! Another one of yours which brought tears to my eyes. Lovely tribute on Father’s Day. Also made me take another look at my own dad, and how much of me is of him. Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for sharing this story of your dad. What a lovely tribute! I doubt there’s another man alive who built a pool like that all by himself, after work!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a warm, meaningful post of your father, and of you, on Father’s Day. I have found, in my own life, that it is what I learned through my father’s examples as much as his words (though his last words to me came to mind yesterday). Thank you for sharing this memory.

    Liked by 2 people

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