Costa Rica – Travel, Real Estate

Despite the long plane flight and a two-hour drive from the capital, Dad’s eyes are twinkling when he steps out of a taxi at the boatyard three days later. I leap into his arms and propose a day of sightseeing and beach-going before we launch into the projects.

“But we only have six days, Sweetie! What’s first on the list?” he asks, rubbing his hands together enthusiastically. Dad enjoys manual work and never fears diving headfirst into a project. I prefer to study them for a while, so together we make a good balance of calculation and action.

For the next six days, we work from dawn to dusk. He recounts stories of following his Grandpa Dawe around on plumbing jobs and family home-building projects when he was a kid in Los Angeles, learning how to do a little of everything handy. In addition to being a jack-of-all-trades and a devoted father, Dad is a free thinker, an artist, a risk taker, and a visionary. He’s endlessly generous, often intense, and unstoppable when determined a wildman with an aptitude for articulation, spontaneity, and making the everyday fun. But he doesn’t like to bend, and when he gets frustrated, his hot temper explodes into foul language and fits. Unfortunately I inherited this volatile side of Dad’s disposition.

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While fighting off clouds of those vicious no-see-ums, we sand the hull and add two lovely blue pinstripes at the height of the new waterline. We devise a plan for grounding the mast, and Dad passes me tools while I lie on the floor of the head with my upper body shoved under the toilet to blindly bolt a cable to the base of the mast. Then we both cringe as I drill a hole through the hull’s thick fiberglass to connect the cable to the bronze plate we’ve attached to the hull. When that’s finished, we deal with my little refrigeration box that won’t stay cold, fitting together blocks of foam insulation to go inside it. Then finally we prep and tape off Swell’s underside, and roll on two thick coats of antifouling paint. When I beg for a break, Dad powers on, always wearing his great, unwavering smile. We return to his little hotel room every evening, looking like two worn-out coal miners.

On day five, we brush on the last touch-ups of bottom paint as the yard guys prep the rolling sling that will carry Swell back to the sea. I squeeze Dad’s hand as her pristine hull hits the water again. We tie her off to a nearby mooring and then head to the bar for dinner and a celebratory beer. Dad has been so good about not drinking too much this week. We order our food, then walk across the street to watch the sunset for the first time since he arrived. Murky brown waves churn against the rocky strip of beach awash in trash and debris. Guilt surges over me; Dad came all the way to Costa Rica and he hasn’t seen a single palm-lined beach or waterfall. He hasn’t even been in the ocean.

“Wow, it’s so beautiful!” he says. It’s just like him to relentlessly see the good side of things. “I’ve had such a wonderful time, Lizzy.”

The next morning, we wake early. A lump lodges in my throat as I call a taxi to pick him up. The driver arrives, and I fight back tears when I load his bag into the trunk. He pulls me close, holding me tightly for one more precious hug.

“I love you so much, Sweetie. When you get overwhelmed, just remember what your grandmother would say: ‘Life’s hard by the yard, but a cinch by the inch!’ You can do anything. I’m so proud of you.”

I’m stuck searching for the proper words to thank him as I reluctantly let him go. He climbs in the cab and I watch it disappear down the long, straight road, my tears unleashing. He’s always been so good to me. I just wish he would be as good to himself.

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