A letter to Baba

Dear Baba 爸爸,

Father’s Day always falls as summer begins to swell. This time of year reminds me of when we would fly from China to the United States and visit Grandma and Grandpa in Long Island, New York. The memories of bicycling in the humid summer nights, catching fireflies, and being tucked into bed are stored in a box in my heart labeled “Childhood Nostalgia.”

I’ve since outgrown the 1950s bicycle, the fireflies stay clear of New York City, and the goodnight kisses stopped. But, there is one thing that I held onto from those summers—swimming at the beach.

The beach is an easy place to fall in love with, but I’m especially proud to inherit my love for it from you. It’s where you grew up, where you worked to put yourself through college, where you brought us to share your secrets on navigating the water:

Enter the ocean sideways so you don’t get pummeled
Dive under big waves to let them pass overhead
Time your exit to return to shore gracefully

My memories of swimming at Jones Beach are vivid. I feel the cold water slide over my skin, the violence of getting thrashed under a wave, the strange sweetness of bottled water after a mouth full of salt. We’d always enter the ocean together, and when you’d swim parallel to the shore, Sonia and I bobbed along behind. Were the waves really as big as they seemed? They seemed so powerful at the time but since I’ve gone back, they seem smaller.

It doesn’t matter where I am, whenever I dive into the ocean, I get the same feeling. It’s the sense of being so small yet so expansive at once. When I put my head underwater, I feel enveloped from all directions and I become weightless. If I hold my breath and close my eyes, I can’t distinguish between the boundary of my skin and the hydrogen and oxygen molecules surrounding me. For me, it is the most immediate way to access another dimension of sensation and being.

Of course, as a young girl I never thought of that. All I knew was that when we drove back to Grandma’s from the beach, I was sun-drunk and body-tired. And the best feeling in the world was emptying the sand out my tankini bottoms.

As summer heats up in New York, I’m grateful that you didn’t shield us from the big waves, you let us get tousled underwater, you let us swim as long as we wanted, you let us dig deep holes back to China. For all of the learned-fears I picked up along the way, thank goodness the ocean was not one of them.

Here is to summer, to the ocean, to you. I’ll be going for a swim soon.


Leah Jarrett

Leah Jarrett

You can contact Leah at leahyjarrett@gmail.com