During my last visit to Florida, I met a father and son team straight out of a crocodile dundee movie. The young boy, Will, was very outgoing and met me with a big smile upon my arrival. Two of my sisters and I had visited his 'estate' as guests of his Dad. My eldest sister is friends with him. It is a log cabin home filled with stuffed alligators and mounted heads of hunted stags of the field. This is a man's home, nay a cowboy's home. In the entrance to the property there is a humongous Oak Tree and as my experience that afternoon and night unfolded I would soon learn that I was a guest at the estate of two living Oaks. A Dad Oak and a son Oak, if ever there could be one.
Will's Dad was taking us out on their airboat on the St. Johns River a half hour drive southwest from Daytona Beach. If there was time, we might possibly fire a few machine guns, shotguns and rifles that were brought. His Dad, a regular guy by all accounts happens to be an #OakTree of a man, an entrepreneur 'Jack of all trades' and an 'outdoors man,' who was kind enough to have us over for the adventure.
While preparations were being made to get on the road, Will took me and my youngest sister for a walk to the nearby farm and horse stable. We walked across his property which has a humongous tree in the front with the biggest roots I have ever seen. The tree is gigantic. On the other side of the road we met Misty, a beautiful horse whom we fed a great number of carrots and hay to. Misty loved it and ate straight out of our hands very gingerly. What astounded me was Will's gentleman conversational skills and his confidence leading us here and there, happily talking about this and that like some seasoned nature guide. He was on-point and gregarious. I found him remarkable. Though I had not had a conversation with his Dad aside from initial greetings I could tell that the boy had his father poured into him.
Being a political scientist, I peppered him with questions, but mostly listened to him talk and lead us about. I was there to learn and take in. If I can catch it, I never let a learning opportunity pass by. It behooves me to be a great listener. I have found that I can learn a great deal from older and wise people as much as from a young child....The teacher becomes the student and the student becomes the teacher when we let it be.
"Will, do you play video games?"
"I bet Dad keeps you busy with all the hunting and outdoors stuff?!"
I thought to myself... here is a boy that is a throwback to a time before television, video games and mainstream pop culture. A lad of nine years of age or so who was his fathers right hand man. Both of them had a symbiosis that showed well in their storytelling. Dad, brought in the big picture whereas Will would interject with rich details that would give their stories a well-rounded perspective. One yielded to the other. I just kept my mouth shut and listened.
Right away, Will took a liking to me and surprised me by saying he wanted to sit next to me. This hit my heart.
At any rate, we headed out onto the St. John's river which looks like the Everglades and expands into the horizon as far as the eye can see. It is a quite, serene place. Everything is green and the sky is big. Dad and Will worked well together as they prepared the airboat for take off and after some motor complications got it fixed. We were off and about zipping at high speed in no time.
The half way point on the airboat trip through what I thought was the garden of Eden was an island in the middle of 'who knows where' surrounded by miles of nature without any human imprint to see. Dad had Will captain the airboat all by himself half the way. I loved that. It reminded me of my own late-father. My Dad would do things like that for my sisters and I. Put us in the lead. It is a confidence-builder. Will commanded the airboat gallantly over water, marsh and dry land. It was a happy moment. Here and there beautiful birds would fly by and every once in a while cows would come into view. Poor cows... so far away from safe ground, I thought. This was alligator country and there seems to be no hills or safe places for the beasts of the fields to safely go to. I couldn't help but think of a scene in Steven Spielberg's first Jurassic Park movie where a goat is placed in the middle of a Velociraptor's cage as its next meal. Where would the cows go at night? What a life!
Finally Dad took over and brought us onto an island. He had us collect firewood to start a bonfire. Will, his trusty dog and I went to collect firewood in the brush. I stayed quiet and let him lead me again. We walked a ways with his dog in clear view of the crew but out of earshot. At one point, I scrounged up the guts to ask him if he missed his Mom. I know it was an 'out of the blue' question, yet I put it forth. He gave me a quick look and kept walking. I knew a bit of the story from my oldest sister. His answer was not as important as me wanting him know that I went to that spot in his heart and mind. He did not answer me directly on that, which was okay. We just kept picking up firewood. His very smart, amazing dog also collected firewood.
Back with the rest of the gang, my two sisters and Will's Dad amassed a nice pile of wood to burn. Dad asked me to follow him into the bush where we basically took down a 10 foot tree with our bare hands by bending it and twisting it back and forth until it broke loose. We hauled it back to the bonfire area and with the help of a hatchet, cut it down to size. My respect for him is big. It is not easy to be a single parent and here was a man who had a great son and a way of life that I think every boy should have. Adventure and an 'outdoorsy' life in the way these two were building it develops the kind of 21st century skills one needs to be resilient and strong from the inside out.
Back at the bonfire, Dad brought chairs for us and a few beers for the adults. We had good family conversation interspersed with moments of silence as we soaked in the moment and took in the warmth of the fire to a setting sun. At one point, I thought to myself.. I hope Dad knows the way home in the pitch black darkness. Cowboy Dad was in no hurry to leave. Everything was relaxed. That is Florida cowboy life for you, I thought. For me it was mesmerizing to see this father-son team in action. I am not use to people being so ...adventurous as a way of life. It was great. It resembled my upbringing without the alligators.
Eventually, the night came and it got pitch black. It was time to head on out. We put the fire out and began loading our belongings, leaving no garbage behind in the garden of Eden.
Then it happened...
Will came up to me, smiled and hugged me hard in front of all. Now he was the one who went to that place in my heart and mind. He hugged me. I didn't see it coming. He completely took me off guard. I was not expecting that. I know I have a way with kids but this was way out of what I expected for someone I just met. The act was seen by his Dad and my two sisters. I hugged the boy back. Then we all piled onto the airboat and he wanted to sit in front with my oldest sister and I.
"I want to sit with Bill."
Given that seating is limited, he had to kind of sit on her and half lay over me. My sister Cristina and I held him tight as #OakTreeDad powered up the huge oscillating fan and took us over the roots of trees and onto the water. Everything was surreal. I didn't think I was going to have this kind of experience.It is not every day you meet people and they immediately let you in to their heart.
The darkness gave way to millions of lights shedding their luminosity over the river. It was riveting. The way back home was cold. Dad gave us a towel to help with the wind sheer a bit. At some point he stopped in 'no mans land,' turned off the motor and we all looked up at the sky trying to spot constellations. No one could find the big or little dipper. Usually, I can spot it right away...It is very quiet out there on the river. I like that. Quiet in nature is nice. It makes one feel like all is well... and all was well.
The motor went back on and we fired on out. Dad circled here and there looking for something... alligators, which we did spot and bumped up to with the airboat. It was incredible to see these ancient, cold-blooded creatures up close. We rocketed out after a while and made it safely back to dry land. Dad fanned the boat right on to the car rig like a maestro in one shot. Given that it was late, we passed on firing the guns. Will was adamant to want to sit between my eldest sister and I again. All I could do was smile.
"I want to sit next to Bill." Before long he passed out with his head on my sisters lap and his legs on mine. Great kid. Great emotional intelligence and presence.
#OakTreeDad's Storytelling on The Plight of the Immigrant
Back at 'el rancho,' I partly helped #OakTree Dad cook by shelling the garlic as he prepared a five-star meal for all of us. My sisters poured the wine we had brought and set the table. Dad, a self-made man, began telling us about his experiences working for various people in the past. We talked about the plight of immigrants who brave the sea to make it to dry land. The law says that if a refugee makes places their foot on dry land they cannot be sent back to their home country. The dad worked for a ruthless man in the past who had Cubans and Haitians that were exploited for their labor and crammed into small rooms at night. They were paid with a gallon of water and a bag of rice. He recounted how they were made to work all day. The Cubans would somehow find a fishing line and fish to compliment their rice and water. The Haitians, at least the one's in this story, were envious of the 'success' of the Cubans with their meals. Dad, being a cowboy, would sneak Hershey's chocolate kisses to them and extra water. It was hard to do more. Everything was under the table and very hush-hush.
There were no rights or no-one that would advocate for them.
Dad recounted how one father set out to get the rest of his family by boat after having made it to America's shores. He worked with Will's Dad and lived in one of these shacks. Immigrants that come in under the radar are exploited by people looking to cut corners and live as ghosts inside America. We never hear of these people. The father set out on a boat back to Cuba to get his family and was never heard from again. Maybe he made it back to Cuban waters. He was not heard from again.
Should anything be done to protect the rights of people who are not citizens? How many are out there who are exploited by people of no character? People who would rather make a quick buck at the expense of people's basic human rights? Are we animals? Do people who are not citizens and who come in a condition of destitution be at the mercy of others?
Where is our humanity if we let these things happen across our land? How can our land continue to heal? If everyone does matter, then everyone does matter, and every voice needs to be heard, every story needs to be listened to. Not just the voice of Will who seemed to call for me across thousands of miles, but also the voice of the immigrant who is already an American at heart.
For more, go to http://www.CoachBill.US