Dad Dares 5-Year-Old to Dive to Bottom of Olympic-Sized Swimming Pool—When She Gasps for Air, His Response Wrecks Her

swimming pool

“I bet you can’t dive all the way to the bottom and touch the grate,” he dared me.

I was five years old. A toe-headed, deeply tanned, tiny thing, but boy, could I swim. I wasn’t daunted by the Olympic-sized swimming pool sparkling before me.

“But I got my clothes on,” I answered, waiting to see if he’d take back the challenge.

“If you do it, I’ll buy you a pony,” he replied with a smirk.

And that was all it took. Like a bullet from a gun, I shot quickly into the water, sans swimsuit or not, pointed finger first to touch the drain at the bottom of the pool. Spoiler alert. I reached my goal easily, and broke through the surface of the water, just as quickly, sucking in air hungrily. Almost as hungrily as I ached for his response.

Here’s the thing about five-year-old me. I really wanted a pony. I asked if I could get one, more than once, not understanding the obstacles that stood in the way of my cowgirl princess dreams, such as living in an apartment, or being dirt poor. I just wanted one, and my father had agreed I could get one. Several times. The poolside promise wasn’t a new thing.

Here’s the next thing. I knew I wasn’t getting a pony. I may had only recently learned to tie my shoelaces, but I understood a thing or two about human behavior. The promise of a pony was like wishing upon a star. It worked in Disney cartoons, but not for little girls who changed schools a billion times a year, chasing dad across the country while he sowed his oats. I didn’t even want the pony. Not at that moment.

I was proud of myself, though. I tried to reel it in, but I couldn’t help it. Sure, touching the bottom of the deep end was nothing new for me, but it was for him. And mom knew I could do it, but he didn’t know. He’d been gone when I learned. Where did he go anyway? With just a backpack and the contents of our bank account, for months at a time?

Yessiree, I was proud. I was cheesing, big time, and I waited for his response with anticipation. Wouldn’t he be so proud?!

All I can remember is the chuckle. A half laugh, half “well, I’ll be damned.” He laughed at the sport of a smiling girl, and then he turned and walked away, probably afraid I’d get his smoldering, filterless Camel wet. I guess I remember something else. I remember my heart breaking. It didn’t ache for a pretty pony to keep in the nonexistent backyard, though. It ached for affection. I wanted him to be proud of me.

I can look back on the muddled years of my past, and I can see that same longing. Love me! See me! Make me feel worthwhile! I floated through friendships, relationships, and most facets of my life like a little girl kicking like crazy to reach the bottom. If I could just touch the grate, he’d be proud. Maybe he’d even stay around for a while. If I could just be skinny enough, pretty enough, smart enough. If I wore the right clothes, the other girls would accept me. If I slept with him on the first date, he’d have to like me. If I agreed to be agreeable, then my husband wouldn’t leave me. So many parts of myself I gave up or gave away, just hoping to finally feel the satisfaction of being worth something to someone. Anything to anybody.

I never got that pony, and I never found what I was looking for in the arms of mankind. Don’t get me wrong; I found love. I currently reside in the most fulfilling and joyous marriage I could fathom, but I had to come to a place in life where I realized my self-worth and personal happiness couldn’t be found in the acceptance, opinion, or affections of this world. As the years went by and I scoured the pages of my Bible, I finally understood my purpose and fullness were found therein. A Savior who called me precious, that was what mattered most. A God who became man, to give His life for me, that was what I had been longing for. An unconditional love that said, ‘you can have all of me, and you don’t have to give me a thing,’ that was what had been missing. I didn’t have to perform, fit into a box, or do anything other than just believe that love was there for me. And when I finally realized His great grace was enough, that His strength was sufficient, and that His love never failed, I stopped kicking. I stopped striving to reach the bottom, to obtain the love of the world, or to fill my cup with empty promises. Because, I never needed the promise of a pony. I only needed perfect love.

Brie Gowen
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Brie Gowen is a 30-something (sliding ever closer to 40-something) wife and mother. When she’s not loving on her hubby, chasing after the toddler or playing princess with her four-year-old, she enjoys cooking, reading and writing down her thoughts to share with others. Brie is also a huge lover of Jesus. She finds immense joy in the peace a relationship with her Savior provides, and she might just tell you about it sometime. She’d love for you to check out her blog at BrieGowen.com.