What has two thumbs and a toddler son who almost fell off a pier into the ocean today?

What has two thumbs and a toddler son who almost fell off a pier into the ocean today?

The answer is obviously me, as after consulting with several medical texts and a pair of gloves I recently purchased from Home Depot, I do still, indeed, have two thumbs.

But as it was a brisk and glorious Sunday morning, and because it had been a gray and pallid Saturday and we were all tired of being in the house with each other, I took my youngest, an 18-month-old mucus production factory by day, out to a local pier for some good old-fashioned rock throwin'. I contend there is no greater activity for children than rock-throwin', in any capacity. Rock thrown' into the water, rock thrown' into the pond, rock throwin' at a wall. Every Christmas, every single Christmas, we go through this profoundly insane charade of making a gift list, receiving presents from the gift list, opening said presents, writing thank-you notes for said presents and spending a few hours playing with gifts that are like 750% less fun than rocks. Geology has given us childhood toy gold, and here we are screwing around with Legos and dump trucks and whatever Monster High is.

So with a day to ourselves we motored to a nearby pier, one that one Sundays is filled with people casting nets into the Intracoastal Waterway. We've done this a number of times. Once my older son and I came across two fishermen, two youngish guys of probably 20 or so who had not spent a great deal of their day in the field of personal care and at least one of which was, unless he was suffering from a glaucomal condition not readily apparent, probably illegal. And they were chucking their cages into the water, tending to the poles they had cast. Basically I fell into Pat Conroy's brain.

Anyway, my son, being 5 and curious, waddles over to these filthy smokers and announces, "Hi, what are you doing?" And the guys, of course, are the nicest filthy baked fishermen in town, and show him their cages and the few crabs they'd caught. "Are you going fishing now?" my son asks, and one of them grunts his approval, removes a crab from his white bucket, removes a large and impressive knife from his belt, puts the crab on the dock and cuts the thing in half. There is a moment of vaguely shocked pause on the part of me and my son, who have never previously joint-witnessed a murder, which is broken by the boy, without breaking glance from the former crab sitting in pieces on the dock, who says, "He killed it." Yeah, son. Yeah, he kinda did.

This visit with the younger son involved less death, and also less teeth. A guy came over to show us a baby shark he'd just caught, an 18-inch-long floppy thing that was notable for its lack of teeth. I didn't know sharks came with only gums. I guess it makes sense but have ever really stopped to think about a toothless shark? It's an odd notion.

Anyway, the shark guy came by to illustrate once again my various shortcomings as a father, because I have done a lot of pretty decent parenting things over the years, but I've never, to date, caught a shark. Definitely got a look from my 18-month-old like, "Why can't you ever do anything cool?" The fisherman detached and released his shark into the water, dropping it back into the sea, which caused the toddler to give me a look like, "WHOA THE TOOTHLESS FISH JUST DISAPPEARED, WE HAVE TO COME HERE ALL OF THE TIME."

So we ambled around a while, picked up some more rocks, walked up and down the steep ramp to and from the pier, with its abject steepness and minimal concern for handrails and general protections against falling into the ocean because, again, parenting is hard. And we ended up at the pier throwing rock, bloop, throwing another rock, bloop, throwing another and this is when he toppled over headfirst into the water and both his arms got pretty drenched. Naturally being an attentive dad with samurai reflexes, I let out a helpful "WHAGH!" and grabbed him before a full-on submerging happened, but not even to prevent myself from looking up to see four scruffy fishermen looking at me as though I was new to visiting the ocean, or water, or Earth. I wasn't too worried though. I mean, most of the sharks in there are toothless.

Jeff Vrabel threw a rock at this column while writing it. He can be reached at http://jeffvrabel.com and followed at http://twitter.com/jeffvrabel.