My dad lives in southern mainland Mexico. He’s way down low where the continent starts to curve like a backward “J.” He cleared some land, not to far from a small pueblo, out on the edge of a coconut field. He built a little house out of cement. Painted it sunshine yellow, periwinkle blue, lime green. Put solar panels on the roof, pumps water twice a week from the river with a Honda generator. Showers outside.  He has a 1985 Toyota grey 4WD pickup. The bed’s completely rusted out and has been replaced with planks of palm wood. I have that truck’s brother here. It’s not in much better shape.

Dad’s not that old. He’ll turn 60 next week. He’s been living down there for ten plus years now. He can stand on the deck that is the roof of his kitchen and check the swell. Right in front of the house the waves break consistently in a hollow right point break. A couple hundred yards north, a river mouth causes the waves to break both left and right. There can be a nasty rip. We’ve all had some long walks back to the house. It can definitely hand out a thumping, but that river mouth can be something like paradise. It’s remote enough, and deep enough into what many people consider the stronghold of the cartels, that the crowds don’t come.

When I first started surfing there it felt like I was regularly being put through the washing machine. Dad would stand on the deck that is also the kitchen roof and watch with binoculars. One day after a particularly nasty moment of first going over the falls, then being held down for more than a few minutes in the spin cycle, he walked down to the beach and waved me in.

“That’s about as bad as it’s ever going to get,” he said. Then he paddled past me into the line-up. In my family you’ve got to be tough.

People ask me what he does down there. For a long time he was too young to be considered retired. I tell them that he’s the pueblo’s local mechanic, that he works on the land, that he wires in electrical systems and retools water lines. He cleans the beach and takes thousands upon thousands of pounds of plastic to the recycling center 50 miles away. Those things are all true. But mostly down there, he surfs. Almost everyday, often twice a day. He’s not the best guy in the water. He misses waves on occasion, but he loves it. In the afternoons, he sits on the deck that is also the kitchen roof and just watches the ocean. I don’t know why I feel like I have to validate that to people. I love that he surfs. I love that he’s followed his passions and built a life in which he can indulge them. I love that when I emailed to tell  him I was quitting my regular job to “pursue happy,” he replied simply, “Good.”

Now, I find that I’m back in the mountains. In the evenings I watch the horizon line looking for clouds, promises of weather. I find that I’m giving up on validating Dad’s habits at the same time that I’m giving up on validating mine. I hope that when I’m 60, I’m still following happy.

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