This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
I never had occasion to celebrate Father's Day. There was an adult male in my childhood household and he technically used the title "Father.;" But that, honestly, was just a formality. In spirit, he was no father at all. He never read our report cards, nor attended any of our sporting events, nor music recitals, nor academic ceremonies. He was never around for our birthdays, nor any holidays. Certainly not Father's Day. My little sister was born on his birthday, June 16. Today, and every year, she would get a present together for him and, every year, when he didn't show, she would stuff that gift into the growing pile in her closet.
My father made his living as a con artist. He was evidently very good at his craft, specializing in gambling, lying, and stealing. He was away on hush-hush business trips most of the time. And even when he was in town, he was on the lam, hiding from loan sharks and Mafia-types who would bang on our door in the middle of the night and threaten my mother to find out his whereabouts.
Aristotle Zanith Nyad was pure octane. Larger than life. After a hot week of cards and dice in Havana, he'd bust through the front door at dawn, wake us all, and take us down to the docks at Port Everglades for an early morning cruise on his new 80-foot yacht. He always named his yachts The DianaLiz, after my sister Liza and myself. Then there were the reverse mornings, when he had lost everything. That was our signal to get packing. We'd have to turn over the keys to the current house in a matter of hours.
Aris might have been a thrilling character when playing the roulette wheel in Monte Carlo...dangerous and dashing. But that same wild, unpredictable personality didn't provide much comfort in terms of home life.
I do remember one thing about Aris that inspired me, though. He came from Alexandria, Egypt, on the Mediterranean, and his love of the sea was leviathan. He would take us deep sea fishing and literally gush with awe at the profound azure of the Gulf Stream waters. He would take us to the beach at night to walk along the shore by the light of the moon. He would take us on excursions to the Florida Keys where the ocean was our special playground.
And when I was maybe five or six, he opened up the dictionary to show me something significant. "Here;", he said in his thick accent, as he thumbed through the pages to the n's. "Here; is your name".; And I saw my name, in bold black letters. In the dictionary. NYAD: Definition One: From Greek mythology: a nymph that swims in the lakes, rivers, fountains, and seas to protect them for the Gods; Definition Two: A girl or woman champion swimmer. And then he said to me, "You; see. This is your destiny".;
All these years, when asked why I chose to be a long-distance ocean swimmer, I've always offered a multi-tiered analysis. I didn't make the Olympic team and was still somehow looking to fulfill that distant dream. I had experienced sexual abuse as a teen and the long hours in the ocean gave me the solace of a safe haven. I thrilled to the expedition nature of the marathon adventures, mounting teams of navigational, shark, nutritional, and training experts to attempt swims never before considered swimmable. But it had never entered my mind that I swam across all those oceans at least in part due to my father's passing on to me his rapture at being in or around the sea.
Well, this Father's Day, for the first time, I acknowledge that my passion for the ocean had its initial spark from Aris' passion. Happy Father's Day, Aris, and may you rest in peace.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.