Some years ago we went to a large public pool in North Carolina for the fourth of July. There was an assortment of games, contests, and prizes to be won. Among them… the greased watermelon contest… which was also the prize.

My dad was, of course, pressured by his kids into the role that all other dads present were pressured into… the role of a half-willing contestant. The pool was a perfect square. Water was twelve or fifteen feet deep. A diving pool. No hope of wading through water on your tip toes. Tread water or die. Lifeguards were necessary. The Vaseline-covered watermelon was placed directly in the center of the pool. The goal was for the winner to place the large homegrown trophy on the edge of the pool.

The begrudging fathers all stepped to the edge and tried hard to look nonchalant. The whistle blew. Every dad dove into the water towards the watermelon…. every dad except for mine. My dad stood on the edge watching the other dads grab and try to hold onto the watermelon. It was so greasy that it changed hands a multitude of times.

The kids in my family were screaming at dad to make the leap, but dad has always been known as a strategist. He picked his diving placement and timing carefully. After twenty or thirty seconds, he dove in. He swam stealthily under grappling men on the surface. They didn’t notice him as he swam from below them. They didn’t notice him until after he had grabbed the loose watermelon and swam towards the edge. They only noticed him when he was too far away to do much about his impending win. He broke the fruit of his labor open on the side of the pool.

He didn’t win because he was faster. It wasn’t because he was stronger or more comfortable hauling watermelons. It was simply because he had a plan, even a plan on the fly. A strategy. He was willing to wait for the right timing and positioning. He withstood the pressure from his demanding kids on the sidelines. He withstood the internal pressure that reaches a fever pitch when everyone around you is following a different plan.

This was his plan. He executed it artfully. My family ate watermelon that day.

And this was the beginning of the oft-told legend of my dad and the watermelon.

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