Deer Dad

Written By: Monica S. Navia

Deer Dad,

There are so many stories I want to tell you, things I want to say, but there never seems like we have enough time any more…or maybe I am not making enough time for us, or maybe you are always surrounded by my doting mom and worried sisters and I don’t want to interrupt their attention. So as I do, I am writing you a letter, because texts and emails just don’t seem to capture my emotions that I want to you to feel and the words that I need you to hear.

Last summer, I was laying on Little Plains Beach with my beloved Maltipoo, Lexi. It was around the pre-sunset time, my favorite time of the day, and I was laying on my comforter on the sand with my sweatshirt rolled up under my neck, armed with one of the books you wrote (you would be proud), my SPF 30 lathered generously (mom would be proud), my baseball cap low on my head, and Lexi laying against me, with a water bowl next to her and anchored by a long yellow rope leash.

I would occasionally steal glances at the ocean, breathing in the salty air, listening to the waves crashing, feeling the warm sun on my skin, my toes dancing in the sand – thanking myself, smiling proudly for having decided to move out to the Hamptons to live. This is why I was here…this very moment. It was quiet on the beach that day… a pair of lovers strolling by, a man playing ball with his dog, a mother and her two children building a sand castle nearby.


All of sudden, I heard two dogs barking frantically behind me. Lexi also heard them and joined in their cacophony. I turned around and saw two dogs running after something in their closed-in yard. I saw the object of their feverish pursuit. A deer, running with fear in his eyes, was clearly panicked that it had gotten into their pen. He finally discovered he could elude these wild beasts and hurdled over the fence straight for us. As he scurried by I got a closer look at this majestic animal. He was big and strong and clearly now had a purpose. Instead of running along the shore as I thought he would, he headed toward the ocean, hurtled in and started swimming. Lexi stopped barking and now I stood up to see what this buck would do.

He kept swimming out to sea, and didn’t seem like he was turning around. I panicked, as I do, because I wanted to save this deer, but I couldn’t fathom how I would. The other people on the beach also stopped what they were doing and all of us just stared. Like having seen a unicorn, we were all mesmerized by this brave or foolish deer who decided to launch into the ocean with no plan, it seemed. I called out, naively obviously, to get the deer’s attention, but he kept swimming or drowning (I couldn’t tell). I then did the obvious to me, Type A that I am…I called 911.

The dispatcher heard my panicked voice, and calmly ask me what beach I was on and if anyone was hurt. I said yes, of course. I told him a deer was drowning, and he needed to be saved. He gently said he understood my plight, and that apparently deer do that. They sometimes jump into the ocean and swim out for miles. They usually come back. My ignorance as a New York City transplant was apparent. I was aghast and of course, zoned in on the word “usually”. But sir, I insisted, this one doesn’t seem like it’s turning around, and now it is miles out and I can only see the tops of its ears, bobbing up and down. You have to find a way to bring it back, I yelled. As I said those words, I realized the absurdity of my request. Would we get a speedboat to rescue this prodigal son or hire a rodeo rider to wrangle it back? Either option seemed ridiculous but at that moment I would have given anything to have a speedboat, or a rope (Lexi’s long yellow rope wasn’t going to cut it) and the strength of Hercules. I didn’t plan for when I caught up to it – how would I lift this giant out of the water? For an hour Lexi and I watched our friend continue trekking out to sea, until I could no longer see those two bobbing ears. I was devastated – was he training for a triathlon, or had he decided to commit suicide? And why on earth, did he decide to commit this seemingly psychotic act in front of us. The prophetic significance of this event eluded me. On our drive home, I hoped that he would find his way back home.

Two months later, you had two consecutive heart attacks, and my world shattered. You were my hero, my savior, big and strong, and always the one that kept mom and your four daughters safe. This wasn’t supposed to happen to you. My baby sister texted me that fateful day, that you had had a heart attack and were in the hospital up island. I drove, or flew rather, to the hospital, where I found my three sisters and mother, wide-eyed, tears streaming down their faces. Is he alive? They wouldn’t have told me via text if he had died, for fear that I would have driven perilously like a Nascar racer. Yes, he was alive, and we would have to wait in that cold, waiting room for news. They were working on him, and apparently he had suffered another heart attack while on the table. I have a fear of hospitals, claustrophobia sets in and the inability to do anything consumes me to the point that I usually have to wait outside the hospital. I went outside, and sat on a bench, feeling the warm sun. What a beautiful day, and how cruel the irony that it was the worst day of my life.

Sitting on that bench, I remembered that deer that had catapulted itself into the ocean. The image still haunted me. The desperation of not being able to save him was the same feeling I had waiting to hear if you would live. You did.

But the day you almost died was a watershed day for you, for me, for our entire family. You were in the hospital for several days, and hooked up to octopus-like machines. When I tepidly walked into your room, I wanted to be strong and not cry at the sight of my Hercules. You smiled weakly, and said, don’t worry honey, I am ok, I want to go home.

I drove back to Sag Harbor, comforted by the fact that my sisters and mother were much braver than me. I walked to Long Beach, collapsing in tears. The beach doesn’t judge. The countless medications they put you on made you dizzy and forgetful and tired. I have visited you often this past year, but the father I knew is different than the one I know now. Or perhaps you are the same and I have changed. You would look at me and be at a loss for words sometimes. I so desperately wanted to save you, make you healthy again, hope that you would “swim back to shore”. Like that deer, you were big and strong, and all of a sudden I was the one that needed to save you. But sometimes, things happen beyond our control. It’s called life – I now appreciate the adage. You always taught me to have a purpose in life, that to wander aimlessly through life is counterproductive. An unexamined life is not worth living, you would always quote in the words of your mentor, Socrates. Well, it took that deer and you to force me to examine my life… my mortality. In a moment our lives can change. We are one phone call, one text away from our knees. You would say that maybe that deer didn’t need saving, maybe he did have a purpose. Just because I could not understand his purpose, didn’t mean he didn’t have one.

Now when you visit me in Noyac, and we walk on the beach with my three dogs, I remember that deer. Just like the deer, I know or hope that you will come back home. Your memory is getting better. Things happen in our life that are beyond our control – it’s how you handle it that makes the difference. Now, I treasure our time together more than ever. The deer is like you. You both have a purpose. And while your purpose was not to have a heart attack, I got your point. I truly appreciate the people in my life. Maybe the deer did swim back home. I pray that you do too.