Before moving to Australia, Damien Cave had a life that many would envy – he worked as a senior journalist for the New York Times, lived in Brooklyn with his wife and two children and was surrounded by the buzzing culture of one of the world’s largest cities. .
And yet there was something wrong.
He felt exhausted by the relentless wear and tear of living in New York City and a weekly routine dominated by his job.
“I felt that something in New York was not really working for me as an individual or for us as a family, but I was not sure what it was and I was certainly not sure how to solve any of it, Mr Cave tells ABC RN’s Life Matters.
So when the opportunity to move to Sydney to run the New York Times’ newly launched Australian agency came up in 2017, he jumped at it.
He imagined Australia’s beaches, cozy shops and quiet neighborhoods where his children could go to school alone.
He also imagined an easy transition.
Cave, an experienced foreign correspondent, had lived in Baghdad during the worst years of the Iraq war and in Mexico City in the midst of a violent drug dispute. Surely, compared to these postings, Australia would be a breeze.
But as he writes in his new book Into the Rip, his newly adopted homeland had other ideas.
“Australia from the beginning did not want me to just stand on the sidelines and [it was] made it very clear that I expected to participate, to be involved, to really engage with the place in a deeper way, ”he says.
Four years after he arrived, Cave says Australia has challenged him in ways he could never have imagined, and it has forced him to completely re-evaluate his priorities as well as his ideas of success and happiness.
The beginning of what Mr. Cave describes as his “metamorphosis” in the middle of his life comes from an unlikely source: his local nipper’s life-saving club at Bronte Beach.
The first time he saw the nippers training on the beach, he thought the kids dressed in yellow and red caps seemed to be involved in a “strangely militaristic” socialist experiment.
But when he saw the children – some so young that they could hardly tie their shoes – facing waves, rips and other surfing conditions he had never seen adults try, he was shocked at the parents who followed with complete calm, in confidence. their kids would be ok.
He realized that he was witnessing something special.
“You had all these parents to take care of all these children – not just their own children – and you had all these children who were expected to move together in these risky situations. The ones who would hold back were the ones who were the pressure to do something they were afraid of, ”says Cave.
Even when a child was scared, they were never judged by other children in the group, nor were they given the opportunity to give up, he says.
They were encouraged to continue, and most of the time thanks to what he saw as a kind of “collective coaxing” from all who saw, they would come out of the sea and radiate pride and complacency about what they had achieved.
It was an approach to parenting and risk that he had not seen in other middle and upper middle class societies around the world. It was a way of coexisting with nature and all its chaos, danger and unpredictability.
Cave and his wife Diana, also a former war correspondent, generally considered themselves adventurous and rejected “upper-middle-class helicopter training in America.” But when they looked at the nippers’ attempts, they realized that they were the only ones who felt scared, which caught them.
“It made me wonder: what does that mean for me as someone who thinks he’s pretty risk-averse and who’s put himself in pretty dangerous situations?”
The couple realized they needed to enroll their children right away.
A training course to overcome fear
Although both his son and daughter were reluctant at first, Mr. Cave began to see the benefits, both in and out of the water, shortly after they signed up for nippers.
His son Baz, originally afraid of the water, swam quickly far beyond the breaks and then surfed back to shore.
His daughter Amelia, who ended several of her first nipper sessions and begged her parents to never make her paddle out again, ended the season by leading her group out into the waves.
This newly acquired boldness also seemed to translate to other parts of their lives.
His son was a “type A kid” who usually chose activities he knew he would be good at. Soon, Cave noticed that he was trying new things, including surfing, cooking, and talking.
His daughter started singing for the first time in her life, and she ended the school period singing solo in front of a packed theater.
A return to childhood
As he saw both his children in their new endeavors, he saw a sense of complacency grow in them, as well as a new lightness in the way they moved through the world.
It made him proud. It also made him curious to see if he could follow in their footsteps.
So when his son invited him to attend Bronze Medallion adult lifeguard courses, Mr. Cave saw an opportunity.
At first, he found the training both physically exhausting and deeply frustrating. His body, which he describes as a kind of “miracle of inefficiency”, refused to be brought into line.
But as his new routine took hold, he began to notice small but meaningful changes in himself.
The physical intensity of the training increased his senses, both during the sessions and beyond. It helped him feel more present in his daily life and enjoy everyday tasks like cooking, something he once found stressful.
Somehow he was forced to slow down while swimming, to do the same in other parts of his life. He quickly realized that he could “lose himself in a state of power” all day long.
Like his son and daughter, he was able to take on new challenges, in the water and out. He gained a new openness with his wife and children, and he allowed himself to deepen new friendships.
He also took on several social risks, such as joining the local dads basketball league, that he – as someone who likes to keep to himself – would once have found it impossible.
“I think the experience I had was to some extent a return to childhood,” he says.
He believes that it was not only the lifesaving course’s focus on service that helped to create the changes.
It was also the emphasis on skill and competence, rather than perfection. He realized that not all people training next to him were destined to be lifeguards, but they all had something to offer.
By participating in something he was not good at and watching his fellow interns fight just as much, Mr. Cave began to learn that failure was part of the journey. It is the show that counts.
“There was a desire not to fail another, and that’s something that can be a real force for good, a real force to help people grow,” he says.
“To some extent, I think being in the ocean and trying to learn to do something I was not naturally good at – and something I did not even naturally enjoy for many days – helped me see myself in perspective, “he says.
“[It] helped me understand that some days we can be a Colossus with lots of power and action, and other days we can just be a little spot in the universe that is completely insignificant. “
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