Living Colorfully Between the Lines

Life Lessons from My Dad's Red Plaid Swimming Trunks

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of red plaid. More specifically, the red plaid swimming trunks my father used to wear. When I’d see the red plaid swimming trunks, I knew it was going to be a little more structured swim.

Actually, they were the only swim trunks I remember my dad wearing. The puffy  ’60s style trunks were designed with a red, navy, white, and green plaid and were held up at the waist with a drawstring.


I don’t know why those red plaid swim trunks are such a vivid memory. Perhaps it is because growing up in the hot, arid desert of Tucson, Arizona, we spent a lot of summers in the pool. 


My family didn’t have a pool. Well, not a REAL pool like you could find in the backyards of the rich people who lived up on the hill. We had to be more resourceful on a hot summer’s day. The Joiners were the scrawny loud kids in the neighborhood wearing saggy bathing suits and running through the lawn sprinkler. We were the ones trying to submerge ourselves in a hard plastic wading pool filled with warm water, floating grass, and bugs.


From time to time my parents would splurge and buy one of those Doughboy pools, and we’d set it up in our back yard. It wasn’t a real pool, but it was a wonderful plastic wanna-be pool that served as an oasis in the 110-degree Arizona summers. The Doughboy sufficed and was well utilized—until we kids fell behind in our responsibility to keep the chlorine at the correct level. Then the bottom of the pool would get slick and slimy, one of us would get an earache, and then the pool would have to come down. (Usually I was the one that developed the major ear infection. Historically, I was not well loved by my siblings in August.)


I remember Dad wearing his red plaid swimming trunks in a long line of backyard Doughboy set-ups; but I also remember Dad styling them at the beach in San Diego, at my great-aunt Dorothy’s pool, on the shores of Kino Bay, in the Olympic-size pool at the Stamback mansion, and the assorted “built-in” swimming pools at the homes of friends from church.


JC Joiner, circa 1965
JC Joiner - circa 1965

In fact, I have two treasured pictures of my dad wearing those red plaid swimming trunks. In one, he is on the beach looking out over the ocean; and the other is at the lake right after he caught a fish. Perhaps I love these pictures because they show a different side of a man who has spent most of his life in a suit, in the pulpit preaching. 


But my memories of the red plaid swimming trunks are less about the locations where they were worn but about the instruction that would be given when Dad would show up wearing them.


Mom’s poolside philosophy was live and let swim. Dad’s was more like learn and let swim. So when my dad was along for the day, our swim time always started with a bit of instruction. Each instruction came with a warning about someone he knew who, at our very exact age, didn’t heed the rules of the pool and faced catastrophic consequences.


“Now I mean it. No running around the pool,” Dad would warn.  “You will slip and fall and crack your head wide open on the concrete. I grew up with a kid who was goofing off, running around a pool, slipped, busted his head, and never could eat with a fork after that.”


“Yes, Dad.”


“Another thing, before you dive into the pool, check the printed numbers on the tile.  If you accidentally dive into the shallow end, you could break your neck.” He would then reference a missionary our church supported who was extremely short and walked with a slight gallop. “He walks like that because he jumped in the shallow end of a pool, hit the bottom with the top of his head, compressed his spine, and short circuited his wiring!”


“Okay, Dad,” we’d giggle.


“And keep your eyes open under water,” he’d continue. “If you swim with your eyes closed, you’ll run lickety-split into the side of the pool and could get brain damage. That’s what ole Denny Foster did, and that’s why you can’t decide what eye to look at when you speak to him!”


“Got it,” we’d chuckle.


“And remember the splash zone!” He would usually stand on the diving board to give this instruction while his red plaid swimming trunks flapped in the breeze. “Do not go jumping off this diving board if anyone is in a nine-foot radius of the front of the board.  And when you are ready to dive, what do you say?”


“Preparing to dive.”


“Right. And when the coast is clear?”


“Diving!” we’d answer.


“That’s right. One summer, my high school buddy Vernon was horsing around in the pool and dived right on top of this kid named Casper Gimble. To this day Casper blinks uncontrollably and has a chronic nose whistle.”


From there he would follow with a short speech about staying out of the pool for thirty minutes after eating, not using the pool as a toilet, and keeping our bathing suits pulled up.


At that point the group presentation of the pre-swim instruction would conclude. And then in the pool we’d all go.


One would think that this was all the instruction we’d require. No. The instruction was not quite over.


That’s when we’d have to personally qualify to swim freely.


“Paul,” he’d say standing about ten feet in front of me in the pool, hands out to his side skimming the surface of the water, “swim out to me and back to the steps.”


“Dad, I would rather just play shark here in the shallow end,” I’d plea.


“No, sonny. C’mon, swim out from the edge to me. I want to see that you can swim,”

Dad would insist.


“But we did all this last summer, and I showed you I can do it,” in my best whine.


“You can’t even remember to take out the garbage each night. Why should I believe

you can remember how to swim from last year?” he would argue.


“But what if I just stay here in the shallow end of the pool?” I’d reason. “I can just stay right here on the steps.”


“Nope! I have to be confident you can swim the entire length of the pool before you swim on your own. Now let’s go,” he’d say.


So through the swimming drills we’d go. Holding my breath under water. Swimming out to the middle of the pool and then back. Floating on my back. A few dives. Then the finale, swimming the entire distance of the pool. When Dad was satisfied that I could reasonably stay afloat and felt comfortable that I wouldn’t drown, I was free to swim on my own.


And then Dad was off to qualify the next sibling.


This “safety-first” policy may have cramped our style for the first few minutes of our swim, but after that, we were free to have a good time. We’d have fun. He’d relax. And the rest of the day was smooth sailing.


A marvelous poolside transformation happened with my dad once all five of his children’s water safety certifications were updated.  


Dad’s plaid poolside instructions were pretty successful, as none of us drowned, ever cracked our head on the cement pool deck, or took a dive into the wrong end of a swimming pool. And today, all of us are comfortable in the water.


When I look back on those days, Dad’s plaid swimming trunks are a perfect illustration of a greater lesson in life he has taught me—not only for pool safety but for how I was to live my life in general: Life is best enjoyed if there is order to it.


This summarizes my father. He is a rule follower. He wants to know what is expected of him and, then, behave accordingly. He has always understood that rules are for a purpose . . . know the rules and live accordingly . . . and you will fulfill your purpose. He lives this in his personal life, preaches it from the pulpit, and inspires all of us around him to best live life in this manner. Dad’s poolside chats weren’t about control, they were about certainty. The certainty that all of us would end the day safe, healthy, and happy, getting everything possible out of a fun day at the pool. And the underlying thread to all of this? Order.


Begin with the rules. End with no regrets!


Plaid is an interesting pattern. The pattern consists of different lines and colors intersecting with one another to make a busy, but neat, design. There is a great deal of movement in plaid, but make no mistake, there is an order. The colors may be bold, the lines strong, and the pattern busy, but there is a specific order behind it all. That’s why it works!


And such is life. We are free to experience it to the fullest. Live it boldly. Be strong in our pursuits. Fill our life with purpose, productivity, and passion. But you better know the rules first, or your life gets messy quite quickly.


There is a greater spiritual meaning to this principle, one my father has been successfully teaching for more than 60 years (2 Timothy 3:16). But within this teaching also lies practical instruction for personal growth.  I was raised to live colorfully within the lines. A deeper look within the colorfully patterned lines of the plaid-swimming-trunks poolside instructions gives us six success-building takeaways:

  1. Start with instruction: Begin with what is expected of you.
  2. Order follows instruction: Follow the plan.
  3. Success follows order: See your plan become a reality.
  4. Confidence follows success: Find strength in your accomplishment.
  5. Happiness follows confidence: Enjoy being a winner.
  6. Joy (and fun) follows happiness: Celebrate unabashedly.

Each of these steps represent a different colored line intersecting with the others, creating a design that dictates a strong pattern for life. A pattern so strong that it will last you throughout the years and be suitable for whatever pool you swim in.


If there was ever a museum built in my dad’s honor (and there should be), I think included in the exhibits, along with his Bible and his favorite putter, would have to be those red plaid swimming trunks. And for those of us who know him best, the trunks might be the most meaningful item featured.


For beneath the case displaying those red plaid swimming trunks, the little placard would read:


“Live colorfully within the lines.”

(Humbly worn by JC Joiner his entire life.)

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