There is so much more to a A River in the Ocean than just a heartwarming story about a father and his daughter. How I came up with the title itself is an interesting tidbit of knowledge.
But also, the entire book is a metaphor for the life my daughter and I have shared. Of course, the story is for everyone. It doesn’t lose readers based on whether or not they know us. That’s the fun of it. Reading the story is its own journey. But knowing the deeper meaning is another journey readers can take.
I’m going to explore some of that here. From the different angles of perspectives to the hidden meanings throughout the novel, there are quite a few things readers will enjoy knowing about a simple story set in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Even the setting is something special to me.
The Title Of The Book
I was in the Marine Corps at the time and I was flying over the Atlantic Ocean en route to Sigonella, Italy. The C-130 I was in was practically empty and I remember sitting in the window with my foot propped up on the frame. I had my headset on listening to the rest of the crew talk.
From our altitude, I could still see the ocean below me and I remember noticing something interesting. In this big body of water, there were visible streams. It was like looking at stretch marks on your wife’s belly after she’s given birth to your beautiful child. As I looked at these streams, the observation came to me, “It’s like little rivers in the ocean.”
I asked the crew if they could see what I was seeing. Everyone acknowledged the little rivers in the ocean, and even the engineer started to explain to me what they were. But, my mind drifted off on its own. I thought about what the deeper meaning could be about finding rivers in the ocean.
People who forge their own paths through life. The person who stands alone and refuses to conform. Throughout the years, the deeper meaning of A River in the Ocean has grown with the changing times. When we talk about bullies, A River in the Ocean is the person who stands up and pushes back. When we talk about everyone jumping on the bandwagon and adopting the popular opinion, A River in the Ocean is the dissenting opinion, the devil’s advocate to bring people back from the extreme.
Of course, there’s isn’t anything wrong with being the extreme every once in a while and in certain circumstances. There is a mainstream and an ex-stream. In many cases, A River in the Ocean is the extreme. But, there is a balance that has to be struck between being the dissenting opinion and being so far off track that you have become a part of the problem yourself.
In the novel, A River in the Ocean can be taken several ways. But, it is a path. It is in finding, when you don’t even know you’re looking. It is making a way, when you have no idea that your footsteps are taking you somewhere special, toward a destiny that you don’t even know exists. You might think of life as a meandering, a rambling endlessly until you simply expire where you stand.
I’d rather believe that there is a destiny for all of us and we find it through our natural compass. Things happen beyond our control. We make decisions that might lead us off track. But if our body is an ocean, our river naturally flows toward a destiny we are meant to realize. It might change course with each wrong turn we make. But, it is forever leading us where we are meant to go.
My Relationship To The Setting
The Rappahannock River, the portion that runs through Fredericksburg, Virginia is a small part of the book that plays such a huge roll. Fredericksburg is the setting of the story and twice in the book, the Rappahannock River is visited.
When I was growing up, I spent a small portion of my life at the Rappahannock River. I was attending James Monroe High School at the time and my friends loved going to the river. We partied on the bank. We lost our virginity. We battled the rapids in nothing more than sneakers and the naive sense that we could live forever. In such a small time in my life, the Rappahannock River became a rather huge part of who I am and where I call home.
So, the river itself is not how the book was named. But, it serves as a great backdrop for the story I wanted to tell. A story that could be looked at tragically, but was turned around for the better.
References Of Time
When my daughter was between one and two, her mother and I were going through a separation and we eventually were divorced. At the time, my daughter handled it quite well. But by the time she was four, she started to ask some pretty tough questions. Mainly, why she couldn’t be with both of us at the same time.
I decided to put a message together for her. So, I sat down with paper and a pencil. I made a booklet, drew the art, wrote my message and shared it with her. I sat her down and read it to her. She absolutely loved it! It was enough to satisfy her questions for the time being. I named the little message When You Miss Me and eventually had it published when my daughter rediscovered it one day years later.
But, by that time she had formed new questions and it was time for me to come up with bigger answers. So, A River in the Ocean serves as a metaphor for what her and I have been through. Every detail is special!
In the novel, the father is in a near fatal accident and ends up in a coma for nine years. From the time When You Miss Me was originally written to the time I decided to actually write A River in the Ocean, nine years had passed. It was not a coincidence. I chose nine years because I realized how significant amount of time that was and how much my daughter had actually been through.
What A Single Father Goes Through
When Chris awakens from his coma, he has amnesia. He doesn’t know he has a daughter. Meanwhile, Krista is being raised by a couple Chris doesn’t even know. These elements serve as the perfect platform for me to tell the story.
As Chris tries to make a life for himself not knowing he has a daughter in this world, he begins to see visions of a little girl. The visions start to become increasingly real. So, he begins to paint her. As he’s painting her, he is imagining her growing up and he even names her “Angel.” But, he places the paintings of her in a secret room where only he knows.
In that sense, I was able to explain to my daughter what it was like to be a single father who only gets his daughter at certain times. The gaps between those special moments and the landmarks he misses, her first steps, her first words, her first day of school, make him feel as if he is not even really in her life. Even though it’s not true, it’s hard to fight those feelings when you are going through it.
Being raised by a couple the father doesn’t know is the reality of watching a stepfather come into her life. Questions start to form. Is my daughter eating right? Is she being taken care of appropriately? The answer is yes. But again, it’s natural for a father to have these thoughts.
Single fathers often think of our beloved child as being cold and alone, caught in the rain when they are not with us. At other times, we feel as if we are the ones who are standing on the outside looking in, caught in the rain. Finding a healthy way of dealing with these emotions is what’s best for our children. Writing has always been my way of dealing with my emotions, and A River in the Ocean is a product of that.
I realized a long time ago that it takes a while to listen to someone. Everyone has a story to tell and one sitting doesn’t do it justice. So, I learned that writing a novel is the best way for me to reach out to someone when I feel the need. It answers questions, it brings the issues to the surface where I can better deal with them, and it puts the thoughts to bed.
The comedy is a quirky couple raising a little girl and figuring it out as they go.
The drama is a father building a relationship with an imaginary daughter. Only instead of pictures, he has a collection of paintings of her throughout her life.
At this point, we are not even a third of the way through the novel just In case you thought I was giving it all away. I promise, I wouldn’t ruin it for you!
As Chris admired his paintings, he thought of Kissy. It was such a tragedy that her mother had no idea what she was doing when it came to her daughter’s education. Why didn’t she just let the poor girl go to school? She should be able to enjoy the things in life that all the other kids take for granted.
But, Chris also entertained another thought. For not being properly educated, Kissy had turned out just fine. Chris didn’t have much experience with people, but Kissy was certainly more intelligent than most. Chris concluded that intelligence is something that can’t be taught. A person either has it or they don’t.
Somehow, Kissy had been given a great mind by a guy who mistook bleach for moonshine and a lady who bungled her daughter’s education. Chris didn’t find it funny, but he couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of those two. How in the world had they raised that girl without accidentally blowing her up or getting her stabbed in a back alley running moonshine? He just shook his head as all these thoughts hit him pretty hard.
That’s when she startled him. She had been standing behind him for about a minute. The look on Amy’s face was priceless. She had been rendered speechless by what she was seeing. Then, she finally spoke, “They are beautiful!”
Chris’s heart jumped. Then, it started beating fast. Worlds just collided. The secret was revealed. Chris turned to look at Amy who was still stunned.
“I thought you said that you couldn’t do portraits,” Amy said.
“I told you that,” Chris answered. “Yes, I might have said something to that effect.”
“These are wonderful,” Amy admired. “I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t you tell me about these?”
Chris stared at Amy for a moment, thinking of what he could possibly say. But, nothing came to him. He had to just fess up and tell Amy the truth, “I have been painting this girl for years. I get different visions of her that I can’t shake and I have to paint her. I think she is in some way connected to my past.”
“But, why keep it a secret,” Amy asked.
“I didn’t want to let her go,” Chris answered. “She’s not something I wanted to sell.”
“I would have understood that,” Amy responded. Then, she thought, “That girl at the restaurant. Is it her?”
“No. I’ve been painting these long before I met her,” Chris answered.
“They look just like her,” Amy mentioned.
“I know,” Chris said as he moved to the kitchen. “The thing is I haven’t painted her since I met Kissy.”
Amy followed Chris to the kitchen, “Well, let’s do something with them. I don’t have to sell them. But, we can show them.”
“Show them,” Chris asked.
“Yeah, we’ll do a showing,” Amy repeated. “After, you can bring them home and put them back in the room.”
“I don’t know,” Chris responded. “I’ll think about it.”
“Well, think about it hard,” Amy urged. “These are good and people will love to see them.”
A Little Trivia
My daughter’s name is in mine. Her name is Mikayla Lynn. If you sound out Michael Allen and Mikayla Lynn, you’ll hear it.
What that has to do with the book, I wanted the daughter’s name in the book to be like her father’s. I named him Chris Ferlin and her name is Krista Ferlin. But, where I got that name has an even deeper meaning.
I have a brother who died at birth. I never got the chance to meet him. He died before I was even born. His name is Christopher Lynn and Krista Ferlin is named to honor him.
You can read the novel FREE online now at A River in the Ocean