It was 24 years ago that the three of us grabbed hands and jumped in the lake.

It was 24 years ago that the three of us grabbed hands and jumped in the lake.

As we bobbed to the surface, I looked at my daughter, age nine, and my youngest son, age seven, and said, “Let's do this every year to mark the end of a great summer.”

I figured we could recreate that magic moment on the Sunday before Labor Day every year. What could be better, jumping off the dock, into the summer-warmed waters of Green Bay?

Back then, we spent most afternoons at the beach as my vacation played itself out. I was always planning fun stuff to do with the kids for the first few days. But then the hot weather, the cool water, and the warm sand took effect, time slowed down, and we all just settled in.

There were crawdads hiding among the rocks near the dock, and the kids were good at catching them. They always wanted to take them home, but I'd tell them they make poor pets, and smell awful when they die.

Every year, I'd get a picture of them flexing their biceps on that beach. Four years ago, when we were in town for my mother's burial, we recreated those pictures, with the two of them flexing their muscles – adults now.

Every Labor Day, I think of jumping off that dock with the kids. And I shake my head at the crazy notion that you can put magic moments in a bottle, and someday uncork them. It wasn't to be.

Because, as all dads of daughters know, some guy comes along, and suddenly old dad isn't the coolest guy in her life anymore. That darned Justin Timberlake elbowed me out of the top spot, and to this day I'm kind of mad about it. Suddenly, music and friends and movies were a lot cooler than jumping into the lake with her dad and her little brother.

Go figure.

She didn't go with us to Wisconsin as much anymore, and her brother once noted that it wasn't as much fun without her. “But, don't tell her I said that!” he quickly added.

It was the same when I was a kid, and we vacationed in this same place in Wisconsin, the last two weeks before Labor Day. That was before this awful trend of starting school in mid August. We swam, we water-skied, we fished, and we had a great time with kids we had known for years. Life was perfect, a total contrast to the awful prospect of going back to school the Tuesday after Labor Day.

Everybody grows up, darn it, and you don't whoop it up with your summertime pals anymore, or jump into the lake with your kids.

One year when the kids were little we went to Sandy Beach, which was two islands and two ferry rides away from where we were staying with grandma and grandpa. The sand was hot, the water was warm, there were waves to play in, and we vowed to make the trek to this perfect place the following summer. All winter the perfection of that afternoon at Sandy Beach was a happy memory. We made plans to go back. Who wouldn't?

So off we went the next summer, two islands, two ferry rides, and a long walk with our cooler and our swimsuits, our beach towels, our snorkels and and our masks, to Sandy Beach. The wind was gusty, the water wasn't warm, and man-eating flies drove us off the beach. So much for the memory. So much for the perfection. So much for the magic.

My daughter has a daughter of her own now, who sees her mom and dad as the most perfect people in the whole world. They will find their own jumping off the dock moments. And someday, some Justin Timberlake will come along, and screw everything up.

It took me years to figure this out, but the perfection of the memory is what's important, the good times, the togetherness, the love. And you can't make it happen on demand.

You can't bottle up the magic of jumping into the lake together, and uncork it next year.

And you shouldn't try.