This Father's Day, let's all take a trip

This Father's Day, let's all take a trip

For a whole year, the anticipation kept building, mounting, intensifying with the force of an upcoming Apollo moon shot.

Electricity was in the air.

You could feel it everywhere and with every detail that was crossed off the prelaunch list:

Mail and newspaper delivery stopped: check.

Pets boarded: check.

Station wagon tuned up and gassed up: check.

Kids all packed and ready to roll: alarm!

And then I’d hear Dad’s calm but insistent voice.

“If you’re not out of that bed in five minutes flat, buster,” he said, “we’re leaving without you.”

And he meant it.

My father wasn’t one to play the “my way or the highway” card very often, but when it came to summer vacation trips he’d designed and imagined with NASA-like precision, he was serious.

He took immense pride in planning those annual pilgrimages. You could hear him, up in his den on the top floor of the house, listening to Saturday afternoon operas that played on public radio, a sure clue he wasn’t working on outlines for his political science lectures.


When Verdi was in the air, so was summer vacation.

It gave us hope in the depths of those deep Ohio winters.

I honestly don’t know how he did it, year after year, isolating himself from the rest of us, calculating, refiguring, studying, seeing the big picture even as snowflakes danced outside his window.

When he could, he blended in visits to both sides of the family.

When he could, he mixed in baseball games with art museums.

When he could, he got us to a Great Lake and then to an ocean.

When he could, we’d hit an amusement park and then a presidential home.

When he could, we’d see a city we’d never experienced and then find something special in a small town with statues on the square.

And here’s the point.

He always could.

From Washington, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., Cape Cod to Cherokee Village, Arkansas, Chicago to Columbus and South Bend, my father made sure that for a week every summer, our family had fun.

Was it all picture-postcard perfect?

Of course not. He had a propensity for getting lost, especially when navigating the maddening traffic in an urban maze like Boston, a hellish interlude made even worse because Mom had a tendency to say the same things over and over.

“Why don’t you stop and ask for directions?” or “I can see the Holiday Inn sign from here” or “Is that an ambulance behind us?” or “Do you have any idea where you’re going?”

Ah, true love is never quite tested until it’s survived rush hour in the capital of Massachusetts, with a game at Fenway Park at stake.

My parents had some weird, wacky, wonderful wavelength that only the two of them had access to, an invisible but unbreakable tether that tied them together until the task at hand was completed.

So long as the hotel had a nice, cozy, little bar.

Those were hard miles, all those off-ramps and detours, six crazy lanes of traffic, cars merging from either side, the sun setting in your eyes, the reservation’s expiration clock ticking, gas gauge dropping, bladders bursting and the oldest kid blasting the Rolling Stones at top volume on his cassette tape recorder.

I don’t know how Dad did it.

He possessed an inner well of calm that was equal parts faith and hope and love, a rare combination in a man who had earned a Bronze Star in World War II yet never, ever talked about any of it.

Well, let me amend that.

He liked to reflect on his time spent at Oxford — yes, that Oxford — when he was stationed in England and enjoyed talking about the various bookstores he habituated when on walking tours.

But when it came to parachuting behind German lines on D-Plus Two Day, he offered no insight, no memories, no details at all.

Oh, and that Bronze Star I mentioned?

None of us knew anything about it until it was printed in our hometown paper as part of his obituary he wrote himself.

Of course he did.

It was pure Dad.

He wrestled with the theological as opposed to the practical and spent a lot of time discussing the possibility of an afterlife with everyone from priests to poets, craftsmen to cooks, students and salesmen. His curiosity was immense as was his skepticism.

“Everything in moderation” might well have been chiseled on his gravestone as that motto served him well during his 83 years: never too high or too low, always able to handle the next bump in the road, seeing around corners, knowing his mind and his heart.

Father’s Day in our house had to have been the least celebrated of all Hallmark holidays because Dad’s birthday, you see, was on June 3, meaning we’d already been there, done that, and he got that.

Who needed another tie or bottle of Old Spice or political biography after just having gotten one two weeks earlier?

So he’d fire up the grill and cook hamburgers while Mom finished her potato salad and my brother and sister played ping-pong and I listened to the Rolling Stones on my headphones.

Those were fine, seemingly uncomplicated summer days. The Fourth of July was right around the corner, which meant another family vacation wouldn’t be too far behind.

And Dad had that thing locked down and was ready to roll.

I’ll think of him Sunday, and when I do, it’ll make me smile.

If your father is still alive, I hope you know how lucky you are.

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