Friday, August 12, 2005

Sibling Ambition

I am fortunate to have friends eager to assuage my divorced father guilt by telling me what a good father I am: responsible adult, role model, all the usual stuff. I’m grateful for that, and to them for seeing those qualities in me, even if I occasionally disagree about how much of each is present.

My recent vacation showed me the real thing (again). Someone who never misses one of his kids’ school or personal events. He’s up early to get them off for school, picks them up from day care when necessary, and more often than not makes supper after work. He’s remodeled the house and installed an above-ground pool and deck for them. There is no task too large to undertake on their behalf, and no detail so small it is overlooked.

He was gracious enough to point out to a friend the many alleged sacrifices I make to be a good father, while acknowledging none of his own. Our “sacrifices” have much in common: I never feel as though I have sacrificed anything for the Sole Heir, I look forward to spending time and doing things with, and for, her. Watch him for a few days and it’s easy to see the same is true.

The difference is that when I found myself in a marital situation I didn’t understand and failed to grasp well, I left. I didn’t disappear (my responsibilities as a father were never too far from my mind and I could always be rounded up with a phone call), but I wasn’t home and certainly wasn’t as close as I should have been for a few years. Say what you want about making the effort, no absentee father can be as good as one who is home and makes the effort.

And that’s what he does. I’m not implying any superhuman endurance for his staying married; he and his wife get along as well, or better, as any couple I know. Still, they’ve been married almost fifteen years, human nature tells us there has been some friction. I’m sure he dealt with it as he deals with everything else: patiently, willing to see both sides, and to place the greater benefit ahead of his own.

This is an impressive guy, there’s no one I respect more. I’m may be four years older, but I want to be just like my brother when I grow up.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

On the Road Again

It’s even money you know someone who has something they’ve always wanted to do. It may even be the person who lives in your mirror. They might want a trip, learn a new skill, or do something they already know but never get around to, whatever. Not to sound too much like I don’t despise Nike anymore, here are two words of advice.

Do it.

I’m not talking about anything destructive, or that might imperil one’s financial security. This isn’t advocating investing all your money in penny stocks or dabbling in recreational heroin use. Nor should this be used as an argument for doing something conspicuous just for the sake of showing off, like spending the food money on a yellow Hummer so everyone can see you driving three blocks to the store. I’m talking about feeding your soul.

This soul food will be different for everyone. For me it’s a vacation. Not too expensive, not exotic at all. It’s a simple matter of packing up my car and daughter and driving to Colorado to visit my brother and his family. It’s a little over 4,000 miles the way we do it (4,069.3 this year, to be precise), and not trying to save too many miles is the secret.

This year’s trip was the southern route. We drove into Virginia, through the mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky to Nashville, then across I-40 through Memphis and Oklahoma City to angle north in Amarillo, catching I-25 in New Mexico to come at Denver from the south. Coming home was more or less a straight shot on I-70.

We saw the Kentucky Horse Park, crossed the Mississippi (too late to go to Mud Island), made a slight detour to Toad Suck Park, Arkansas. (No kidding, you can look it up.) Found a great Italian place in Oklahoma City and had lunch at a steak ranch in Amarillo where the 72-oz. steak was free if you could eat it in an hour. (We each had a 16 ouncer and it held us for lunch and supper.) Saw dinosaur footprints in New Mexico and drove through country that probably looks just as it did three hundred years ago. Coming home we rode to the top of the Gateway Arch and watched a Cardinals’ game in St. Louis.

It would be easy to get all Zen about it and say it was the journey that mattered, not the destination. The journey was spectacular, every mile a pleasure, and was still overshadowed by five days in Colorado with my brother’s family. A Rockies’ game, Water World, cookouts, pool time, trips to Boulder and Golden, and just remembering what it feels like to spend time with the most genetically similar person in the world to yourself, remembering you like him and would spend a lot more time like this if you weren’t separated by half a continent.

The cousins, my daughter (14) and his two girls (12 and 10), have been together maybe ten times in their lives, and couldn’t be closer if they were triplets. They were virtually joined at the hip from 3:00 PM Wednesday until 7:00 AM Tuesday. If there was a cross word between them, the adults missed it.

Now we’re home. The Sole Heir is preparing for her vacation with her mother, I’m back to work. Last weekend barely existed for me, as I slept 4,000 miles of driving out of my system and sinuses. Seems hard to imagine all the stuff we did, so far removed it all was from our normal time together. That’s why we’ll move heaven and earth to do it again in two years, then two more, until she’s of an age where adult responsibility overtakes even her father’s ability to keep her a child as long as practical, then a week more.

Such a trip might not be for everyone, but everyone has its equivalent in them somewhere, looking for a chance to break the mold, one seemingly out of character activity that helps to define the rest of your life by what it is not. Not particularly responsible, though great responsibility is required to carry it off safely. Not particularly expensive, though penury is no way to have fun and the budget was gleefully adjusted on the fly. Not difficult, even if being the sole driver for that long is no picnic. Just something you can enjoy without guilt or second thought, your adult responsibilities leavened by childlike release.

I can’t wait for next time. More of a northern route, maybe including Yellowstone…