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Trying to find the perfect Father’s Day gift is pretty much impossible. Let’s be honest, your dad doesn’t need another tie, and he’s never going to use any of that camping gear that you’ve bought him over the years (at least in my case anyway.) So why not plan something that’s more substantive than buying a fishing pole or dress socks.
A trip, whether near or far, gives you an opportunity to bond without all of the interruptions that come up in everyday life. While traveling one-on-one, there’s no childcare or career worries to get in the way, so you’re able to focus on just having a good time and trying new things. Just you and your old man sharing an adventure together that will give you stories for years to come.
At 31, I’d been trying to get my Dad to take an international trip with me for nearly ten years. In his early 60s, he’d never traveled out of the country—aside from Canada, but I grew up in Western New York just on the other side of the border, so that doesn’t count—but has always wanted to go. There were always reasons to postpone the trip, whether it was the start of a new job, kids, or just a packed schedule. But it was important to both of us to make this happen. After some convincing, we planned a week-long excursion that took us through London, Brussels, and Amsterdam, before flying back home.
Being my Dad’s first trip abroad he was nervous about the flight and navigating a foreign country, but to me, that was part of the adventure. I’ve traveled a bit since college so I wanted to find at least one destination that neither of us have been to before so the trip wouldn’t be overshadowed we me showing him the things that I knew, or wanted to do again.
The experience was one of the most meaningful I’ve ever had. And although I can’t speak for my Dad, my Mom keeps telling me that he hasn’t stopped talking about the trip since we got back a few weeks ago.
We rode the London Eye, drank steins in Brussel’s Grand-Place, and navigated the winding canals in Amsterdam, both in awe of the stunning architecture, culture and vast history. In those experiential moments, I got to see my Dad as a person, outside of parental constraints. We experienced new things together, not as father and son, but as traveling companions. Being so far from home, in places that are so different from where we’re from, we fell out of our father/son roles and embraced these experiences more like friends (although, there were plenty of times he scolded me for not looking more thoroughly for oncoming traffic while crossing the street). We visited record shops in the outskirts of London for him and toured the bars in Amsterdam’s Jordaan district for me, well, both of us.
When I moved away from home nearly eight years ago, I knew it would mean that I’d see my family a little less but I planned on making plenty of trips home. What I didn’t factor in is that on those trips I’d also be squeezing in beers with friends and dinners with other family members, ultimately making my weekend trips Upstate more hectic than relaxing.
Growing up, my family always set aside a week every summer to rent a cottage on the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario. That week with my family, unencumbered by school or jobs, made for loads of cherished childhood memories. As you get older, those opportunities can be far and few between, as you navigate the burdens of adult life.
Living nearly 400 miles from my Dad, I don’t get to see him as often as I’d like so this was a particularly special opportunity for us to have some alone time. When he visits me in New York, they’re usually short weekends since it’s hard for either of us to get substantial time off from work. I also have to share his company with my two-year-old daughter and wife, so it can be hard to make room for any bonding time. While I love watching my daughter play with her “Pop Pop,” I always wish we had a little more time together before he heads out the door to catch his flight back home. That’s why making this trip happen was so important to both of us.
Sitting on the deck of our rented Airbnb in Brussels, smoking cigars and drinking a bottle of wine, it was like a new, revamped version of those vacations on Lake Ontario. He was no longer helping me build sand castles on the beach, or catch minnows in a net, but sharing in a different experience with me. Now, instead of watching my Dad have a beer on the deck, I get to share one with him, and I’m eternally grateful for having had that experience. It’s something that everyone should experience with their dad, whether it a trip across the pond, or a road trip across the state.
With this trip under our belt, we now have a lot more memories than were ever made with that dual-room, state-of-the-art tent that I got him 15 years ago. Spoiler alert, it was never taken out of the box, but maybe, we can break it out for our next trip together.