The expectations of children grow to match whatever their parents happen to do. If I brought home a pony on Monday and another pony on Tuesday, by Wednesday the boys would be greeting me at the door with “Where’s the pony?”
That’s why I feel a certain irrational envy for bad dads. You know the kind — shifty, gimlet-eyed petty criminals in plastic windbreakers who are forever hopping freight trains. Kids worship that kind of dad, mostly in the movies, but sometimes ]in real life. Look at Barack Obama. He was with his dad for what, a week after age 5? And he wrote Dreams from My Father.
Meanwhile, we diligent dads hang around, grinding at our jobs, paying for orthodontia and football pads, saving for their college — and our kids never pause and say, “Gee dad, glad you’re here and not working as a rodeo clown in Montana.”
All a bad dad has to do is arrive semi-sober at the big game — slipping into the stands at the last second — then give a thumbs-up and a toothless grin of encouragement to junior as he comes to the plate, and all is forgiven, the credits roll, and the music swells. A happy ending.
Oh, it’s still you
Me, I’ve attended countless football, baseball, basketball and soccer games, not to mention orchestra recitals and school theatrics. And if I so much as look in one of my boys’ direction, he rolls his eyes and pretends he doesn’t know me.
“Hey, isn’t that your dad in the front row with a video camera in one hand and a still camera in the other?”
“No, no, I’ve never seen that man before in my life. My dad plays the washboard in a busker band in Seattle.”
Or last summer. The little hellions would not go to camp. Bad dad wouldn’t have cared — he’d be too busy scraping rust off a freighter as it rounded Cape Horn. He certainly wouldn’t have done what I did: plot out a five-week, 7,000-mile odyssey through 13 states and nine national parks.
I’m not complaining — it was fun, well, except for the setting fire to Nevada part. And that ill-fated attempt at back-country camping at Yellowstone.
But we rafted and hiked and swam and ate pie, and the whole trip was so extraordinary, it convinced me that only an idiot would try to do it again this summer. I mean, a person has to know when a once-in-a-lifetime treat has taken place.
That was my thinking: Quit while you’re ahead. No big trips this summer. No way, no how. Heck, maybe this is the summer I can build that dictionary stand I’ve always wanted. Or maybe I’ll just go off by myself to a small town in Mexico, maybe spend a few weeks sitting alone at an outdoor cafe, squinting at the quiet main square and twitching a muscle in my jaw. Why not? Men do that kind of thing. Or jet off to Vegas with my buddies — well, OK, first find some buddies and then jet off to Vegas with them. Something like that — bad dads are always in Vegas.
That plan lasted right up until the moment the boys said, “So where are we going THIS summer?” A bad dad wouldn’t even be there to field the question. He’d be juggling bean bags on Venice Beach. Me, I just shrugged and started planning. The West seemed out — been there, done that — so I measured the distance to northern California, and flipped it east, in the opposite direction, where it reached St. John’s on the eastern tip of Newfoundland.
That seemed excessive. But we’re going in that direction — east through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and into Canada, the Bay of Fundy, ending up at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, then swinging around, back through Quebec — the boys are studying French — Montreal, and home.
Not quite the five weeks of last time — closer to four, which makes sense, given these strained economic times.
Since none of this sounds as intriguing as the Wild West –can any trip be considered a true adventure if you stop in Cleveland? — my first impulse was to take an actual vacation, and not write about the trip at all. But readers seemed to like hearing about it last year, particularly the disastrous parts, and I’m always worried that if I’m out of the paper too long: a) I’ll forget how to write, and b) they’ll realize they can get along just fine without me.
Certain aspects I’m looking forward to — the ocean, swank hotels like the Four Seasons in Boston and the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec — but other parts I’m dreading. We have about $2,000 worth of camping equipment we bought last year for our one night in Yellowstone, and in the name of getting some kind of additional use out of it, we’re camping at a place called Meat Cove in Nova Scotia, which looks beautiful online, but also sounds like the setting for a horror film.
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