Throughout my childhood, my father and I shared a special relationship. Our bond often seemed more companions than parent-child, reflecting our compatibility and shared interests. For one, my father taught me everything he loved about sports, which then consumed me from age 8 to 25. We went on dozens of road trips, camping throughout Western Canada and the U.S., and occasional excursions on the East Coast. A self-taught intellectual interested in history and geography, my father taught me to be curious about the world.
As I’ve grown older, I no longer watch every baseball, basketball or hockey game on the tube, and I fall short when my father rattles off the latest player statistics. I moved away, first across the continent and more recently, to the North. My father had a second marriage and blended family to attend to. Not surprisingly, our relationship is different now; it’s based on mutual respect and our family ties, but nowhere near as much on shared experiences.
Raising me, my father gave me everything he could, measured largely in the great adventures we had. However, his life has not been easy, as he has struggled at times to earn a steady living. There have been some good years along with the bad, but I know he has not lived the life he expected, with financial security perpetually hiding around the next corner.
At one point, my father and his wife had the means to take a vacation to Europe. Growing up as he did in a working class American family, going to Europe wasn’t an everyday thing. His father had fought there in WWII and was not in a hurry to go back. His mother was afraid to fly. A family holiday meant a week at the state beach, 20 miles from home. But my father had been eager to see the world all his life. Finally, he would get to experience Europe and her vast cultural riches, not from books but with his own being.
Narrowing their sights on Germany, they travelled to Berlin, Regensburg, Lake Constance and Koblenz. They took a cruise on the Rhine. They ate standing up and asked for Wurst with no mustard (a family trait). These memories are cemented in my father’s mind and hold a special place in his life’s story.
While that trip meant a lot to him, it was 20 years ago, and I know my father is surprised that he has not been back to Europe since. He would not have imagined that his first time across the Atlantic would be his only. But things got tougher financially. There were health concerns in the family. Other commitments got in the way.
For a few years now, I’ve been concerned for my father as he grows older and continues to carry the burden of providing for his household. He still enjoys watching sports, and he’s thrilled when his favourite football team wins a close game. But I’d like him to have more. I’d like him to get back to Europe, to see more of what for so long has been a source of wonder to him. And I’d like to join him on that road trip.
When I was a kid, we had a poster of Neuschwanstein castle up in our home. Innocent of life’s complexities, I casually figured we’d probably go there someday; I could take him now. Or, we could see the Black Forest, go east to Munich and on to Salzburg and Vienna. I’m keen to see Berlin (Reichstag!) and have imagined journeying onward from there to Prague, Cesky Kremlov, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest.
I have plenty of options for an itinerary. But if I have the opportunity to take my father to Frankfurt, I will offer him the choice of where to go from there. I expect he’ll have a few ideas.