My father and I went to Europe for Christmas last year. Dublin. Paris. London. Two weeks of planes, trains, taxis, museums, and good beer and wine. Though we didn’t have enough time to do everything we wanted, we were able to cram in as much as we could and call the trip a success.
My father had never been to Europe. He had spent several years in Vietnam, courtesy of Uncle Sam, but that wasn’t exactly a vacation. I had done some graduate work in Germany but that was it. This was his and my big “Innocents Abroad” type of adventure, consequences be damned! As my father and I started planning the trip he said, “Will, you’ll probably get to go back to Europe someday. I won’t. I want to see everything.”
We had bad jetlag when we got to Dublin. It was cold and drizzly. Our room wasn’t ready so we went and got a big Irish breakfast before we crashed. But when we woke up we found Dublin to be a wonderful and walkable city. The next few days were filled with pubs and Guinness. My father was the man who introduced me to the works of James Joyce, so we made it a point to explore his old haunts, including the Martello Tower on Sandycove Point where the first chapter of Ulysses is set.
Up next was Paris. This was a city I had wanted to visit for almost all my life. There is, of course, a history of American writers in the city of lights. Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, and James Jones. All of whom I had read. And now I was there walking the streets, recalling passages of A Moveable Feast in my head. Paris lived up to the hype. Versailles, the Louve, Shakespeare and Company. Cafes and wine. At one point Dad and I got separated on the left bank. I wasn’t worried. I knew that he knew where to meet me, so I just had to wait for him to find his way back. I plugged in my earphones and listened to Sidney Bechet as I roamed the streets. There was a park with a small Christmas festival going on, and I went and bought myself some roasted chestnuts which kept my hands warm. It was nice to explore on my own, not looking for anything in particular. Just enjoying the culture and the crowds. People shopping and eating and walking along the Seine. I imagined myself returning to an apartment on Île de la Cité where I’d find a beautiful woman, a hot meal, and a bottle of rosé. She’d have Erik Satie on the record player, and we would discuss Proust and D.H. Lawrence over the Blanquette de Veau. But I wasn’t traveling with a wife or a girlfriend. I was seeing the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo with my father, a sixty-seven year old man with flat feet. And I was having the time of my life.
Traveling with your parents as an adult has various rewards. For one you can communicate with your parents on a more mature level than when you were ten and were more interested in comic books than national parks. Vacationing with children can be frustrating, the youngsters are impatient get bored easily. If they’re real young they need naps and probably won’t remember most it anyway. But when parents and offspring are adults you skip all of those problems. You also get the joy of seeing your parents’ faces when they witness something amazing, just as they got to see your face when you first visited Disneyland. And ultimately you learn about each other as individuals, preferably over a nice Bordeaux.
Writer living in the hill country of Texas