Cutting Loose. Lessons From Traveling With My 88 Year Old Father.

My dad’s 87 year old brother passed away suddenly several weeks ago in Florida. My dad wanted to attend the funeral and asked me to assist him. It turned out to be quite the adventure and gave me the opportunity to see my dad in a different light. My parents have traveled the world but in the last 15 years have remained “set” in their day to day routines. In retirement “auto-pilot” of doctor’s appointments, “Civilization” (a computer game), Food Network, checking for the newspaper and mail their rigid schedule is capped with dinner at 4:30…yes, 4:30. In the span of about 24 hours, we had made the arrangements and were prepared to venture beyond the envelope of about a 15 mile radius of our hometown. Ready or not, here we come.

This is my Dad's Thai lunch....ice cream.
This is my Dad’s Thai lunch….ice cream.

The amazing thing is that the trip opened my eyes to my dad’s resilience, adaptability and patience. One would think that one so set in his ways would have a difficult time adapting to modern technology, broken routines and uncertainty. Nope. Not a problem. It made me realized that a guy who traveled to Korea, hitch hiked across the US in his twenties and canoed in the wilderness of Canada…can handle just about anything you throw at him. Just because you usually live in a well honed routine, doesn’t mean you can’t break loose and venture out.

So this is what I learned:

1. Open. You need to be open; whether it’s Thai food, switching seats on the airplane or waiting to find the bathroom. My dad had no pre-set notions and was open to any change in course. I don’t think my dad ever had Thai food before but when my cousin suggested we eat there as a group, he was all in. Some folks sitting in his row on the airplane asked to switch seats…gladly. If we needed to find the gate at the airport before finding the men’s room; no sweat. Be open.

2. Trust. My dad trusted me completely. This was really gratifying. He had unfaltering faith in all the arrangements. I told him to check his bag (although he asked if it was free) he was willing to follow my direction and understood the rationale when everyone else came on the plane lugging a slew of carry-ons. Hotel, rental car, flights, parking, directions…he never questioned a single decision. If you want to break loose, go with someone you trust implicitly.

3. Patience. Pack some patience. My dad has this in spades. Anyone who taught 8th grade history for 30 years, has to have it in their DNA. We had two delayed flights and weren’t sure we were going to make a connection on the way home. He wasn’t anxious for a second. He would just open up his magazine and keep reading. Did I mention he is 88? If you aren’t blessed with the patience gene, try a little meditation.

4. Flexible. Anytime you want to break out of your routines, you need to be flexible. When we were connecting flights in Atlanta, we needed to find some lunch. “What do you want Dad?” Whichever line is shorter. Pizza it is. At a Thai restaurant for lunch but all you really want is dessert…ice cream it is. Three hours to kill? Head to the hotel for a nap. On the way back to Raleigh, we needed lunch again. Chinese food by gate A1 before getting on the plane. Be flexible.

5. Curiosity. When you venture out, make sure you have some curiosity. My dad can talk to anyone…I mean anyone. I remember when we were kids, if my dad was missing in action, he probably met someone in the check-out line. Upon his return, he would regale us with how interesting so and so was. He knew everyone in his row on the plane by the time we landed. You cannot talkto just anyone unless you have curiosity. Pack some curiosity when you break loose.

6. Habits. No matter where you venture to, you need to maintain some habits. Brushing your teeth, showering, and coffee in the morning. My dad has been telling me for years that he does 30 sit-ups in the morning…every morning. Sure enough, there he was at 7 AM in the bed next to me doing his sit-ups. Even amongst all of the travel and mayhem of unscheduled time, he managed to take his daily medications. Habits keep us on track and give us some normalcy amidst the chaos.

7. Prudence. Anyone from the depression era has a healthy dose of prudence. My dad wanted to know if the coffee on the plane was free…and the cookies as well. Was the coffee in the hotel lobby free? Was the breakfast free? It pays to double check. We didn’t realize some of the roads in the Orlando area were toll roads, but my co-pilot was ready with quarters by the second toll booth. It always pays to have a little prudence.

The experience of traveling with my dad was enlightening. I really admire him for his ability to roll with the punches (or plane delays) and his openness to constant schedule changes. Spending those three days with him was priceless. I’m glad we got to cut loose together.

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