Traveling in My Father’s Footsteps
From an early age, I remember my father intently studying a map. Actually, it was a lot of different maps that he carefully unfolded and spread across the dining room table or whatever surface was available. He wasn’t interested in the places that were already well known. He was looking for the less-explored corners of the world.
We inherit traits from our parents, both good and bad. One that I’m happy to have gotten from my dad is a curiosity about the world. He wanted to learn about the inhabitants of far-flung regions whose lives were completely different from his own. He wanted to see things that most people never would.
My dad was a born explorer. Sometimes it was in person, other times it was just on paper. But he knew more about the world than anyone I know.
I often think about the time when my parents announced that their next trip would be to Antarctica. Who decides that the bottom of the world, a place that’s completely covered with snow and ice, is the place that they can’t imagine never seeing? My parents, that’s who. Their shared love of travel made me realize that travel is something you can share with the people closest to you.
There’s a roomful of memorabilia from this and their other trips. The room includes treasures like the home movies they took during their travels. I love this footage, which unspools like something from a National Geographic special. At one point my father urges my mother to sit on a rock, knowing full well that the “rock” is actually a seal. That always got a big laugh from all of us.
One of their trips — one my father always described as a highlight of his travels — was to Papua New Guinea. This island nation in the South Pacific was a place that didn’t even have its own currency until 1975, when it introduced the “kina.” It was named for the shells that had once been used for trading. (We now refer to these beautiful shells as, ‘mother of pearl’.)
Of course, my father was fascinated by the culture of Papua New Guinea. His respect for other cultures was instilled in us at a young age. It was never about tolerance. It was always about learning and growing.
This room filled with incredible art has always been a favorite with my three kids. It has supplied so many items that eventually ended up being happily displayed during show-and-tell sessions at school. My father didn’t just pass his love of travel on to me — he inspired a third generation.
I too have traveled extensively with my kids. Off the top of my head, some favorites have included Estonia, Nicaragua, and Russia. They aren’t often on someone’s bucket list, but that’s part of what made them appealing. Who wants to follow the crowds when there’s so much of the world left to explore?
One of our most intimidating destinations was the Yukon Territory, a wild, mountainous region in Northwest Canada. I wasn’t sure whether such a remote place was right for us, but sometimes you just have to lean into the fear. It’s a trip that all of us remember fondly.
My kids are taking trips of their own now, and I couldn’t be happier. When one of them tells me that they are going to visit 25 islands of the Philippines, or are tracing the coast of Mexico, or hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail, I know that their grandfather would have loved to have heard about every minute of their journeys.
It’s been more than 10 years since we’ve been able to share our recent trips with my father, 10 years since he’s been able to chime in about adventures that he set off on so long ago. Just writing this makes me miss him so much it’s hard to put into words. It’s hard to believe I’ll never again see him studying a map, planning out his next excursion. While the sadness never leaves, there is something warm and comforting about having a room in my mother’s apartment filled with traces of his favorite places. This is a place I continually cherish.
When my dad got sick, his strength and his courage taught us all not to fear dying, but to embrace living. He didn’t have time for regrets. He couldn’t see the point in feeling bad about what he had not done or had never accomplished. It’s a powerful lesson for all of us. The urge to be like him is as strong as ever.
So I honor both my parents in my own way, by following in their footsteps. It’s a tough time to travel —the Covid-19 pandemic still hasn’t gone away, after all — but I think it’s important to get back on the road. I really want to see the sun reflecting off the glaciers of Patagonia, and I’ve always wanted to hike at least part of the Appalachian Trail. When I finally do those things, my dad will be with me.