Saturday, December 27, 2008

Travels with Dad

One of the things I am most fortunate to have in my life is a father who believes that travel is the best education. After my parents divorce I began by traveling out to visit him. I felt very worldly and grown-up on the plane by myself at five. The flight attendant would hand me a plastic wings pin which I would wear proudly on my cardigan. That was in the days where loved ones could still meet you at the gate and when we landed she’d walk me out to my dad expectantly standing in the boarding area.

Over the years, dad and I have been all over the world together; Europe several times, Africa. It’s our tradition to spend Thanksgiving in Mexico. As a teen, I’d swear after each trip that I’d never travel with him again. He’d do such mortifying things as point sights out to me on tours or talk too loud in museums. But of course there’d always be another trip.

As I’ve become an adult, the mortification has taken on a new flavor. Anyone who looks at us for more than five minutes can see the resemblance between us. I have my dad’s nose, his lanky, athletic frame, the overall shape of his face. Yet as my laugh lines have increased, it’s no longer obvious that we are parent/child. More often than not, people assume we’re a couple. I see the knowing looks when I emphasize to the hotel clerk we need a room with two beds.

I don’t know why I give such a crap about what strangers think but I do and this assumption offends me to no end. God, no! I want to shout. I’m not the kind of woman that would be some old guy’s trophy wife! There’s a thirty-five year difference between us, get your mind out of the gutter. Are you blind? Can’t you see we look alike?!

To combat these tawdry assumptions, I very maturely make a point of slipping into any conversation that might arise that we are in fact father/daughter. If there’s no conversation, I’ll loudly call him ‘dad’ for those casual listeners on the pool deck, or tour bus or whatever.

This year’s trip to Mexico was no different. We met another vacationing family with a hen-pecked husband and brittle wife. After talking with them for more than half an hour, I went to change for dinner. The disapproving wife leaned over to my father and asked, “come on, is that really your daughter?” When dad reported this to me over dinner I was doubly offended. Not only was she assuming me to be “one of those women” but even after our familial conversation, she was basically calling me a liar.

I have to wonder why it is so unfathomable to people that a father and daughter would travel together. We saw a mother/daughter pair at our hotel around our same ages and I’m pretty sure no one assumed they were a May/December lesbian couple. Is it only with the full compliment of family members that such travel becomes acceptable? If my dad had a wife would it be OK? If I had a husband? Kids? Whatever the case, it’s certain we remain an oddity…and people’s minds are in the gutter.

It drives me nuts but maybe it’s not the worst thing. Over the course of our week in Mexico, we became friendly with our waiter, Jesus, at our hotel restaurant. One night, apparently feeling he was on more personal terms with us, Jesus asked “so are you two honeymooners?” Et tu, Jesus? I was mortified yet again. We were standing at the hotel restaurant entrance and I could feel the room lean closer to hear the sordid details of the silver fox and his young missy. Here, I thought, is my opportunity to set everyone straight. Years of pent-up witty quips massed at my fingertips.

“No, this is my dad!” I blurted.

Now poor Jesus was mortified. He apologized repeatedly for having offended us while my dad assured him it was fine. The ears in the restaurant shifted away and dad and I went for our evening walk.

Somewhere in the course of the night, Jesus decided that if I was traveling with my father, I must therefore be single and available. The next day at breakfast, he greeted us enthusiastically and I figured at last I could relax in the comfort of knowing our fellow hotel dwellers at last knew the truth.

Then Jesus told us the story of his night. He had returned to the hotel around two in the morning but security wouldn’t let him in. He had been determined to give me a red rose and apparently had made quite a scene including trying to scale a wall to get past security. He didn’t notice our creeping unease as he recounted his ardent love.

“Please, Senor,” he put his suit to my dad. “I must be allowed to give this rose to your daughter or I will die. May I have your permission? What is your room number?”

Dad fudged, asked for the check. “We’ll see you in a bit.”

“OK,” Jesus mooned after me. “Be careful, baby.” He said in a tone dripping with possessiveness and drama.

Dad and I hightailed it out of the restaurant. That was the last meal we ate at the hotel.

So maybe being assumed to be the trophy wife isn’t such a bad thing even if it turns my feminist stomach. Perhaps cheap misconceptions are worth not being courted by an off-balance stalker. Either way, travels with dad continue to be one of the more unusual adventures of my life. And, as dad has always believed, travel is an amazing education – in the oddities human behavior more than anything.

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