If the road is in your soul, is it possible to pass it down through your DNA? Perhaps that’s a question best left to the nature versus nurture debate, because I’ve raised my boys on a steady diet of beef jerky, chips and thousand-mile drives, and they are still coming along for the ride.
I am just returned from my usual Brooklyn to upstate New York college delivery service run – via Chicago and Columbus, Ohio – a mere 1,800 mile detour of what is normally a 4-hour drive. It is a tradition I have embraced with my eldest, a sports-crazed and similarly peripatetic soul like his dad. Our journeys are fueled by Avis and Hampton Inn and tied into whatever seasonal sport is being played at the time. Be it the Durham Bulls minor league franchise or De Paul’s Blue Demon basketball, we map out our trip based on miles per day and the best seats we can score on Stubhub. The game hardly matters. It’s the endless hours on the road that makes all the difference.
My wife recently – and in the most loving and gracious of spirits, since she loves ALL her children, step and otherwise – asked how I can stand five days of sports talk, since she cannot stand sports! The easy answer? If you want to know your kids, you have to search for the forest through the trees.
Yes, my son did regale me, one could argue incessantly, about the baseball cheating scandal, the fall of the Patriots, and the hapless state of the New York Knicks. But in between I learned about his passionate views on the 2020 election, his state of mind after a painful breakup with a beloved girlfriend, and his recipe for garlic salt-dusted sirloin in his one working pan.
You see, beneath all that 21-year old college senior bluster lies a passionate and opinionated growing human being. We cut them loose before their prefrontal cortex is even developed and we sob about the empty nest. But after that tearful day the parenting process is hardly done. We ask them to go off, study, choose a major, target a career, and in the same breath occupy a world that we ourselves are wringing our hands over.
Sure they get their news over a vibrating device that seems to never receive our texts unless they need cash, clothes or a free meal. But beneath that studiously practiced ignorance of all things mom & dad, they are infinitely tethered to the nest they escaped. Spend five days in a car with your offspring and you will unearth secrets and confidences that might otherwise go unspoken. In between the rap playlists (try to relate) and stunning 3-hour naps, you discover that you have raised a kind and decent young man with a winning smile and a caring heart.
I take to the road to clear my head. I take my son to get a glimpse into his. It is a rare and cherished opportunity, a window into the soul of the American dream. When I am “out there” I navigate by instinct, AM radio weather reports and my Rand McNally. My son can get from here to there without ever dimming his phone. And still, we are purring along at 78 per, FM radio soothing our troubled minds. Another mile, another game. Sometimes we don’t speak at all. We just ride in silence, wondering what lies ahead.