On the Road: Lessons Learned Traveling with Dad
*The piece was my first story in On She Goes published back in 2017.*
There’s the saying, “If you want to know someone, travel with them.” Since the summer of 2015, my dad and I have sought out the nearest (and cheapest) car rental, packed the back seat with a cooler full of snacks (he loves pork rinds, I love grapes), and hit the road for a week with the windows down and just one another for company.
Our first road trip took us from Phoenix to San Diego where we strolled through Balboa Park and enjoyed photography exhibits. The next year we drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles, winding through the state line separating Nevada and California to visit Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. Late last summer, our road trip took us from Phoenix to Portland, driving through Indian reservations and national parks such as Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Teton.
We’ve bonded over our similar attributes, such as our dry humor and stubbornness. We’ve had conversations that would feel out of place in our daily lives but make sense when we’re spending so much time together—like about how being a Black woman and a Black man have affected how we’ve moved through this world and the decisions we’ve made. My parents divorced when I was a toddler, and he moved out of state when I was nine years old, so these trips became a way to reconnect with one another, as father and daughter. We’ve seen different landscapes and cities, and I’ve also learned a lot about his experiences and who he is as a person. Here are some things I’ve learned on the road with my dad.
My dad and I at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona.
My dad is just another person
It can be difficult to see our parents as normal people. People with different lives before their kids came along, people who have had their share of ups and downs. Around a breakfast table, while visiting my cousins in Spokane, Washington, my dad shared stories of meeting my mother for the first time, and I realized there was a period in their lives when it wasn’t about me.
I never hear my dad talk much about my mother, his ex-wife, and it made me long to go back in time to where I could have witnessed the couple they were before they had me.
I admit that I had not given much thought to my own experiences outside of being a Black woman. I grew up pretty sheltered, though I’ve had my hair touched without permission and heard someone say that they were almost as dark as me after getting a fake tan. But they were easy to brush aside because it happened once in a blue moon and it wasn’t something I wanted to focus my energy on. I hadn’t really thought of the types of racist experiences that my father may have experienced.
On a long drive through Utah, he shared a story of when he was shopping with my mom, who was pregnant with me. Upon paying for their items, two cops were standing by the front door and searched my mother, as the white woman at the counter had secretly accused them of stealing. It sounds strange to say, but I never truly thought about my dad’s experiences growing up, and hearing stories like this made me realize that he had gone through a lot.
Me at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden.
Never say no to an adventure
My dad’s spirit for adventure is something that I’ve inherited. Whenever I tell him about a road trip I want to do or where I want to travel, he always replies with, “When?” He doesn’t ask how or why, he just wants to know when it’s going to happen. Once I sent my dad a link to a flight deal to China, and without even missing a beat he messaged me back asking, “Next year’s road trip?” Whenever an opportunity comes he tells me to go for it, saying it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Traveling was something to look forward to with my dad. We loved planning, texting each other, or calling to check in on how excited the other person was. When it would get closer to the trip my dad would send me links to restaurants he wanted to try and exhibits he wanted to go to. As soon as our trip was over he’d send me a link to a new place, already sharing ideas for the next road trip. We always carried our excitement to hit the road again, to go on another adventure.
Bryce Canyon National Park during sunset.
It’s a small world
Sometimes the universe has a way of telling us that we belong in a specific place at a specific moment. Like the time we met a ranger from Great Basin National Park who told us that she grew up in Maywood, Illinois—where my dad was raised—and went to the same high school as him. We met a couple in Grand Teton National Park who lived in the town where I grew up; it was exciting to find someone from my town in the suburbs outside of the big city of Chicago. The world is connected in more ways than it seems. In these small moments when we met strangers who reminded us of home, we knew that we were in the right place, and it made traveling feel necessary and like we belonged there.
Vibrant colors of Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.
Love what you do and do what you love
My dad is a “hobby” photographer, but it’s also his passion. During the day, he photographs events, people, and nature, and at night he works in IT. I’ve watched him stay up late editing pictures, buying clothing for model shoots, and spending hours in one location capturing the perfect sunset over a canyon.
Driving at night from Bryce Canyon back to Kanab, Utah, I asked if we could get out to see the Milky Way. We pulled over, almost driving into a runaway truck ramp full of sand. An open sky full of stars brighter than I could have ever imagined hung above us. There was nothing else around but a few passing cars. My dad set up his camera and spent 20 minutes trying to capture an image that would show the glory of the galaxy. The photo didn’t turn out, but I’ll have that memory forever.
Even though my dad treats his photography as a hobby, I appreciate watching him go after something he loves doing. Now that I’m older, I see that spending this time with him capturing the moments of our lives is worth it, as I didn’t have that growing up due to us living in separate states. Photography is our time capsule to start building memories and part of our efforts to make up for lost time.