April 4, 2013 | By Dan Beckmann
This month, my daughter will be able to buy herself a drink in a bar while using her real license.
As a teenager, every April 16, Lauren would reminisce with me over a cup of coffee. We'd talk about our past trips, and dream of places yet to see. Flipping through our photo albums, Lauren would laugh at her consistently inconsistent hairstyles, while I laughed off my consistently receding hairline.
By the time I was 21, my adventures could be counted on one hand with fingers to spare. Lauren was on her third passport by age 10.
I dragged her everywhere: the top of the Eiffel Tower for breathtaking views and claustrophobic tunnels through the pyramids. We cruised along the Nile and kissed the Blarney Stone. As a teenager, she walked the beaches of Normandy, and as a little girl, placed a crayon-written prayer in the cracks of the Wailing Wall.
I tried pointing out the importance of what she was experiencing at such a young age. But it would have been easier to teach my cat calculus. One day … I kept saying to myself. One day, she'll get it.
That "one day" happened recently.
Lauren lit up my phone with a text message rivaling the length of a Stephen King novel. "1 of my art profs has us studying museums — NYC's Gugg & Paris' Louvre & d'Orsay." I was happy she was sharing with me. Happier still, texting was not yet a major at her university.
Like a Kerouac scroll, she continued without punctuation. "You showed me that art in those buildings in those cities!"
It wasn't the project that had her so intoxicatingly excited. It was her realization of what scientists throughout the centuries have called the "ah-ha!" moment.
Somewhere, in the middle of her iPhone novella, Lauren was saying, "I got it!" She got that traveling had enriched her in ways not previously realized. She now saw, for the first time, being there meant something. That presence really does make a difference.
Traveling, for me, has always been an evolving art form — creating new ways to find the comfort in the uncomfortable, or the extraordinary in the ordinary. While I was perfecting the craft, I rarely recognized the dividends. I knew I was being changed, but couldn't see the relevance. I felt myself being formed, but the shape wasn't recognizable.
John Lennon was right: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." When Lauren left for school, the plans were no longer ours. The world of individuality had opened its doors for her, and she ran through them without knocking. We didn't drift apart; we sailed past one another on hurricane-force winds. Her urge to take off, trumping my need to control and hang on.
We didn't need phones — or even proximity — to argue. Our angry voices echoed across cities. Texts were sent in ALL CAPS. Phone calls went unanswered and, eventually, dialing stopped altogether.
We drank coffee separately last April 16. I sent a text while looking over our photo albums. She responded in a nice, but sterile way.
The two of us haven't traveled together in awhile. School and work keeps Lauren from going too far from home. At least that's what we tell each other. In truth, Lauren prefers me in tiny doses, enduring my company with an air of guarded tension.
And while we're no longer sailing past each other, our boats are moored in different ports. We've shared many adventures together. But no journey has been this long or difficult.
Wrapping up her text, Lauren ended with a compliment I didn't expect, "I'm an art major because of a world you opened up for me."
And there it was — my "ah-ha!" moment. A dividend I could finally see. Traveling had done more than enrich us individually. It had been bridging us together all along. Crossing continents had connected me to other people and to myself, but now I saw it connecting me to my daughter. And she saw it, too.
This April 16, we'll share coffee over breakfast and a beer over dinner. She'll thank me for her gift, and I'll thank her for her company. Before she leaves, we'll hug and say, "I love you" like we always do. We'll turn and walk away, unsure as to when, exactly, we'll see each again.
Our bridge may still be under construction, but we have the tools to build it and an adventurous spirit to cross it. Who knew the architectural plans of our bridge would be drawn in our travel docs?
It feels good turning a new page in our lives. Thanks, in part, to our passports.