2017-08-04 / Family Matters

Travels with Nathan

David Rockower

As an adult, as a parent, as a teacher, it’s easy to lose perspective. I shake my head at the impulsive behavior of my middle school students but then cringe at the memories of my own 13-year-old self. I messed up a lot as a kid; from seventh through 10th grade, I eschewed family and education in favor of popularity and what I believed to be an adventurous life. And now, as my own son is wrapping up his sixth grade year, I can feel him — ever so slightly — pulling away. Gone are the days when I tucked him into bed at night, when he’d pin his arms around me and say, “Stay forever.” There are no more screams of “Dad’s home!” when I open the front door. Instead, I find him FaceTiming his friends, moping about homework, or preparing his overnight plans away from us. So it’s no accident that this summer — the one when he will turn 13 —  I’ve carefully plotted a two-week father-son vacation.

About a year ago, I told both of my kids that, before they became teenagers, I wanted to take them each on a father-son and father-daughter adventure. They could choose what they’d like to see, where they’d like to go, and we would set sail, walk, fly on an adventure. Michelle is not fond of traveling, and she sees the value in time alone with one parent, so she was supportive of the idea. Nathan’s first reaction was, “Cool, let’s travel and check out as many sports stadiums as possible.” Since then, he’s also shown interest in hiking, camping and amusement parks.

One of my closest friends lives in Chicago, and that will be one of our first stops. We’ll spend a day or two in the city, see Wrigley Field, eat good food, and explore. From there, we will head south to Indianapolis, and then on to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. We’ve never been through Tennessee, so we will visit Nashville. We’ll swing through the Carolinas, hopefully spending a few days at a beachfront campground, where I spent many summer days with my family. Then it’ll be up the coast to D.C., and home. Our trip is loosely planned on purpose. If we are tired of traveling and want to spend an extra night at a campground in Kentucky, great. If we decide Tennessee is not for us and we are more curious about the Outer Banks, so be it. Honestly, it’s not about where we are headed, or even what we are doing, it’s that we will be on the road together, without the daily, routine distractions of home.  

Early in my teaching career, I had a student whose father invited me to be part of a coming-of-age ceremony for his son. He took his son for a walk through the woods, and every half-mile, a different person emerged from the trees and led the boy on the next leg of the walk. At the end of the adventure, all of the parties met together in a cabin for dinner. There, the boy’s father presented him with a family crest, told him how proud he was, and we all shared stories about the seminal moments that propelled us into adulthood. It was a moving experience, to say the least. It was something that boy would never forget. Though I am not planning a coming-of-age ceremony for Nathan, I’d like to think this trip will offer plenty of opportunities for us to talk. I hope to share some stories of my own, and I hope that he will ask me lots of questions.

I realize that he is only turning 13; he’s not leaving for college. But I am aware that things are changing, and they are changing fast.  We’ve got two weeks together. Some nights will be spent watching sporting events and walking the streets of unknown cities. Others will be spent staring at the roof of our tent, listening to the rain. Either way, I am looking forward to the break from routine, the slowing down of time, and being with my son, before he takes one step closer to leaving our nest. •SCM

With a sports-obsessed 13-year-old son, a spirited 11-year-old daughter and a goldendoodle who looks like a muppet, teacher David Rockower has a lot to write about.

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