2017-10-02 / Family Matters

Travels with Nathan: A Reflection

David Rockower

Two months ago, I wrote about my plans to take Nathan on a road trip across nine states. Our trip was loosely planned on purpose; I wanted spontaneity to drive our explorations. We’d be staying at hotels, with friends and at campgrounds. City walks, wooded hikes and caving would all be part of the experience. What we did was less important than the fact that we’d be together, forced to interact, talk, argue and wonder side by side. Most of all, I wanted one-on-one time with my son before he became a teenager and began the inevitable retreat into his own world.

Our plan on the initial day was to make it halfway to Chicago. After driving about four and a half hours, we decided to go a bit farther, and Nathan was getting excited. “Do you think we can make it to Indiana tonight?” he asked. And we did.

We spent the next day in Chicago, taking an architectural boat tour and just missing Sir Anthony Hopkins at a restaurant. (Nathan actually received his seat after he left.) Next up: Indianapolis. There we walked through the Colts’ stadium, and Nathan got his first sports fix. Then it was on to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, where we ventured 250 feet underground; upon ascension, we inhaled lunch and promptly paddled 7.5 miles down the Green River, where we felt eerily alone. A one-night stay in Nashville with a friend led us to some of the best food on our trip. This was also the point at which Nathan began to feel a bit homesick.

After settling in for the evening, he admitted to missing home and just feeling weird. Despite this, he made it clear that he was having fun and wanted to keep going.

After Nashville, we drove to Pigeon Forge and rode some coasters at Dollywood. This was by far the most touristy stop on our trip, and we were happy to escape to what turned out to be my favorite location: Asheville, North Carolina. We browsed unique shops, ate quality food, and stayed in a tiny house. Nathan had seen the tiny house show on HGTV and was stoked about staying there. The Asheville area had it all: music, food, stunning views and lively, engaging people. But throughout our stay, whether we were hiking to the top of Chimney Rock (elevation 2,480 feet), eating at Farm Burger or watching a street performer juggle while on a unicycle, Nathan would occasionally pull on my arm and ask when we were going back to the tiny house.

By this point in the trip, we were both getting tired. I tried to keep my enthusiasm for each new stop, but we hadn’t spent more than two nights in the same location, and I was ready to pull back on the reins.

After laying out some options, we decided to drive to Richmond, Virginia, ride some coasters at King’s Dominion, and then visit family in D.C. From there, we’d end our trip at my parents’ home in Rehoboth Beach.

We had planned to head home on a Saturday, exactly two weeks from the day we left. But on Friday afternoon, I asked Nathan, “What if we left now and got home tonight?” He perked up and nodded enthusiastically. On the drive home, Nathan called Maddie to let her know we were on our way. He had her on speaker, and I will never forget her reaction. There was a long pause and then, through sobs, she asked, “Really? You’ll be home tonight?”

Nathan was smiling, “You’re crying?”

She was sniffling, trying to catch her breath. “I don’t know why. I guess I’m just so happy you’re coming back.”

Now Nathan’s eyes were wet, and I was in shock.

These two, who insult and berate one another on a daily basis, were genuinely moved by their impending reunion. Our trip had given us father-son time and a thousand little memories, but it had also given our family something I hadn’t expected: perspective. I have no illusions that Nathan and Maddie will be forever kind and patient with one another. No, in just a few days (or hours), they will be at each other’s throats. But the time away undoubtedly showed them how important family is, and that despite their perpetual feuds, they need one another; we all do. •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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