A day does not go by without me realizing I am a lucky man. I am an unworthy husband to a woman who, if not for the grace of God, would have left me long ago. She gave me a son who, with the grace of God, will exceed me in all things that matter. I stumbled into the noblest of the noble professions. I own a home and haven’t been truly cold or hungry for many, many years.
But thing were not always thus. And if not for one pivotal experience would not have been thus.
I won’t bore you with stories of violence and deprivation. We have all experienced hardship. Some more – some less – than me. All you need to know is that I did just fine – me and my hoodlum friends. We couldn’t read and couldn’t write, but I was smart and that meant I prospered in the chaos. I moved easily within the Wasteland and became a master of the urban wreckage I surveyed.
And then my father found me. He asked me my plans. I had nothing to say to this stranger. He asked about college. I told him I had it on impeccable authority that university was out of my reach.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I am going to Europe and I want you to travel with me.”
We flew from Chicago to Amsterdam, where he showed me the red light district and we slept in a hostel that reeked of hashish. Then we drove through Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
Along the way, my father would teach me bits and pieces of whatever language was spoken where we were. He would make me roll down the window and ask directions, the time of day, where the train station was located, from strangers on the road.
On the Israeli/Jordanian boarder he gave me a plane ticket and five hundred American dollars.
“The ticket will get you home from any city in Europe,” he told me. “You can stay as long as your money lasts.”
And then he was gone. Just like that. I swear it’s true. I walked over the River Jordan on the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge towards the Promised Land. I turned to look back at my father. He smiled and waived in the distance, wearing those thick ARAMCO issue horned-rimmed sun/safety glasses.
I walked across, got into a crowded cab. Everyone was going to Jerusalem.
Seven months later – after spending time living and working in Athens, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, London and Dublin – I decided it was time to go home.
And that’s when things started happening. I traveled from Santa Monica City College to California State University, Northridge to the University of Southern California back to Northridge (just didn’t really enjoy USC) and on to the University of California, Davis School of Law, King Hall.
Now my son is 18 and I want to do for him what my father did for me. But I can’t. Times – and my son – are different. The best I can do is two weeks in Ireland, England and France. We leave right after my son graduates highschool and before he attends university in the fall.
Yeah, times are different. I guess that’s always going to be the case across generations. The main part is being on the road and showing him stuff you know about so that when he does his own travelling, he’ll have a few clues. If there’s any Breton festivals near Morlaix, take him. They have this strong apple drink and girls who like drinking it and dancing to Breton/Celtic music. A memorable experience.
Bart: I would like to have any of you along. The more the merrier.
Therbs: I am most definitely going to look into the Breton festivals in Brittany. It sounds like the perfect experience to assist my son to connect with his celtic roots.
Bondi: No, two weeks isn’t enough – although it sounds like you hit many of the spots I landed in during my wanderjahr. As for being broke, I had this trip in mind when I decided to become a guest lecturer all those years ago. My trip is essentially paid for by the universities where I will be speaking. I cannot deduct the cost of my son’s transportation, but that’s about all it will cost, which makes the trip possible. If not, I couldn’t afford to do it.
Forgive me, Bobby: I value your opinion, but I don’t see any tragedy. Poignancy, perhaps. It is a small miracle that I am here, now, writing this, and have navigated my life so that I can do this with my son. I see triumph, not tragedy.
And yeah, I had a good time, and I will enjoy my son. He will never fully comprehend, will he? It doesn’t matter.
What a great story about your life; I know very little about you and I love hearing everyone’s tales, they’re all so different.
Well I’m only glad that good fortune smiled on you to bring you to the life you made later on. Being a street kid (and I’m only guessing, of course) only wears well on kids, its positives wear off as the years go by. But not bad to begin one’s life with some street wise experience. Yes, our children now are a LOT more sheltered than some of us were.