My dad was a major Type A workaholic. He worked in Manhattan at an ad agency, dressing like Don Draper for work everyday. Sometimes I saw him briefly in the morning as he got ready to take the train, and I loved seeing him at night when he would come whistling through the door and give me a big kiss. Sometimes, though, he came home in an inexplicable rage and terrified the entire family. I adored him even though I dreaded his crazy rages.
But I have this one great memory of going on vacation alone with my dad. I’m not sure how that happened, but it may have been the year I was in public school and my siblings were in private school. At any rate, my dad decided to take me to Florida to visit his brother, and the two of us went off to Palm Beach. I had dad all to myself!
For a couple of days we read by the pool, talked for hours, shared meals, and slept late. It was an amazing experience for me to have uninterrupted time alone with my pop, as we were deeply kindred spirits who loved talking philosophy, religion and The Meaning of Life.
I remember feeling so happy (despite my sunburn — my dad had olive skin and I burn easily, and he was terribly guilty that he allowed me to fry) until the third or fourth day when the phone rang with a call from the office in New York. The moment I heard my dad’s voice change from relaxed father and brother (so rare for him!!) to Ad Exec Carl, my heart sank. I was so upset that he had even answered the call. Vacations are supposed to be sacred! And he needed one so badly!
The felt shift in my father’s attention and presence was sad and upsetting and real. The next day he suddenly became snappy and critical, acting as though we were in a rush when we weren’t and not able to concentrate on our conversations. I withdrew into myself and waited the rest of the vacation out. We flew home soon afterwards and life returned to normal, which meant that Dad never took any time really off.
He died soon after that of a heart attack. He was fifty years old.
Today’s parents have so many more distractions than the old fashioned telephone that rang in the other room on that vacation in 1981 or 1982. They have distractions they can carry around with them in their pocket and check at every red light.
On behalf of the child I was who remembers how good and right and whole the world felt when I received my parents’ full, sober attention, please consider not answering that phone. Please consider a vacation with your children with no distractions, when you can have lazy days for conversations that unfold in no hurry, when a daughter can pretend to read a book while sitting by the pool, when she is actually not reading at all but only savoring the sound of her father turning pages in the deck chair next to her.
These are the only days we get. Don’t miss one.