My Dad boarded a plane for his first flight into the USA 45 days shy of his 70th birthday. A work trip for me with a few days of holiday thrown in. For him, his first get-away without my Mum after 45 years of many road trips through Canada together. A happy-sad moment, for sure.
I was excited to spend some time together. Finally a member of my family would experience what I do for a living! My hope? Dad would 'get' my profession after many failed attempts to explain what sustainable event planning is. Something that up until now has existed for my family in a Bermuda Triangle of careers, between hugging trees, arranging travel and planning weddings.
Dad? Well he was excited too, and a bit new to international air travel. I left him in security, having to detour and wait nervously in US Customs for a visa renewal. While my minutes passed like hours, he was happily enjoying a coffee at the gate, watching the planes taxi in and out of the airport, striking up a friendly conversation with a stranger about his trip plans. I get through immigration just in time for departure, slightly frazzled by the border officer's grilling, moaning I'll need to renew my Nexus documentation before I can speed through the border again. Dad says he's glad I've got my permit, something I neglect to appreciate and mention first.
We get settled on the flight, me looking forward to a couple of hours of flight-induced sleep to recuperate from my 5am alarm. My Dad spends the entire two hours looking out the window and tracking our trip by satellite, identifying each volcanic peak and city on our way south to San Francisco.
On arrival I make a beeline to the check-in desk at the Fairmont on Nob Hill. Time to get to our room and get out and see the city! Once at the counter I realise Dad's not with me. He's still stopped beside the front door, eyes taking in the grand heritage scene of the lobby, camera snapping. It takes us nearly 20 minutes to get up to our room as he pauses along the corridors to read about the history of the property. I learn about how it was the site where the UN Charter was drafted and the setting of numerous films; things I've never noticed in my previous 3 visits.
Of course, being a planner, I already have a rough itinerary of our holiday in mind, including sites I think Dad might like. That plan is quickly is scrapped during lunch. My Dad's quiet, touristy charm has attracted the attention of a 4th generation San Franciscan at the table beside us. They pour over notes the man is making on our table cloth of the sites he suggests my Dad visit. Dad, happy to meet a friendly local and having no specific plans himself, is thrilled at his new friend's suggestions. We set out, new table-cloth itinerary in hand, my old plan gone out the window. And of course, we have a great time. The holidays fly by and the time comes for Dad to have a couple of days on his own while I work.
I twist his arm into coming to see me on site, wanting like a 5 year old for him to see what I do. He reluctantly does, not out of disinterest, more out of shyness (every introverted gene I have is from him). He stays a short while and meets the event crew. I give him a quick tour and offer him some coffee and cookies we have on hand. He graciously declines, not wanting to have something that he's not paid for. My co-workers insist he adds something tasty to his belly, and provide him with a small giveaway item the attendees are also receiving. He looks at me a bit worried he's taking something he shouldn't, but with reassurance we've enough for all he grins and heads back to his room like he's gotten away with something awesome. Free swag and maple cookies!
I work late that night. We get room service for dinner. I feel bad. I wanted to take him out for a nice meal. He's thrilled when the gourmet burger arrives on china with full silverware. It's rather fancy: a photo moment. Our hotel room and the experience of it is a real treat for him.
We head home a day later. I learn from Dad there's an aviation museum at the airport. Countless trips through SFO and I've never noticed it. We visit and he points out models of the planes my Grandpa used to fly. On our flight back home, our Captain Tracy (yes, Dad, a lady pilot!) gets permission to fly low over the city. We get a rare fog-free aerial glimpse of San Francisco, something I've never had the luck to experience. And Dad with a front row, wing-free, window seat view of it all. The camera snaps madly. I look up from my iPad and get equally engrossed in the sight.
Dad did learn a little bit about sustainable event planning during take-your-Dad-to-work week. I think though I was the one that gained an appreciation of how I've become numb to the gift of travel. It has become a chore. Something I feel entitled to. Take-your-Dad-to-work week has reminded me to slow down while on the road and look at the experience of it through new eyes. Travel is a privilege, not a right. And one best shared. Thanks, Dad.