I packed my giant backpack on the living room floor in full view of my father. He sat in his favorite chair biting his nails. He bit his nails whenever he worried. His nails always seemed to be worn down to the bone.
“You can always come home early if you want.” He shook his head as he spoke. “Call us anytime you need day or night. You never know what can happen.” I packed briskly while completely annoyed. “That’s exactly why I am going! And I am NOT coming home early”, I answered defiantly. He drove me nuts when he nagged.
The year was 1997 and I was twenty-one years old. I had put all of my limited funds into a month-long trip to Europe with one of my oldest friends. It would be my first trip overseas. We had return tickets but no hotel rooms booked. We would begin in Paris but from there? We had no plans. The trip was amazing and thus began my love affair with travel. I called home when I could and probably not nearly enough for my father. We took our time through France, Spain and Italy.
Then one night in the last week of my trip I woke up my parents at four in the morning. I’d been robbed in the metro in Paris. I had stupidly moved my plane ticket to my smaller pack and it had been stolen on the train. I never saw it coming. Luckily my ATM card and passport were in my main pack. This was the days before E-tickets and I would need a flight home. Luckily I had paid for travel insurance but I didn’t know how to handle everything.
I stood in a payphone bawling. “Ok, Ok. Calm down, it’s all going to be fine.” My dad spoke assuredly, an entire world away. He was always calm under pressure. I had enough money to get me through my next few days and my dad fixed everything.
My father never got the chance to travel. He worked six day weeks all of his life only to retire early because of a diagnosis of C.O.P.D. He had been a smoker for forty-five years. He worked an entire lifetime only to become sick.
“It’s not going to work out. You will hate Los Angeles. You will be back”. My dad lectured while nodding his head. I had just broken the news to my folks that I was leaving and headed off to film school in L.A. The year was 2007 and I had just given my job of five years four months notice. “You have a good job here. Your friends are here. You will be back”, he said defiantly while he chewed his nails.
Every trip overseas (and there has been many) and every gig that fell through my father worried. I would forever test his patience. All I wanted from him was acceptance. I wanted him to finally say to me, “You know what you are doing with your life. I will accept this and not worry so much.” He never quite said those words. My mother would tell me how he bragged about me and all the places I had been and the things I had seen. Yet when we spoke he would just say, “Be careful. Use your head and don’t rush into things.” He seemed impossible to please.
The week he decided to stop taking treatment we all understood why. He had been sick for a long time. Two days before he died I sat in his room alone with him and we talked about my upcoming TV show. I was booked on gigs until April and this seemed to reassure him. My next two shows would combine the two things I loved most in the world: work & travel. I was happy. “I’m really going to miss you”, he said while I held his hand.
I couldn’t even answer. I was crying too much.
While I write this my trusty old backpack sits in my closet. A shoe box full of patches lies on my shelf. I can take off anytime I want. I can go anywhere I please. I can have a gig fall through or buy a plane ticket at a moments notice and no-one really worries. My mom has always been a big supporter of all my last minute decisions. There is no-one left to worry. No-one who looks after me and bites his nails.
Dad, I miss you too.