During the two weeks between college graduation and my first day of work, I visited Iceland with my dad.
It was a particularly significant moment for me. Not only was I finishing school and starting a new job, I was moving out of my parents’ house, where I’d lived for twenty-one years. Now, for the first time, I was packing up for more than the semester.
While the move was joyful, exciting, and perhaps a little overdue, this was the home that I had always known, and leaving was hard. I was the youngest of three boys, and though both my brothers had already gone, my departure seemed somehow different. Of course there was sadness when they left, but I was the last one, the last remainder of the daily interactions between parents and children that made that place our home.
To make things even more pivotal, I was about to step into something unknown. For most of college, I had planned on graduate school, but now was starting a job at a design firm that I barely felt qualified or equipped to do.
I was exhausted—processing what I had just finished while preparing for what I was about to start. I’d dreamt of a trip to Iceland for years, and figured it was the perfect place to breathe, think, and take some photos.
And I invited my dad to join me. At the time, I wasn’t sure of the precise reasons I did it, it just felt right. In retrospect, I think I understand it better.
Simply by virtue of hours spent together while my brothers were at school, my mom and I have always shared a special relationship. And while my father and I also share a deep bond, we’ve spent considerably less time one-on-one.
Recent years have surfaced some differences between me and my dad. We don’t believe all the same things and we don’t think the same way in all contexts. And that’s healthy and okay, but it sometimes feels threatening to realize it in a close relationship. I think we just didn’t understand each other as well as we thought we did, and we both have things to learn.
And this is why I wanted to go on the trip with him—just him. Because sometimes, even when with people I know deeply, it takes a couple hours of conversation to get to something substantive. And for us it really took a couple days.
But once we got through the small talk we needed to have about the logistics of my new apartment and workplace, we started conversations I’ll never forget—
—me sharing hopes and fears for this new job and new life I was about to start. For what it meant to be done with school. For what it means to be me.
—him sharing stories of starting his own career and life, telling frustrations and joys that I’d never heard before. Stories of his family and childhood. Stories of faith and trust.
—us talking about the people and places that make up our lives. About loving another person more than you love yourself. About living a life well.
They were conversations set in almost impossible beauty. The landscape in Iceland feels savage, alien, and yet quiet and hidden—almost like you were discovering the sights yourself. We spent double the expected travel time for every drive because we kept pulling over every couple hundred feet to check something else out.
It was one of the only vacations I’ve ever been on where the journey was genuinely the best of the trip. The famous waterfalls and hot springs were great, but we were often more excited to hop back on the road and see what unmarked things were hiding along it.
For a moment when my dad and I were driving along, laughing about something I can’t remember, there was a pause in the conversation. Not a dead spot, more like a rest in the melody. In that little moment, I felt overcome by something I can’t quite put a name to.
Like when he taught me how to shoot a bow on a cadet camping trip.
Like when we would watch western movies on Saturday afternoons.
Like when we took a break from working on the roof to eat watermelon and spit the seeds as far as we could into the yard.
Like when he held me close on the day I was born and heard my voice for the first time and felt the smallness of my hands and knew that this tiny, fragile thing was his son.
I will treasure the memory of that trip for the rest of my life, but not for anything we saw, did, or said. I will treasure it because in the midst of change and things unknown, I was with my dad.
Studied psychology and writing, works at a design firm. Film junkie, amateur photographer. (’16)