This trip all started with some fatherly advice. I was sitting in my car at the auto shop in Charlotte, thinking out loud about what would come next after I inevitably quit my job.
Don’t just go back to school for no reason, Marian. Travel if you need to. Take six months. Take a year.
So I left Charlotte, and I got on a plane to India, and four months later I met my parents in Rome, and soon enough my Dad and I began walking across Spain. Thank God I’ve started to actually listen to his good advice.
Transitioning between traveling with my best friend and traveling with the man who gave me half of my DNA was certainly a change. Mariel and my father are slightly different: different habits, different views on the world, different ways of interacting. When I explained that I would be traveling with my dad for six weeks, many young people I met in Southeast Asia looked at me with a combination of confusion and shock. You’re what? Why? It’s cool, I would respond, we have a great relationship. We’re close.
Except for the fact that, as my dad pointed out before this little walk we’ve been partaking in, we didn’t really know each other all that well. I moved away from home at 14. We’ve never spent more than a few weeks together since then. I soon realized he was right.
But, for better or for worse, we did this thing. At first I was impressed — shocked? — at how well things were going. Our days together were smooth and enjoyable and we communicated well. And the camino brought us — forced us — even closer. I’d call it a crash course for marriage: your decisions about eating, sleeping, and even moving each day are dependent on another person. We shared a room, we shopped for groceries together, and often met new people as a unit. It’s kind of an intense thing to do with your dad.
But after 817 kilometers, 35 days, and countless cafés con leche, I now have this friend named Webster whom I understand and respect on a completely different level. He is and always will be my dad: he makes sure I never lose my water bottle, he’s patient when I’m cranky, and once in a while he’ll treat me to a piece of cake (if I’ve done all my chores). But he also treats me like an adult, and gives me my space, and supports me and challenges me to be a better person. He listens to my crazy ideas and responds gently, smartly, and lovingly. Some of my favorite memories from this adventure are those mornings and afternoons we spent talking, singing, laughing, and respectfully disagreeing. Just me and my dad, walking across Spain. He’s been my sounding board, my Shakespeare professor, and my favorite storyteller. His advice is still sound, and I’m still learning to listen. And I FINALLY know his favorite color.
Traveling with your dad is not always easy (I like to make obvious statements and congratulate myself for them), but it’s one of the best spontaneous decisions I’ve ever made. We both remember the day last year that I picked up the phone to call him and ask him if he would walk the camino last year. It’s one of his favorite stories to tell new friends along the way. I remember telling him that I felt like I had just asked him to the prom. And he’s been the best date ever.
And now, nine months later, we are in Santiago de Compostela together on father’s day. Two pilgrims, two friends, two Bulls. Soon he’ll go home to my mom and I’ll go off to do other random stuff in Europe. But on this day we get to celebrate the amazing journey that we have completed together. I’m the luckiest girl in the world to call this crazy bearded dude my dad, and I will be forever grateful for these weeks we spent together, for better or worse.
Happy Father’s day, Dad. I admire you and I love you and I’ll always be grateful for this pilgrimage that we shared. Go forth and set the world on fire.