On this day five years ago, my father passed away tragically and unexpectedly. He was a few months shy of his fiftieth birthday. Now, loss affects every person differently. There are those who go numb and then are those who love more fiercely. For myself, it made me much more of a sentimentalist than I already am. In the wake of my father’s unexpected death, I committed myself to excavating the family archives and the deep recesses of my subconscious to reclaim every single moment we had together. I spent days playing back my fondest memories of him. In my bouts of nostalgia, it seemed the thing I miss most about my father was his love of the world.
Every traveler has their own unique set of motivations for wanting to go out and adventure. When I was a child, my dad promised me the world and he delivered. By working in the airline industry, he afforded us opportunities most only dream about. Spontaneous weekend getaways to Rome and Paris. Frequent trips back to the Philippines to see our loved ones. Our school textbooks would come alive when our dad would organize trips for us to Greece to see the Parthenon or Mexico to see Mayan ruins. I had my first bite of sushi from a Tokyo vending machine. I rode my first horse through the Grand Canyon. My first taste of public transportation that I can recall was riding through the canals in Amsterdam by boat. It was a surreal upbringing and one of great privilege. But that privilege was not based off of wealth or success. It was attained by a man who left the comforts of his home and country to work day in-and-out just to so he could give the world to his family.
My bedtime stories were comprised of the most beautiful sentiments. He would regale me with all the places we would go together — what we would see, do, and eat. And like a dream come true, I would find my bedtime stories actualized in whirlwind escapades. The trip that stands out the most to me was a layover in Rome when I was nine. The twelve-hour expanse of time is mostly a blur but what I do remember is my dad’s frenetic need that we get to a certain somewhere. That certain somewhere, in the chill dampness of a March evening, was none other than the Trevi Fountain. In the small palm of my hand, he lovingly placed three coins and said, “This is so you’ll one day come back. Make a wish.” That was my dad, always looking out for my best interests. A few months after he passed away, I ended up returning to Italy for a four-month long study abroad… just as my dad had ensured would happen all those years ago.
I pick apart the very footsteps of my own journey and like looking into a mirror, I see two human beings living out parallel lives. Did he know that in the years of his absence, his own daughter, who was raised on his curious tales, would follow the same path of expatriatism he carried out? The tales, I’ve come to realize, were very much romanticized. Being the intrepid soul he was, my dad made living life as a free-spirit seem so effortless. Now experiencing it for myself, I only wish I could have his guidance whisper bravery into my heart once more. There are days where I mull over my life decisions: how they seem so reckless, too carefree. What it would be like to live without this restlessness. But I guess when you are offered the world from the get-go, everything pales in comparison.
He transformed every mundane act into a worldly experience. A simple lesson in road-tripping involved a border crossing into Canada to satisfy a craving for authentic poutine. By authentic, I mean Montreal. When we lived in the Philippines, he took us out to rollerblade on an airport runway (it was closed for the evening). Along the sides of the airstrip were grazing water buffalos, whose owner let us ride bareback with our rollerblades still on (it remains one of my favorite pictures). My sisters and I once asked for a bonding trip and each received a one-way ticket to Guatemala City with a return ticket back to Boston out of Cancun. We had ten days to get from point A to point B without any assistance from the parentals, like our own mini amazing race. With my dad, every day was filled with discovery.
Flash forward to today. May 22, 2016. After five years of journeying through the stages of grief — shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression — I have finally arrived at a point of acceptance. But its not necessarily acceptance, as it is, hope. In spite of an untimely end, I can finally see clearly the inspiring legacy of an individual whose primarily goal was to live fully and happily. There are many of us who were inspirited by his wanderlust. In his world, each day was a well of endless possibility. I can see it in the pictures; those smiling eyes tell a story of pure joy. In his travels, my dad was untroubled, optimistic, and free. Despite the burdens he carried, he felt most at peace surrounded by the world-at-large. My dad painted the world as a portrait of love, full of endless wonder and of goodness. I now comfort myself that in every place I visit, my dad will be there, waiting for me, with open arms. This is why I travel, and why I will continue to do so. For as much as my mother keeps me rooted, it is my father who is the wind beneath my wings.