Confessions of a ‘Half­ Life’ Single Dad: The Road Trip

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen Offspring, and we needed a weekend out of Nashville to reconnect and set the tone for summer traveling.

This was her first major trip in Frankie The Third (our RV) and we brought along her half ­sister on her mom’s side, Bella, for a buffer.

The last couple of months have been rough. Finishing a remodel on the house, getting my sea legs on the road full ­time and her being utterly embarrassed by the notion of being in an RV. Matched with a growing sense of ungratefulness and entitlement, we’ve barely found our stride in the brief interactions we’ve had.

I wanted to see my little girl. To look over and see a smile gracing her perfect face. Lately though, every chance available, she displays disgust for my presence and an overt attempt for distance. Ok. I get it. You’re 12. I suck.

Ready for a road trip

This weekend was going to be different, though. I’d done my homework, caught up on work and cleared my calendar. With a top 40 Spotify playlist, we were headed to a foodie town with shopping and campsite pools. Destination: Birmingham, Alabama.

The 3-hour drive went smoothly. I gave them the nickel tour, explained the rules and showed them where to charge their various devices.They read books and made themselves at home. Once we set up the RV, we took the cave tour and then headed to the Olympic-sized swimming pool at Rickwood Caverns State Park.

Coming into her own at the pool

I expected a few glitches. The first one came at the pool and carried a deeper set of concerns. We had the bikini argument right before, and she emerged victorious, her prize a tasteful two-piece.

We had to walk through the locker rooms before finding a lounge chair, and I beat them out by 5 minutes. What were they doing in there?

Bella came out wearing a borrowed bathing suit and quickly headed my way. Offspring, however, came slumping out the big yellow door like Carrie coming on stage at prom.

Shoulders hunched. Head down. Arms crossed covering her newly formed D-cups and about as comfortable in her skin as I am in a Speedo.

She was hiding who she was. She was horrified at being looked at and even more at having to sit near her dad. The complete opposite of what I’ve been seeing for so long.

I wanted to hug her. Give her a pep talk and cheer her on. But I squashed that urge, since even being near me was like staring at the sun for her. So I sat back and observed a 30-minute transition from insecure little woman to playful big sister. My first lesson on environmental interaction with a reptilian brain: Love unconditionally. Leave alone.

Navigating the storm of the shopping trip

Fast forward past a wonderful dinner at Hot & Hot Fish Club to Saturday afternoon shopping at The Summit. She had freedom and a budget; I endured lotion stores and mini-freak­outs.

Similar to sailing through a storm, there were light gusts and nauseous waves. The splendor arose when she saw a store she was dying to go in. The light eye rolls came when I commented on anything I liked, and the waves crashed when I wouldn’t budge on her budget. Yes Offspring, Lilly Pulitzer does charge $400 for a single dress. And the Sirens’ sweetest song came when she wanted new makeup and came up a few bucks short. Obviously, I crashed right into those rocks.

The true reward: A moment of connection

But all of this paled in comparison to one single moment in our last night in Birmingham: A sunset walk where her childhood returned and our laughter was our connection.

I consciously left my phone in the RV and chose a time when other kids were inside eating with their parents. As we strolled to the park playground, she jumped on for a piggyback ride and hid nothing of her joy.

She wanted me to watch her climb, to spot her while surfing down the slide, to balance her weight on the other side of the seesaw. To melt my heart by asking her to push her on the swing like when she was little.

Where once was a squeaky voiced little girl begging me to go higher, there now was a little woman looking over her shoulder to let me know this moment was perfect.

I was so happy to remain present in the moment. To live it with intention and clarity, my attention reserved exclusively for her. To explain the family tree and all its relations, how boys operate and why I was still single. My wisdom mattered. My answers carried weight and my jokes landed with a punch. Nothing else mattered.

It fizzled out after a burping contest on the walk back as we approached other campers on our return. I felt the air clear and I knew the moment had passed, but my smile remained as we sat by the fire, wishing I had remembered marshmallows. She drug me through the coals on that one.

How do I do this again?

That clump of minutes was worth every glitch, and better than the Southern Bouillabaisse at Hot & Hot.

So how do I do it again? I know I’m not alone as a tween parent in missing those moments. I’m so afraid of losing them. How do I clear the way for the happy child inside my angst-ridden tween?

I’m curious to hear from other seasoned vets on how you weather the storm and embraced the calm, and what lessons you’ve taken away from it.

I’m at the beginning of hurricane season and could use all the advice I can get. I’d love to hear your story.

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