A Visit From Home: How Much Have I Grown?

My dad has come to town, ostensibly to attend some vaguely described doctor conference but actually to see the prodigal daughter who recently moved 2,949.32 miles away from home. 

I’ve determined this from the fact that he’s been on campus rather than at the Los Angeles Convention Center each afternoon and that he has eagerly offered several times to come to my Health Center appointment tomorrow morning. (In case you foolishly didn’t follow my column first semester, I had a bit of an ankle problem then, and now I’ve got a knee problem on the same leg, which just serves to confirm what everyone always suspected about my proclivity for accidents.) Now, I can’t imagine why anyone would volunteer to spend an hour or two of life sitting in an uncomfortably air-conditioned room with magazines six-months-and-two-Taylor-Swift-breakups-old, but I guess that’s what they call love.

Having a parent visit at college reminds me, rather oddly, of Grandparents Day in middle school, when we were encouraged to dress nicely, sing feelingly about loving our grandparents from the bottom of our hearts, and solicit them for money. Except this time, I find myself dressing with decidedly more style than I did during the 1990s (#letskeepitSmiley80s), only allowing myself to sing in the shower, and having my father take me on Target runs, which is a much more subtle way to get them to invest money in my education experience. I can’t say I’ve perfected my technique yet, but I think leaving out the singing is having a really positive effect on my efforts.

I’ve had to become a bit more creative on this trip, too, because my father’s come before. When he dropped me off at the start of the year, I gave him a tour around campus. When he came for another conference at the end of last semester, I showed him around the other campuses and, when I got desperate enough, even showed him around my empty classrooms. 

“And right there in that desk is where I sit facing that chalkboard” is literally a sentence I used. So this time, I’ve been focusing on the town of Claremont and its lovely dining establishments. This has definitely been a feat well worth undertaking, and I think we can happily commit to it for a couple more years. That’ll buy me some time to figure out how to break into the Clock Tower and/or President Oxtoby’s house (maybe if he has some warning, he’ll even lay out some cookies for me like we used to do for Santa Claus).

While we’ve circumvented the show-and-tell part of college, one of the most difficult parts of my dad coming to town is figuring out which parts of my life to share with him. There’s the messy room to carefully pick up, the teacher whose class I blew off that morning to avoid, and the desktop picture from a spring break trip to Mexico to change to an innocent landscape.

There are also several reality checks to face. For one, there’s his astonishment over the amount of time I spend napping to contend with:

“How about I come back in 20 minutes?”

“Hm, how about more like an hour?”

“An hour?! Is that even called a nap anymore?”

Similarly, there’s a reaffirmed commitment to studying to be made:

“Are you sure you want to get ice cream? I don’t want to get in the way of your studying … ”

“Well, you could show me the library next. I can read a magazine, and you can get started with your work.”

And, yet again, a further appreciation of California by East Coasters to hear:

“You can’t have any real conversations about the weather out here. You try and say how nice the weather is today, and they just look at you like you’re crazy because it’s always nice out here. It’s like a whole icebreaker conversation topic is gone!”

Besides my father’s trenchant observations about the state of my life, my favorite part about having a parent come to visit is watching him slowly reappraise me as an adult. I’ve found it hiding in sidelong glances when I tell him how much he should tip or when I explain how I think we could go about fixing the chronic government problem of bureaucratic drift (Wikipedia article forthcoming shortly!). It’s there overtly when he asks me for advice on dealing with my nefarious younger twin brothers or defers to my judgement over whether or not I’ve got enough room for dessert. It feels weird, yet wonderful, yet wholly wobbly-making. But that might just be because of all the ice cream I’ve been eating.

Despite how beautiful California is compared to Boston at this time of the year, there has always been something missing from my life here—the friends and family I left behind when I decided to chase the elusive sunset. My father’s visit is the piece of home that satiates that empty place even the enchanting scent of spring honeysuckle cannot. It’s smelling that old coffee smell that lingers about his person while getting caught up on the news in person rather than from a crackly voice over a speaker or a pixelated computer screen. It’s having someone there to exasperatedly return to the pharmacy three times one afternoon to pick up different-sized knee braces for you, someone whom you know, somehow, still loves you throughout. It’s coloring “Thank You” signs whenever he gives you an occasion, and it’s finding a chance to hug him whenever possible. I don’t know if absence necessarily makes the heart grow fonder, but I know I’ve missed my dad. Now, can we go back to Target?

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