OPINION: Here’s what you can learn from a cross-country road trip with your dad

An orange car drives down a desert road lined by cacti.
Graphic by Greta Long

Houston, we have no problems.

That’s what I captioned the photo I took of my dad at a massive meteorite crater, a detour during our cross-country road trip. While the statement was never really true — I’ve had and will always have problems — the sentiment seemed fitting at the time. 

This was just before my devastating, lonely second year of college, and naturally my relationship with my parents had changed.

There was distance — some 2,660 miles, three time zones, different lives. That distance was sometimes difficult to bear; I changed and grew apart from my parents. So when my dad suggested we drive across the country, coast to coast, as a week-long bonding experience, I said yes.

The week had some definite highs, such as seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time and eating roasted brussels sprouts in Memphis, but also some definite lows, such as driving through a storm so bad we couldn’t see the road coming into Albuquerque. 

We posted pictures of us in various locations: in several hole-in-the-wall restaurants, a road that led nowhere, an Airbnb with a slanted floor and a Gay Street in Tennessee. 

And through it all, we grew a lot closer again. It was a good experience to have and be able to remember, because college was isolating in a profound way for me.

Despite the close proximity to others, I was frequently lonely. It’s the work of hours in the library or in your dorm room that can pull you away from others and make you lose track of people you care about. Family members, friends from high school, the acquaintance-friends from the first week of college … those relationships begin to fade away.

At such a time, it’s important to evaluate your relationships and maintain those that made you happy. This maintenance does not have to take the somewhat drastic form of a week-long cross-country road trip. But it’s important to remember that hard work in the short term can be rewarding in the long run.

An important caveat: if a person is abusive or a relationship is toxic, by all means let that relationship fall by the wayside! 

The relationships I’m discussing are healthy and positive in nature, if perhaps a little dusty from being left alone a little too long. The point is to improve your mental health, not to damage it chasing after something or someone better left alone.

And in the case of positive relationships, putting in the hard work can really be worth doing. Humans are social creatures, and the relationships we have with loved ones are a fundamental aspect of our mental health. 

The car trip is really a metaphor of sorts, indicating the level of commitment needed for the process. The solution to fixing fading relationships is not always going to be sitting in a confined space for several days; rather, it’s to put in quality time and effort.

This can be as simple as a long phone call or getting coffee. It can take the form of engaging in an activity together that you both enjoy, such as hiking or critiquing bad movies. 

The point is to foster connection. You’ll find that many people are willing to reconnect with you if you reach out to them. Perhaps the reasons they haven’t reached out to you are the same reasons you have not reached out to them: busy schedules, social anxiety and physical distance.

Take this article as an opportunity to reach out to someone you care about that you might not have talked with much recently. And maybe the next time you need to get somewhere, take the scenic route.

Julian Jenal CG ’20 is from Pasadena, California. They have two extremely cute pets and a lot of thoughts about international relations, gender, certain television shows and so on. 

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