On Traveling With My Father

Let me start by being perfectly clear about something. I absolutely adore traveling with my dad. He and I had a really rocky relationship for a number of years, and I treasure the opportunity to spend this time with him…even when he drives me crazy as he did for much of today. That’s just part of the price of extended togetherness with anyone, and it’s taught us both a lot about ourselves and each other. But I digress. That’s not the point of this post at all. I want to talk about common misconceptions, and encourage all of you to check your own perceptions in your daily lives.

I realize that the most common traveling partnership is husband and wife, closely followed by engaged/dating. But that is far from the only possible combination. I’m getting extremely tired of being mistaken for my father’s wife. Invariably, when we step on board a cruise ship, the first thing we have to do is call for the cabin steward to have the beds separated. We always get a funny look, and have to explain that we are father and daughter. They mean well, but again, they’re making an erroneous assumption.

It can be hard for me to meet guys, and Dad to meet women, because everyone always assumes that we are together. But the worst happened today. A waitress approached our table to let us know that today was “senior day,” and anyone over 50 would get 10% off of their meal. She didn’t mention it when we ordered, so I think at first she assumed we were both under 50, but then she came by to ask. Dad told her that he qualifies (he’s 58), and then she asked if I did as well! Considering I am still carded for alcohol on a semi-regular basis, my jaw hit the floor. Dad took care of the situation while I sat slack-jawed and stunned. I was uncomfortable, so we ate as fast as we could and then got out of there.

After we left, I went back and forth between angry and sad, and felt extremely depressed. Maybe I really do look old, I thought. But then Dad put it into perspective for me, though I wasn’t really ready to accept it yet. Since Dad was over 50, the waitress simply assumed that I must be, regardless of how I look.

We met a mother and son at the Palace Picnic on the 4th of July. He’s in college, so a few years younger than me but not significantly. They go through the exact same problems that we do. He even shared a story about a cruise director who simply refused to believe that they were not dating/married. He made jokes through the entire cruise, constantly asking the son about his “mother,” (air quotes included).

I have to admit that I was guilty of making a similar assumption in Alaska last year. We met a traveling duo consisting of a 40-something tomboyish female and a highly feminine girl in her 20s. I will admit that I assumed they were a lesbian couple. As it turned out, though, it was actually a mother traveling with her daughter’s best friend. Unusual, perhaps, but not that much more so than we are. I felt so bad when I found out, since I know all too well how it feels for one’s traveling relationship to be mis-perceived.

So please, I beg all of you: don’t make assumptions about the people you meet. Some straight guys are naturally effeminate and some gay guys quite butch. Not all lesbians are tomboys and not all tomboys are lesbians. Men and women of all ages travel together in pairs or in groups, and are not necessarily in a “relationship” with the person they’ve chosen to spend time with.

Can’t we just treat people as individuals and let them share or not share the nature of their relationships if and when they choose to do so? I’d like to think that in the 21st century, we could move past snap judgments, but instead it just seems that our tell-all society demands to know the details rather than quietly speculating. I’m not sure that’s an improvement, somehow.

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