Dads and Road Trips

By Shannon E. Franklin

I really miss summers in Tucson. The bright, long days and the air that stays warm long into the nights. The clear, blue, morning skies that give way to ominous deep gray and lavender clouds that indicate the monsoon has come. The rainbow that shines bright against the purple sky as the sun triumphantly returns. The earthy perfume of creosote that lingers in the wet air. The sun that sets the sky ablaze with hues of magenta and tangerine as it sinks below the horizon.

As a kid, I was terrified of those almost-daily thunderstorms, but I long for them now and I always associate them with summer.

There’s something else I’m reminded of when I think about summers: road trips with my dads.

My mom and dad divorced when I was toddler, too young to have any real recollection of them being together. Shortly after, my mom and (now) stepdad, Bill, got together. So, from my earliest memories, I’ve always had two dads. And while I lived with my mom and Bill, my dad was never very far away as a child.

As I grew, the relationship with my dads started to take shape. I’m very close with all my parents, yet it’s no secret that I’ve always been a “daddy’s girl.” Ask me today and I’ll tell you that my dad is one of my very best friends.

And I’ve always been bonded with Bill, too, but it’s just different. He was the one that was there every day—driving me to school, attending my recitals, dropping me off at sleepovers, doing all the things dads do—but it wasn’t like the relationship I had with my dad. I never thought much of it; we were close and it’s just how we were.

My dad and Bill were both in the military, and when my dad got stationed in Florida, we decided that I would spend the summer with him when school let out. I was maybe 8 or 9 at the time, and was not at all sold on the idea of flying alone from Arizona. So, Bill planned a road trip for us. We hopped in his maroon Chevy Lumina and drove for several days across the country so he could drop me off. We got to Florida, Bill stayed the night at my dad’s house, then the next day he turned around and went right back to Arizona.

When the summer was over, my dad and I climbed into his Nissan 300ZX to return me to my mom and Bill. He spent a couple of nights at our house in Tucson, and then made the journey home.

On rides with Bill, we played made-up games to see who could name bands or cars that started with every letter of the alphabet, and he quizzed me on which of his favorite 80’s hair bands was singing the songs we heard on the radio.

I remember once driving through Texas, watching the clouds turn gray and green and swirl around us, only to find out on the news that we had narrowly missed a tornado that touched down in the area.

My dad and I listened to a lot of music, too, except he quizzed me and we sang along to R&B groups he grew up listening to. He would tell me stories about my mom (they grew up together) and his childhood—stories he still tells me today.

One time, on the way home with my dad, we saw so many shooting stars flashing across the black desert sky near the border of Arizona and New Mexico that we lost count.

These dad-daughter cross-country trips went on for three or four years, until I was finally ready to take my first solo flight after my dad moved to California.

I always had a blast starting and ending my summers this way with my dads, but as a kid I never really understood the big picture.

Reflecting back on it now, those summer drives across the country with Bill-Bill (as I’ve always affectionately called him) symbolize for me our special relationship: the sacrifice, the time, and the effort he’s been diligent about giving to make me feel happy, loved, and comfortable.

What I perceived as a distance—the difference—was probably Bill trying to take it all in and figure it all out: how to understand and solidify his place as a father when I also had a dad I was so attached to. How it must have been uncomfortable, at times, for him to forge a relationship with my dad. How to create our own unique bond. How to navigate being a White dad to a Black daughter. How to relate, when his life experiences were so vastly different from the life I had and would have. How to be there for me, and stay here with me.

Yes, there’s a difference. But I wonder if Bill knows how much of him I see in myself. What I’ve learned from him over the years. What I’ve absorbed. What he’s passed on, from father to daughter. How much I admire him for the man he’s always been and the ways in which he’s grown. How, say, if my dad was my wings, Bill would be the wind beneath them.

One summer, when I was in junior high and my dad was visiting Tucson, the three of us decided to drive to a mall in Phoenix for the afternoon. About halfway through our drive, the air conditioner in Bill’s car gave up, but we kept going. We rolled down the windows in vain as the hot air blew in and instantly dried the sweat trickling down my forehead. We finally arrived at the mall and as we walked around and cooled off, we spotted a virtual reality demonstration (this was the 90’s, by the way). My dad and I both stepped right up to try it, but Bill decided not to. Shortly after, my head started spinning and I felt nauseated. So did my dad. Bill drove us back home, still with no air conditioning and this time, my dad and me on the verge of puking the whole time. We laugh about it to this day.

I’ve always put my dad on a pedestal.

And Bill-Bill is sitting on his own, right beside him.


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