On The Road With The Dadball Era

Making memories that last a lifetime, or a visit to family counseling.

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There are battles to be fought everywhere—in all directions, inside and out, at all times—during a 14-hour car ride to the Florida Gulf Coast with three bickering kids in the backseat and a pregnant wife in the front and 9,000,000 other Midwestern motorists screaming south down I-65 in unison, in a frenzied, cabin-fevered hell-pack. The family Spring Break road trip is a fertile breeding ground of battles, maybe the most fertile.

The key, I’ve learned, is choosing which ones to fight—which battles to enter and with what caliber #DadRage weaponry. No need to bring an M-198 Howitzer to a Go-Gurt disagreement at the Greenwood exit, for example. That is bad form all around. Too little of a conflict, too early. There are five billion more miles to go, each one filled with more violent annoyances than the last. Save the heavy artillery for later. Instead, quietly put The Golf Channel on the radio until the squabble fixes itself. The Golf Channel on the radio is horrible for everyone, yes, but to kids it’s even worse. It is nature’s waterboarding for them. It tortures their ears until they relent.

Heavier artillery will be needed when it comes time to pick a restaurant, when of course nobody can agree on a spot and I forcefully threaten to feed them Funyuns and Robitussin for lunch unless a consensus can be reached. Or when everyone pours out of the backseat and into the Love’s Travel Stop. I want it like a well-oiled Navy SEAL operation: in … bathroom … get snacks … out. Three minutes, 20 seconds tops. My kids want to casually shop for hunting knives and CB radios and terrible Auburn Tigers hats. This typically puts me at DEFCON 1.

But there will be rare moments of driving bliss too, can’t forget about those—when the kids are asleep and I find my I-65 soulmate and together we rip-saw through time and Tennessee at 97 mph. That is the best, the absolute best. When done right, it is poetry on the pavement—an unrehearsed, free-wheeling jam session involving intricately timed lane changes and screens and rotating the lead spot (i.e., the cop magnet). It involves driving selflessly, truth be told. It involves teamwork. And when it all comes together, holy hell. Magic. We could drive to North Korea and back, and make terrific time too. I’ve had family members with less of an unspoken bond. Less respect. And when one of us has to exit—when the dream is over—we tip our #DadCaps and hit the high beams and know that it is back to the uncaring, unforgiving grind of The Trip, which noticed things going a little too smoothly.

That’s when two tractor-trailers begin traveling side-by-side, like a wall, crawling along at the exact same stupid speed and blocking everyone’s path for the next 50 miles. This is when everyone in the back wakes up and starts bickering again and the veins in my eyeballs twitch themselves into the shape of a middle finger punching Earth. And also when my left arm starts tingling. Oh yeah, that’s the stuff! It’s the chest pains and rage that let you know you’re ALIVE!

But it is a badge of honor in Dad-dom, the family road trip. The strong wear these hard-earned badges proudly, like shiny War Medals—the weak get multiple brain aneurysms and die while crying alone in a gross Flying J bathroom outside of Montgomery. The road trips are exhausting and wretched and I do hate them a great deal … almost as much as I’ll hate not doing them when the kids are too old and too cool for such things.

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