My father died five years ago on Valentine’s Day. It was unexpected and sudden. I was in my early 30s, and had not yet bought my first house, or had my daughter. I really wanted him to be there for those things. My daughter would have loved her granddad. I felt ripped off.
My brother was 16 years old when my dad died. As hard as losing my dad was was for me, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my brother to lose his dad as a teenager. Unsurprisingly, he struggled. Anyone would have. But because he is incredibly bright, creative, and thoughtful, he squeaked his way through to finish high school. But he needed more time to figure out what was next.
It was hard to see him without a clear goal, or even something to keep him busy. A part-time job helped, but I hoped for a life full of inspiration and interest for him. I didn’t care what it was, just that he was passionate about doing it well. I tried everything to push him in a direction, any direction. I tried being supportive, encouraging, understanding, argumentative, mean, kind, dismissive, and even silent. Nothing worked.
In the midst of it all, he rediscovered a passion that he had cultivated in high school: ancient history. It was the first time in a long time I’d seen him excited about his future. But university felt like a reach.
I had an idea. If everyday things couldn’t inspire him to move to the next phase in his life, how about one big out-of-the-ordinary one? If the idea of ancient history wouldn’t do it, what about the reality?
My plan: We would go to Rome.
I spent a few months thinking about it. I asked advice from friends, colleagues, and my mom. Over the top? Extravagant? Worth it? Would it work? In the end, it didn’t matter if it “worked”. It mattered that we had the experience together, and that he got a lifetime of memories that would shape the way he saw the history he would hopefully go on to study.
That’s how I felt when I first saw the pyramids — awestruck, small — both in size and in the scope of history — but also connected by first-hand experience. Later, when I saw things unfold in Tahrir Square on CNN, I thought of my time in Egypt and felt a more personal connection to the issue, the place, and the people because I had seen it myself.
I want that for him.
So we leave on Sunday for Rome. We’ll stay for a week in an apartment I found down the street from the Colosseum. My brother is excited, and the guidebooks I gave him are full of tabs to mark the places he wants to go. We will eat all the pasta and meat and cheese, and drink all the wine and espresso. We will walk until our feet hurt. I will sleep in, because I need a vacation too.
Last month my brother was accepted to university to study ancient history. He now knows the future he wants, and he’s determined to go get it. I’m incredibly happy for him. Now our trip is both for inspiration and a celebration of what he’s already achieved for himself.
I can’t wait. I think my dad would be proud of both of us.