A father and his young adult daughter are vacationing. In Venice, Stacey complains about the food. In Florence, she grumbles about her aching feet. At the Uffizi, she is grumpy about how her dad wants to spend nineteen hours staring at each and every painting in the eight-gazillion square foot palace.
At meals the conversation is even more negative. In every locale throughout Italy, Stacey whines about how her dad is a bigot, how he doesn’t understand LGBQT+ issues, how he is transphobic. That you don’t listen to modern music just confirms that you discriminate against the people who are producing it, she says. You are so part of the problem, she goes on.
Her father feels strongly that his daughter’s accusations are as hollow as they are hurtful. Dad mentions his close relationship with his gay brother, his economic and emotional support of LGBQT+ issues. Stacey escalates suggesting that a heteronormative male couldn’t possibly understand the struggle of marginalized populations. She goes on to suggest that her father is “not doing anything meaningful,” that “people like him” are responsible for the inequities in the world.
Dad is about to respond. He is going to reference the $300,000 he paid to a private liberal arts college where his daughter majored in gender studies and minored in learning how to hate her parents. Before he engages, dad reflects on similar conversations of this nature he has had with his 20-something first-born in the past. He notes that:
- Neither he nor his daughter changed their positions on any issues although they were disgruntled and disappointed with each other after a lengthy and unproductive exchange.
- The glass is more than half full, the darn glass is close to overflowing! His daughter is traveling with him! They are sharing meals and museums! A third of young adults don’t see their parents more than a couple times a year. (I just made up that statistic but it could be true.) We all know families who only communicate through a card in December. Dad feels like he is the luckiest person alive!
- Dad remembers Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy in Bull Durham: Honey, would you rather I were making love to him using your name, Annie queries, or making love to you using his name? No, he and his daughter don’t agree on politics, but they are together. Stacey could be somewhere else talking about what a great guy her father is. Instead, she is right there with him—complaining vociferously, but there.
To which I would add, getting rid of your old imperfect car gets you another presumably better car. But it’s still a car. Trading in your current clunker for a flying saucer that takes you from New York to London in 90 minutes isn’t an option. There are no flying cars. Driving across the Atlantic isn’t a thing. If you trade in spending time with your complaining daughter, you don’t get a grateful kid in exchange. You get a kid who doesn’t hang out with you. If dad says, are you kidding, you spoiled rotten, unappreciative wretch? the kid finds someone else with whom to travel.
It is enticing if simplistic to write off this child as suffering from terminal entitle-isis and pervasive affluenza. Griping about the food in Italy isn’t very nice. And what about that incessant whining about how her father’s views are unenlightened? As always, it’s imperative to consider the feeling beneath the complaint. Maybe Stacey feels guilty about having privileges that her friends lack. Maybe she recently broke off a romantic entanglement. Maybe she has a mild fever or has been kidnapped by aliens. Even the most sensitive parents can’t know the innermost feelings of their adult children. Dad has done well to understand that Stacey’s complains are not about him.
Okay, Stacey’s complaints may affect him. Who wants to travel with a griping harpy. But again, traveling with your adult daughter is a good thing. For the most part. And as all parents know, there are no returns or exchanges.
The takeaway? Everybody knows the four most important words of sales: Shut the @#$%^&*! up. After you name a price, every syllable you speak costs you a hundred dollars. Maybe the four most important words of traveling with an adult child are the same. Listen to her whine. Don’t engage. And when you have a moment to yourself, just smile, and acknowledge that although you may not have a flying car, you have won the parent-child lottery.