I was terrified of falling, so I let him guide me over giant hills of ice next to tiny pools of water that looked like liquid diamonds, while my dad became a speck in the distance. My private tour was set in motion the moment my dad chatted up the pilot while we were waiting for our flight. My dad chats everyone up. We can’t make it through the door of a restaurant without him trying to uncover the life story of the hostess or waiter. If they came from another country, he will say hello in their native language and share notable facts about their city. In this instance, he immediately picked up on the pilot’s German accent. “My daughter is fluent in German,” he said, nudging me forward.
During our ice walk, the pilot told me how the Taku moves 100 feet a year. To the naked eye, a massive glacier moving 100 feet is almost undetectable. But if you look at the power of the earth below, and how it has changed so dramatically over time, it makes it easier to understand how some of the smallest shifts can have the biggest impact.
During my parents’ pre-divorce years, amid the confusion and tears, I floated out to sea like an iceberg, away from my dad. He never did anything wrong, but I spent so many years being angry at him and had no idea how to repair the damage. My dad never saw it that way, though. He was always patiently waiting for me to come back. Our shared love of travel allowed us to forge a new bond.
Along the way, other bonds were also formed. My dad knew the pilot would be impressed by my German, and I think he was hoping that would lead to a love connection.
It wasn’t the first time my dad has acted as my wingman.
Five years earlier, on his 65th birthday trip to Chicago, we visited the Art Institute on a packed summer afternoon. In the German oil painting room, I noticed a handsome man admiring the same painting. When he walked away, he stopped at the top of the stairs, looked right at me, then disappeared into the crowd.
I rushed over to tell my dad what happened. “He wanted you to know he noticed you,” Dad said. “He was looking at you the whole time.”
There were hundreds of people in that museum, so I never thought I’d see my mystery man again.
But an hour later, when we walked into a room full of Seurat paintings, there he was.
Ten minutes later, Mark and I were planning our date that night. When my dad walked over to us, he didn’t appear the least bit surprised we had found each other. “Do you mind if Mark and I met up later tonight?” I asked. “Of course not,” he said. “And perhaps he’d like to join us for breakfast tomorrow?”
Dad would admit, years later, that he thought Mark would be the man I’d marry. He felt it was an omen that we found each other again in a crowded museum.
Though Mark and I dated for a while, traveling between Chicago and St. Louis, where I lived at the time, I knew he wasn’t the one. He was never ready to settle down, and it was too painful to yearn for something I couldn’t have.
Ten years later, Mark messaged me on Facebook to let me know that he’d be in Seattle on business. I felt a rush of excitement at the idea of seeing him, but the focus would not be on our relationship this time. “My dad will be in town for his 75th birthday,” I told him.
“Can I come and surprise him?” Mark wondered.
When he walked into the bar that night, my dad’s eyes grew wide with delight. Mark bought him a beer.
“I wanted to tell him he made a mistake by not being in your life,” Dad told me later. “But I decided if he wasn’t smart enough to figure it out himself, he doesn’t deserve you.”
Last summer, the waiter from the small Norwegian town my dad and I visited seemed to want to be in my life just a few hours after we met. After my dad befriended him first, of course.
We had just gotten off the train from the airport and were looking for a place to eat. A giant sandwich board with a picture of salmon and cucumbers beckoned us immediately.
I was tired from traveling, and sat with a glass of wine, checking email, while dad began a dialogue with our waiter, Sukru. I could hear Dad asking Sukru where he was from, and then spouting off factoids about his hometown in Turkey. Sukru was enjoying himself so much, he came to our table 12 times, offering travel advice, teaching us a few words in Turkish, and asking us both questions — directing a larger number of them toward me. I started checking my phone less and talking more. My dad knew this meant I was interested.
“You should be our tour guide,” my dad told him.
“I would love that,” Sukru replied, looking me square in the eyes.
“He seems quite interested in you,” Dad said when Sukru left to get our bill. “You should talk to him.” Not knowing what to say, I Googled “you are kind and handsome” in Turkish and showed him my phone on our way out the door.
His face lit up. “Really?” he exclaimed. “So are you!”
We exchanged numbers, and I invited him to our Airbnb for tea. Though my dad had intended to go to sleep, he and Sukru talked history, religion and culture all night. When Dad went to bed, Sukru and I stayed up until 4 a.m., giggling and talking like best friends at a slumber party. Dad and I spent the whole week with him, hanging out at the restaurant when he was working, then walking the cobblestone streets together at night. Sukru would crash on our couch every night, and Dad would insist we eat breakfast together each morning.
When Sukru took us to the airport on our last day, Dad hugged him and said he hoped he’d see him again. But I knew what he really meant was: “I hope my daughter sees you again.”
Six weeks later, Sukru visited me in America.
“I’d be so happy if it worked out,” Dad said.
Of course he would say that. My happiness has always been his first priority.
Despite the nine time zones and 4,000 miles between us, Sukru and I tried hard to make things work. We video-chatted and shared photos for months, but it was just too challenging. We’ve decided to let fate — and airline ticket prices — dictate the future.
For now, I’d rather focus my efforts on a different man. A man who, in trying to help me find a partner, was showing his love for me in a big and creative way. Though that love was always visible, there was a time when I was too lost to see it. As an adult, I understand that a lot needs to happen beneath the surface to create a real shift. So I’m slowly working to show my dad that his happiness is my priority, too. That takes precedence over finding a love connection, but I hope he never stops being my wingman.