My dad is a difficult person to buy gifts for. He’s not a golfer, not really into sports, he likes electronics, but I usually didn’t have enough money to get him the stuff he wanted. So pretty much I always got him books. Books (especially those with a humorous bend) always seemed appropriate because to me and my sisters, my dad, intellectually curious and quick with fun/interesting facts was the funniest and smartest man we knew. (He’s also the one who inspires my writing and still the one I send drafts to). With that also came an adventurous spirit. That, combined with his ability to just let his daughters tell him what to do (it comes with being the father of 3 daughters), my dad is the best and most willing travel companion a person can have.
Adventure and curiosity define my dad’s travel style. First, he’s up for anything and second, he always comes with some kind of project he proposed to the community college at which he teaches (usually which comes along with a little money). My dad has visited all three of us at our respective Peace Corps/study abroad sites – sometimes by himself and sometimes with the family.
My dad’s project in Malawi was to “study” Malawian newspapers. Truthfully, the only times I had paid attention to Malawian newspapers was when there were somewhat funny stories that blamed mysterious events on witchcraft. Although newspapers were not readily available where I lived, and of course, I had no internet (usually one needs electricity for that), it was hard to keep up on Malawian national news. My dad, with his curiosity gave me the opportunity to look a bit more closely at the news on a broad scale and compare it with what I learned on a local scale. You can learn a lot about a country when you look at it from multiple perspectives. I’m not sure what my dad’s conclusions were, but in the end, it probably doesn’t matter because the experience is what is important. (Also, since I wanted this post to be a surprise, I couldn’t get the presentation he gave post-trip directly from him – so check back later and maybe you’ll see some more here).
My dad’s curiosity extends beyond his academic charge and into human relationships. A born extrovert (I probably got that from him),he makes friends and engages with locals so openly that there is an instant connection. At their hotel in Lilongwe, my dad and Mr. Banda, the porter/janitor/all-around-helpful guy became quick friends. In my village, the men with whom I worked latched onto him quickly and on our Zambian Safari, my dad quickly bonded with the only other males present – our guide and the Dutch guy (whose name we couldn’t figure out how to pronounce) who was lucky enough to have joined the Doerr family for the three days. Always ready with a smile, kids love him and he welcomed them in. My dad’s curiosity in people makes him the most fun to travel with because we always make new friends.
Being the only male in our household of 5 opinionated, independent, and might I say, loud women (the loud ones are me and my sisters), my dad has become pretty patient. Occasionally he’ll tune out and miss out on important information, but in general he’s a present and patient father. He demonstrated this especially during our Malawian Road Trip where we rented a car and he was charged with driving around the country – on the opposite side of the road with a stick shift, I might add. He knew what he was in for (family-commentary-wise) from the moment we picked up the car and we pulled onto one of Lilongwe’s busiest intersections into on-coming traffic. He quickly corrected the mistake (missing a head-on collision) despite my screaming. In retrospect, I probably exaggerate the experience in my mind, but my dad realized there that he was in for a long week with constant commentary from the back seat, nothing new to him, but definitely a distraction in unfamiliar territory. Despite the harrowing rainy-season roads, occasional gasps and my sisters’ and I reverting back to childhood in the squished back seat (“Dad, she’s touching me!!”), my dad navigated Malawian roads exceptionally well.
I need to specifically give him props for driving through the weekly market at my site when everyone in the area comes to town to either sell or buy their weekly provisions. As we approached, there was a wall of people on the main road. Malawians are used to cars coming through and slowly make way, but only just enough at the moment the car is inches from hitting them. I would never have been able to get through it, but my dad did it successfully! Plus, they got to see what the market was all about.
Over the weeks together in Africa, he went along with my plans and always asked questions. Relinquishing control (except when he was driving our rental), he rarely became frustrated (outside of driving the rental) and was always up for anything and talking to anyone. He was expressive about the pride in his daughter’s ability to navigate through an African country exemplifying the supportive dad role that he has always taken and made us who we are. Whenever he talks about mine or my sisters’ travels and adventures (e.g. Abigail surviving the Chilean earthquake in 2010 and Emily negotiating with Malians in Bambara), he swells with the pride of the father. We are all girded by my dad’s consistent support and pride. Because of this, he has raised three adventurous, independent, and intellectually curious daughters who know that he’ll be happy with the books they still buy him for father’s day.
Highlights from my dad’s travel adventures with us
This was not intentional, but I JUST realized that my dad has the exact same shirt on each of the photos. Guess that’s his travel shirt!