Far Away Lands, Moving Mountains, and a Cry Down the Hall

An old friend from high school has been traveling and living in Asia, Africa, South America, and even Antarctica, for some time now.  Thanks to social media channels, I’ve been able to follow his wanderings, and be inspired remotely by his adventures, insights, stories.  I love reading his posts, hearing about his latest experiences in other parts of the world. The vagabond spirit within me is stirs every time.

I’ve been an opportunistic traveler all of my adult life.   I’ve visited maybe fourteen countries so far.  Those pleasure/adventure trips lasted anywhere from a few days to at most a couple of weeks.  I was lucky to spend one year living and teaching soon after college in Donetsk, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine [and of late, sadly in the news with the violent civil conflict happening there].

When I think about a life of travel and the call of the road, nearly every time John Steinbeck’s words from his book, “Travels with Charley” come to mind. There he described his wanderlust, how his “toe starts tapping when he hears a train’s whistle…”, or something like that.  Since I read that book some 25 years ago, I’ve felt that simple characterization describes well my own feelings about travel.  I love it. I long for it. It inspires me.

I’ve lately been following the adventures and work of another person I recently became acquainted with via social media. This person started her professional life as a social worker, then turned to entrepreneurship, and finally blended the two skill sets to be a force for meaningful, measurable, positive change.  The first project was borne from time spent teaching and living in Nepal. in the states now, she’s leading an effort to build a solar system to provide reliable electricity for classrooms and a local monastery.

Project Exponential and Khata:Life are two additional manifestations of her drive to change lives for the better. My wanderlust stirs again with thoughts of Nepal, and my soul is sparked by the inspiration this new friend creates.

Then I pause and juxtapose all these thoughts to about four and a half years ago, when our first child was born.  This event changed my life in a dramatic way, and even a little different from the obvious, expected manner.

You see, I became a new dad later in life. While many of my friends were married and having children in their 20’s, kids weren’t in my present nor future at that time. I was married but had no plans for children. That marriage ended when I was 39.

As life (and luck) would have it, I met my second wife soon there after. She knew with certainty that she wanted to have children. The rest, as they say, is history. We started our family four years back. But the wanderlust still bubbles up from time to time. The desire to “change the world” on a massive scale still heats up within me.

And so I find myself, now with three young children – 4 years old, 2 year old, and 1 year old — trying to reconcile my previous, more self-centered life — yearning to travel the world, meet new people, see new things, get in adventures; and also my drive to bring positive change to as many people as possible, willing to drop what I’m doing to help others — with my new, family-focused life.

As I’ve looked into the eyes of each of my children, I’ve NEVER seen the opportunity, nor felt the responsibility, to shape lives for the better as with these three little people.  It’s an awesome, joyous, sometimes frightening prospect:   these little people rely on their mother and me for everything.  And we can’t let them down.

Then it dawns on me.  Being a parent is maybe one of the most inspired jobs anyone can have.  For someone like me, who thought he’d never be a parent, that feeling is intensified. We should think of our role as parents in that manner, and treat it with the hallowed respect and gratitude that it deserves.

The excitement, learning, insights, meeting new people (at daycare, school, playgrounds, etc.), even language challenges (try to understand little kids, as any parent knows, is quite an experience!) parallels in many ways those very similar opportunities that come with international travel and work.

The sleeplessness, the unexpected changes to schedule and activity, witnessing the wonder in the seemingly mundane, even some strange meals (if you’re a parent who eats his kids leftovers so as to not waste food, that can make for odd culinary combinations):  it’s all swirled together in the everyday life of being a parent.

What’s more, I have fresh inspiration as a father, to help other dads be the best they can be for their children.  I’ve quickly felt the desire and motivation to share my insights, my struggles, my support mechanisms, and have found a ready audience in friends, and also via social media channels like twitter.  Indeed, I’ve connected with a whole new sub-set of like-minded folks who seem to appreciate what I have to give, and who also share with me their wonderful lessons on parenting.

And that wanderlust?  I’ve found two avenues to help satiate that need for adventure, new discoveries, and excitement from the road.

First, that same wonder in the mundane one finds over and over traveling to distant lands also exists right in our own backyard, quite literally. And also in the neighborhoods, parks, museums, libraries, playgrounds, etc. that I’ve started to wander in a whole new way, following little people around, seeing the world through their eyes.    As they discover, so do I, the simple joy waiting patiently until you shift your perspective and suddenly think, say, “Look at that!  THAT is amazing.”

And what about the literal call of the road?  New thoughts and plans of exploring the vast and varied lands of the American West — road trips to Yellowstone and Joshua Tree and Yosemite and Bryce and Pinnacles and Redwoods and Crater Lake and…the list goes on…I find myself already plotting the time of year for each destination, the number of days I’ll need off work, how far we will drive each day, what snacks we’ll bring, etc.

I can’t wait to hit the road with my wife and a car full of kids, my stomach buzzing with the excitement and anticipation traveling stirs within.   No doubt there will be plenty of challenges during those adventures. As in life,  the lessons and bonds and new things we’ll see and experience together as a family…well, that’s just priceless, as least as far as I’m concerned.

So as I follow my friends’ lives and the cool places they travel to and good works they’re engaged in, I take heart anew because I know that I too am living the life I’m meant to live.  Indeed, by simply living, shifting perspective to find joy in the now, nurturing and promoting a deep sense of gratitude and finding satisfaction in my every day, I am who I want to be.  Now not just for myself, but for others too.  Especially three little people who are with me on the journey.

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