A Long Overdue Father and Son Road Trip

The trip ended up being a great one for both of us.
December 21, 2023
Gary Yeowell/Getty Images

Twelve years ago, I was supposed to fly to Israel to meet my son Eli, who was there for a gap year. We had the whole trip planned: I would stay with him, and we would do some traveling. We were both very excited about this father-and-son time together.

A few days before I was to leave, I got this Muhammad Ali-sized flu that knocked me out. My doctor felt that I should not travel but if I did decide to go, make sure there was a chevra kadisha on El Al.

I remember calling my son and telling him I was too sick to make it and promising I would make the trip up to him. Because I’m a comedian, he thought this was one of my jokes. I assured him it wasn’t. I even had to put his mom on to confirm I was being truthful. Blink, blink, bingo 12 years went by.

Then during a conversation with one of my comic buddies, the subject somehow came up that we both owed our kids trips. I told my friend that if my son still wanted to hang with his dad, I would commit to setting a date with him. And so, when I called Eli, I was excited about how excited he was to take this trip with me. We set a date. 

We agreed we would fly to Seattle, rent a car and drive the great Northwest, then fly back from San Francisco. A trip of about 1200 miles. I told him I would of course pay for everything. Not a word of argument came back. If you have children and you tell them you will pay for everything, even if they hate you, they will still probably go and run up an enormous hotel room bill eating the 14-dollar tin can of cashews. 

Over the next two months, Eli and I worked building the trip town by town. A few days before blasting off, I was in Detroit ready to fly home when I woke that morning with a strange sensation but paid little attention to it. The following morning, I woke with diplopia (double vision). I saw two of everything. The bad news is if my wife is mad, I now have two wives yelling at me; the good news is when I look in my wallet, I have twice the money.

I immediately phoned my eye doctor at Jules Stein Eye Institute and set an appointment. I talked with my two wives, and we all agreed I needed to call Eli and tell him what’s what and I might have to cancel the trip again depending on what the doctor says. I then put my wives on the phone to confirm I wasn’t joking.

That Wednesday, the girls and I went to the eye doctor. After an exhaustive exam, he said, “I know what you have” and concluded I had damaged a muscle in one eye and had an eye palsy. And it would hopefully clear up in three to six months, possibly sooner. I asked, “How about my driving trip with my son?” He said, “It’s legal to drive with one eye in California.” He then taught me a trick. If I lean my head to the right, my vision is normal, with my head straight up, it’s not.  Being that I am a Republican, leaning right was not going to be that hard to do.

I phoned Eli and said we were going but he might have to do most of the driving. He said, “No problem.” Truth is nobody in my family likes my driving, double vision or no double vision.

That Friday, I started feeling sick. I began coughing and came down with laryngitis. The next day we happened to be having Shabbos lunch with my doctor and his wife. I told him I was flying and asked if that was okay. He told me to take some over-the-counter stuff, and I could go if it did not get worse. I then went to pour water in my glass, but because of my double vision, I missed the glass and poured it all over the table. My wives leaned over and said, “There is no way you are driving on the trip.” I called my son and because of my laryngitis, he could hardly hear me. I had to hold on for ten minutes till he stopped laughing. He said, “If we need to cancel, I understand.”

That night I got a call from another son that my grandson had RSV. I was with them the day before. I googled the RSV symptoms and concluded I was clean.

Monday at 5 a.m., coughing my head off dressed and ready to go I bent down kissed my wives on the forehead goodbye and hopped an Uber to the airport. Hell or highwater, I was determined not to cancel this trip. Sitting alone in the back of an Uber, staring out the window, the sun had yet to make an appearance for the day. From the neck up I had double vision, tinnitus, dental implants, glaucoma, early cataracts, and a bad cough and head cold. This reality was stark. I realized that the young father of ten years earlier was now feeling like an old man who might need his son’s help getting around. I felt like I had officially crossed the bridge into semi-old age. It was an odd feeling, to say the least.

He texted me, “I’m two minutes out.” I texted back “Look for someone coughing their head off outside terminal five.” When I saw him I said, “I may need your help on this trip.” He smiled and said, “No problem.” Then he grabbed my bag, patted my shoulder and said, “Follow me.” I had a wonderful sensation of safety being with him. I knew he would do whatever was needed to help me. I had complete trust.

For the next four days, I continually coughed and spat up. It was so bad I got this yeshivah day school kid to say, “Jesus Christ enough already.” I even offered to get him a hotel room by himself. I was happy when he declined. I coughed, hacked and saw double, ears ringing from tinnitus the entire trip. I had to walk a bit slower and more carefully than usual.  And he never even for a second winced or made me feel like he was sorry he went. Quite the opposite, we talked about how much fun we were having.

The trip ended up being a great one for both of us. Not because of the drive from Seattle to San Francisco, which is beyond majestic. Not because every day I felt better because I did not.  But because I was with someone who seemed to love me as close to unconditionally as possible for a person to achieve. And I loved him for stepping up and being so willing to help his father and to embody the fifth commandment Kibud av v’em, the honoring of his parents.  

When I think about getting old, I am not happy with the prospects. But I am much relieved knowing that it looks like we raised kids who will not let Mom and Dad sink into oblivion. When you have that, you’ve done well.

Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer, and host of the ‘You Don’t Know Schiff’ podcast. His new book is “Why Not? Lessons on Comedy, Courage and Chutzpah.”

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