On this Father’s Day, I reflect on how traveling and learning languages changed my own father’s life and provided me with an example.
The first time I really traveled abroad, my father and I went to Brazil. It was the fall of 2000, I was a junior in high school, and my first passport photo had frosted edges. It was another era.
This first trip together involved a lot of experiences, including a flight cancellation that left us unexpectedly overnight in Chicago, trying to sleep in a coach (and failing) but mostly seeing the beauty in something stranger and again for the first time. During this trip, we stayed and worked together in an orphanage under the scorching sun outside São Paulo.
He and I have only made two trips together across an ocean, this trip to Brazil was over 20 years ago.
Learn a language
At the orphanage, my father had difficulty communicating (like many of us) with the children. They had a lasting impression on him and he returned to Brazil on subsequent trips without me, but lamented his inability to talk with the children.
When we got back to the States, he went to the library, took a Pimsleur (Brazilian) Portuguese course, and started “listen and repeat,” a phrase I heard all the time in his vehicle. I will never forget the binder of tapes he brought home as he progressed through the course. On Saturdays, my family was cleaning our house and while he was vacuuming with a walkman on his hip, we heard him repeating phrases in Portuguese that were way too loud.
Over time his understanding of Portuguese evolved and we were able to talk conversationally using Spanish and Portuguese (not always similar enough to understand, but often close enough that it worked). What was so much more impressive, however, was that a 50-year-old man who had never taken a language course in his life, could listen and rehearse his way to a new language and achieve a new objective.
His passion for the orphanage, his mission and the Brazilians he met along the way completely changed his life. My parents’ closest friends are Brazilian, they got to know and support some of the children he met at the orphanage throughout their lives, and his appreciation for the country and its customs remains at that day.
This first trip completely changed his life and subsequently the lives of others. However, it is his persistence in learning a new language without any formal training that still inspires me today. It’s a lesson that we’re never too old to learn something new, too late to start, or beyond changing our lives. This is a lesson I hope to instill in my daughter. His perseverance demonstrated what we are all capable of if we have the tenacity to pursue him.
As I reflect on my father and the impact he had on my life, and now my daughter’s life, this particular insight underscores who he is and what I aspire to become. I just hope I can instill in my daughter the confidence he instilled in me that there is plenty of time to learn something new, change who you are, and focus your life on positive outcomes for you- himself and for others.
Happy Father’s Day.