I asked my dad if he wanted to take a trip to Iceland on a whim. No one was more surprised than me when he accepted my invitation. We spent months preparing and planning for the trip. I was hoping that the trip would be a chance for us to fix some communication problems in our relationship.
After our overnight flight we picked up the rental car and headed out to drive the Golden Circle, a loop that took us to some of Iceland’s most famous sights including the Gulfoss waterfall. We were both exhausted from the flight and the personality traits that sometimes made it difficult for us to communicate were coming out in full force.
One of the stops on the Golden Circle was the Geysir. Waiting for it to erupt was the coldest ten minutes of my life. We got lost on the drive back to Reykjavik. I began to wonder if this whole trip was a mistake.
After the Golden Circle, we went to some of the sights in Reykjavik. This is Harpa, a beautiful concert space in the city. While eating dinner downtown I finally got the courage to ask my dad the question that had been bothering me since we booked our flights in December.
“So I’m curious,” I said. “Why on earth did you agree to come on this crazy trip with me?” He put his fork down. He looked perplexed, like the answer to my question was obvious. “Because you asked me to,” he said. “But—” I started to respond, but had no words. It couldn’t be that simple, could it? Because you asked me to.
Later that night we went on a walk downtown. I was still confused about why my dad had decided to come on this adventure with me. "Because you asked me" to was an unsatisfactory response. I wanted a more nuanced answer, a tool I could use to bridge the gaps between our personalities, to make hard conversations easier. His answer was sweet, but it offered no solutions.
One of my main goals for the trip was to see the Northern Lights. I made my dad spend hours driving the back roads of Iceland in dismal weather in search of the elusive green lights. We couldn’t see them and driving in unstable Icelandic conditions made my dad anxious. What if we’d come all this way and didn’t even get to see the lights? What if all we did this entire trip was highlight how much our differences could keep us from really connecting?
One of the most iconic sights on the South Coast of Iceland is Hálsanefshellir Cave. Seeing my dad’s childlike glee while exploring the cave reminded me that he was an unquestionably good dad.
He’d left his job at a high-powered law firm when I was a toddler and taken a less demanding job because he wanted to be the kind of father who showed up for his kids. And he did. He never missed a soccer game, pretended to like musical theater for all the years my sister and I performed and took us to see midnight showings of the Harry Potter movies even though he had to work the next day.
Dad and I on Reynisfjara, a black sand beach
One of the highlights of our trip was watching the sun rise over the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
On our last day we ate rotten shark. We’d spent the day driving the Snæfellsnes peninsula and made it back to Reykjavik in time for a later dinner. Watching my dad chug water in a desperate attempt to get rid of the taste I knew his answer that first night was good enough. Better than good.
He was there, in Iceland, eating rotten shark, because I asked him to be. I thought of that famous chapter in First Corinthians about love, words I’d heard so many times at weddings and family gatherings I could recite them from memory. Love is patient. Love is kind. It hopes and perseveres. Nowhere on that list does it say love is perfect. Love can also annoy, run late and speak unkindly. But despite all this, it never fails.
We never did see the Northern Lights. We didn’t fix all the difficulties in our relationship either. But that’s okay. I’ve learned that what makes a relationship stronger isn’t analyzing all your differences or even working through them. It’s simply about showing up.