It started with a panicked call from Budapest airport from my son, at 4 a.m., saved on my answering machine as I snored between work shifts. Could I please, immediately, send him the access code to my bank account so he could prove to the Canadian immigration authorities that he had enough money to cover his stay on Vancouver Island during my upcoming wedding.
Hmm. Parents know to expect anything from their 18-year-old sons, adrift as they are between the harbour of childhood and the stormy seas of maturity. Here is a brief list of the tortures I inflicted on my own pa and ma – a summons from a police station to collect an intoxicated offspring; a fecklessly ignored (and now executed) fine for not having a valid train ticket; a humiliatingly inflated $5,000 bill for auto repair charged by a gloating mechanic who had correctly gauged my ignorance. Knowing my own record, I shouldn’t have been surprised that my son had not managed to print out his travel documents before the very second of his departure from Slovakia.
And so it was with heavy heart that I set out from the island on the ferry to collect my son, his girlfriend and my 10-year-old daughter from the airport in Vancouver. Would they be sent home to Slovakia, like a trio of scruffy gangsters? Or would my son’s tragic dismay melt hearts in Canadian immigration?
They emerged from the airport gates grinning like gangsters, but with the hilarity of people for whom a feared exam has gone risibly well. No questions asked, bags unopened, passports proudly stamped, and the pink evening sky of the Pacific coast beckoning beyond the doors.
Those smiles remain in place even now, despite the jetlag. My daughter, who is 10, says she feels “more free” here – there are “fewer people and cars, more animals and nature”. My son says that people seem “much happier” here. “Much, much happier” he adds, on reflection. “Because they are born into a life where you can do things.”
Their happiness fills me with a kind of sweet dread, but dread nonetheless. Because in six weeks, they will be gone again. And I will have to find a way to fill the agonising hole that they leave in my own rediscovered happiness.
Or, even worse, they themselves might find enough happiness here to one day emigrate – and then themselves, forever after, suffer the torture of living apart from people they love.
Little do we realise – the millions of us who get on airplanes, every day, so unprepared – that life can carry such bitterness in the heart of what we desire .
10. Jul 2018 at 8:13 | Tom Nicholson