LA CORUNA, Spain – It's our next-to-last stop. A couple of days from now, we'll disembark in Southampton and fly home. When we touch down in Pennsylvania, we will have traveled around the world—35,549 miles, 29 countries, 45 ports, and 108 days. When I view the trip like this, in summary, it becomes what it was at the start: almost incomprehensible. Already portions are blurring and ports are mixing up. Although I'm homesick, there's still part of me that wants to stay in this bourgeois bubble, this marvelous alter-reality. So I try to consciously slow down these last few days and savor everything.
Just off La Coruna's main square, not far from the statue of town heroine Maria Pita, Paul and I find a small restaurant called Meson do Pulpo, or House of Octopus. There are actually two steaming octopi on the bar, and being adventurous eaters, we are delighted.
We pull up chairs to a tiny table and order tapas. These are small, shareable platters of roasted peppers, mussels, razor clams, squid and, of course, pulpo. There's fresh bread and dry rosé wine to compliment it.
Since the wide doors of the restaurant are open to the street, crew and passengers from the ship pass by, stop in, and occasionally join us. There's Robert, still looking sharp, Antonio, the maitre d’ from the dining room, Sven, who serves the coffee in the bistro, and Bill and Sondra and Roberto and Darleen…. It's like Thanksgiving. Empty platters and bottles spill over on tables. We talk and laugh and reminisce and eat…for hours.
I was never friends with my boy, not in the classic guy-sense of that word. As a parent, you can't be friends with your kids if you want to be respected. But now that Paul is not my responsibility anymore, it's possible. The places we've visited, the experiences we've shared, the debate of writing this, has brought us closer. I can feel it. I cherish it. We've caught something that will hopefully extend its tentacles into both our futures and entwine us.
Whenever the ship leaves a port, after its horn has sounded three long blasts in the customary naval farewell, the song “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong is played over the public-address system. There’s one verse in particular that I take special comfort in:
I hear babies cry, I watch them grow.
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know.
I set out nearly four months ago to teach Paul the lessons I thought he hadn't learned. I wanted to give him a crash-course in life, a fast-track grad school. But along the way, he educated me. He taught me to relax, to stop worrying, to slow down and, most important, to trust him—because he's already a fine young man, and now, my friend.