Reflections on Our Annual Thanksgiving Road Trip

Thanksgiving is my family’s favorite holiday. Every year, we embark on a road trip to visit Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop in D.C. My in-laws do such an amazing job preparing delicious food and wonderful holiday traditions. My kids love it!

I use this road trip to get the kids into the Christmas spirit, “Al-style”, which, if I’m being honest, starts the day after Halloween. I absolutely love Christmas and all that goes with it – starting with traditional Christmas carols. So, for my family, this road trip from PA to our nation’s capital is a voyage down the Candy Cane Memory Lane of Christmas carol classics.  A little Bing, Perry, Frank, Nat, Dean, Andy, Dolly, etc.  I have my own playlist and I mix it up a little each year.

Sounds great, right?  It is. I sing the whole way. Well, maybe I should say it’s great for me. My kids say that I’m tone deaf and that the carols don’t sound quite as good with my voice drowning out the real vocalist.

But as I start to sing, my wife reaches for her phone, my son doesn’t move because he’s been asleep since we left our driveway, and my daughter Ellie just starts the ride with her headphones plugged into something else.  My other daughter, Anna, she sings right along with me.

However, this year something changed.

It Came Upon a Midnight Aux Cord
As I went to turn on my music, Ellie asked, “Can I use the aux cord.” For years I didn’t know what an aux cord is, but now with three teenagers I know exactly what that means…I have lost control of the music choice in my own car.

“Not fair,” I yelled, and looked to my wife for help. She just smiled and said nothing.  So, Ellie plugged in. Quickly I admonished,—”No rap music!”  She responded,  “It’s country”.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Discovery
Truth be told, I’m not a big country fan, but I can live with anything for a few minutes.  As the music played, I found myself enjoying and singing along, using all the wrong words of course. For example “Wide Open Spaces” by The Dixie Chicks.  I sang it as “white open spaces” and despite wondering the whole time what the hell those are, I kept singing because I liked the beat.

Eventually I tried to save face and spare myself further embarrassment, so I listened more intently.   And that’s when I actually heard the song’s message.  Simply put, it’s about a child leaving home.

The lyrics are amazing.  I said to my wife, “Music is so powerful if you spend time listening to the words as well as feeling the beat.”  Her look said it all: uh…yeah, duh.

I’m Dreaming of Wide Open Spaces 
The song resonates with me because our first child left home for college this year. I’m trying to balance giving him space with the need to provide advice that mitigates the risk of inexperience.  It is the hardest thing I have done as a parent.

Don’t all leaders also struggle with this same issue? Trying to help those around us learn and grow via traditional teaching methods, through modeling and providing advice based on past experiences.

But just like a parent, we have to allow for discovery – leave room to make mistakes, even. Growing up is a balancing act of learning and discovery whether you’re a kid making your way through college, a young professional navigating your career, or a parent trying to own the “aux” cord.

On this year’s Thanksgiving road trip I laughed, I sang, I learned.  Also, I discovered I like some country music.  Now back to my music, maybe some “Rudolph the Red- Nosed Reindeer.”