At the end of every summer I am lucky enough to be in charge of my two kids for a week while my wife heads back to her teaching job. For seven years, I have used this week to take my kids on The Dad Trip—a trip that allows for our normal household rules to be relaxed, eating habits to be forgotten and alarms clocks to be left at home. Most importantly, The Dad Trip gives me the chance to build memories with my children.
Dad Trips incorporate a few fundamentals—short drives, hotels with swimming pools, attractions that are fun and a chance to run around and be silly. When planned well, these trips can even be educational and cultural.
My son loves baseball, and many cities within a few hours of Chicago have a minor league baseball team. These cities are large enough to have other activities that can provide something for everyone, from local children’s museums and small zoos to mini-golf and a science center or a transportation-themed museum.
The hotel is next. Since these trips aren’t in "A" list cities, regular hotel rates are reasonable (about $90). Priceline rates can be amazingly low ($50). The critical element is the swimming pool.
Once the city, baseball schedule and hotel are locked, it’s time to start the kids guessing where they are going. The only clue given is that our trip will be to a "contiguous state." My kids begin guessing months in advance. "Is it Montana?" my daughter asks. "No" says my son, "Montana’s not contiguous with Illinois." Maybe, one day, "contiguous" will show up as a question on the ACT.
Doing Des Moines
One trip centered on Des Moines, a bit of a drive but worth it. After a stint in the swimming pool, we don our Cubs attire and catch the AAA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Autographs are easy to get. We fill up on the great American baseball meal of hot dogs, pizza, peanuts and other stuff that would make their mom proud.
Party in Peoria
We get to the hotel and head for the pool. Not the cleanest and not one that mom would appreciate, but the kids don’t notice and I’ll tolerate it. We head to the zoo and see a few animals and sea lions. Normally, I have a disease I call LZT: Low Zoo Tolerance. As you can imagine, the zoo isn’t that big and we are done before LZT sets in. We grab lunch at Bennigan’s. I tell the kids we are eating Irish food.
For the evening, we catch a Peoria Chief’s baseball game. I get the kids into the third inning "dance off." Since they compete against each other, one child is sure to win. I even get into the act with the vegetable race. I am the corn stalk in the sixth-inning race. I lose to a tomato.
Meet me in St. Louis
We head to a Cardinals game. Aaron ends up wearing a Cubs jersey and a Reds hat to a Cardinals vs. Diamondbacks game. The crowd thinks he has a problem, and if not, dad certainly does.
We meet my cousin and tour Washington University, followed by dinner in the loop at Fitz’s, where they serve kids’ meals in cool-looking boxes printed up as ‘50s cars. We grab a Concrete at Drew’s custard stand on Route 66. Bari takes a dare and tips her Concrete upside down. At 90 degrees outside, it stays in the cup!
It’s a simple recipe for building memories: The trips don’t need to be extravagant, they just need to be planned to offer something for everyone. When executed well, it’s amazing how much fun you can have in the smaller cities and towns of middle America.
Larry Pearlman is a management consultant living in Naperville with his wife, Kim, two children, Aaron, 14, and Bari, 12, and two beagles.