What do Barack Obama and my son have in common? They both visited Ireland in May. Obama, though, was proud to partake of a pint of the national drink, Guinness Stout, and was shown on dozens of television stations imbibing. My son wouldn’t take a sip, no matter the teasing. Good for him. He’s only 12, for God’s sake.
It was my father-in-law who made the call about bringing Liam on our guys’ trip to Ireland. The idea was to take Bill Sullivan — my father-in-law — to the country his relatives emigrated from to Canada, eventually making their way to Detroit. At first the plan was for the adult males in the family — my father-in-law, my brother-in-laws Patrick, Joe, and Jim, and Patrick’s son, Matthew, who had just graduated from Florida State — to make the trip.
When we sprung the surprise on Bill, his response was almost immediate. “We gotta take Liam. He’ll be the life of the trip,” he said.
I wondered how Liam would travel with six men, if he would even like it. Most of all, though, I worried about what he would eat. Few humans would survive even a couple of days on his bland diet. I can use my fingers to count what my son will eat. It goes something like this — pasta, pizza, cereal, bag soup, select sandwiches, and ice cream. He’s gotten to where he’ll mix it up with a few beans and, after a bit of cajoling, will even try a few spinach leaves.
In addition to this limited selection, remember he’s also 12. That means he begins to ask about the next meal before the one he’s currently consuming is finished. I remember those days, and most parents of boys know exactly what I’m talking about. So I was a bit worried, but his mother and I decided he would survive the dietary struggles during the trip and that the whole international experience would be worth the possible problems. If any problems arose concerning food, we would just deal with them.
His older sisters, though, were a bit put off by the prospect of Liam going, and it had nothing to do with whatever gastronomical challenges he might have to endure. They’ve done their share of traveling, but neither has been to Europe.
“I can’t believe he’ll get to Europe before me,” fumed 18-year-old Megan.
“Unbelievable,” pouted 15-year-old Hannah.
Truthfully, the sisters were just teasing. I think. I’m over 50 and still can’t decipher the intentions of women young or old, even those I’m closest to (you girls were just joking, right?).
Then the teasing from the men started. In addition to his utter lack of creativity with solid foods, Liam’s liquid diet is an either-or proposition. Water or milk. Nothing else. Nada. I’d like to take some credit for this, like those parents whose children enter college and have never had sugar or a soda. But no, it’s just his choice. Milk or water. Water or milk.
“This will be his chance to expand that limited fluid intake to include Guinness,” declared Uncle Patrick Doone, the only among us with living relatives in Ireland. As emails, cards and calls were exchanged during the planning of the trip, the teasing built to a bit of a crescendo, with me doing my bit to egg it on. One day Liam — not knowing whether we were kidding or not — decided he wasn’t going to take it any more.
“Dad, I’m not going to do it. I want y’all to quit saying that,” he pronounced, rather forcefully, one night at dinner.
Point taken. We all enjoyed the teasing, but we put it to bed rather quickly.
So we got to work planning the trip. A couple of days before departure, Liam decided that he and I should play Frisbee across Ireland. “I hear there are a lot of green, grassy fields there,” he said as we looked over a map. Indeed. So we did just that, pulling out the disc whenever possible to celebrate the beauty of island. The green fields did not disappoint.
So we made our tour of castles, manor houses, museums, national parks, rugged coastlines, small villages and large towns, breweries, distilleries, restaurants and pubs across southern Ireland. Every grand trip needs a rallying cry, and we found ours the first day, repeating it across the land: “Six pints of Guinness and a glass of milk.” Onward.