Road trip
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Sometimes it takes a road trip in adverse conditions to bring a family together

By Greg Barbera

Driving long distances in a car is always a good time for conversation. And sometimes that conversation comes in the form of good counsel.

The first Christmas after separating (it had only been a few months), my wife and I put up a good front, play-acting a “family” morning opening presents at the house I no longer lived in. The following year, now officially divorced, I was determined to drive five hours from North Carolina to Maryland with my two boys—ages 7 and 4—to see my parents and siblings and their families. I had planned to leave Christmas morning, but a major snowstorm was headed our way, so if we didn’t set out the night before the trip would have to be scratched.

We left around dinnertime just as it started snowing. My boys weren’t too happy at the prospect of missing snow games. It rarely snows enough for sledding and snowballs in central NC. “It’ll melt and be gone by noon,” I reminded them, and felt I’d quelled their anger. But there were other things to be angry about. Like why weren’t we still a family unit?

“Everything is going to be okay, I promise,” I told my boys, not knowing myself if it actually would be. (Sometimes all you have is hope.)

As I crossed the state line into Virginia, I suddenly found myself driving in a blizzard—in what they call “white-out” conditions. This was totally exhilarating for the boys. They’d never seen anything like it. For me, not so much. It was pitch black and swirling white all around me.

We stopped in Petersburg, VA (roughly the halfway point between my place and my parents’ house) for a pee break. There were probably six inches of freshly packed snow on the ground. We had an impromptu snowball fight and hastily made a little snowman at the rest stop for those who would come after us. “That was fun, Dad!” said my youngest.

By the time we got north of Richmond, we’d outrun the storm and were joined by plows salting the highway. My knuckles were no longer as white as the snowballs we’d thrown at each other. The boys soon drifted off to sleep. When we arrived, I carried them into the house and put them to bed.

The next day they woke up to find that, much to their surprise, Santa had come for them all the way up in Maryland. “Hey, he knows when you are sleeping and he knows when you’re awake,” I told them, “so he’s gotta know where you are, right?” Then my sister’s family came from Cleveland with more presents, followed shortly thereafter by my brother’s family from West Chester, PA, with still more presents. So many presents, as a matter of fact, that my youngest son pondered how we were going to get them all into the car for the drive back home.

And with that, surrounded by presents and an extended family, thoughts of divorced parents became a fleeting memory for them. If only for a moment.

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Greg Barbera of DadCentric is a dad blogger, beer magazine editor and the singer/bass player for the punk band Chest Pains. He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter @gregeboy, Tumblr, Facebook and Blogger.

Photo by Getty Images