At fourteen, I told Dad I was too busy with my extracurricular activities and friends to stay over with him anymore. The truth was that I was uncomfortable with the awkward divide between my life and his, so I widened the gap between us. Now I wanted to close it.
As I began researching programs in Italy, I realized that having my dad's support was fundamentally important to me. I'd never rehearsed any part in a play as hard as I had this conversation in my head. I wanted my dad to be impressed. I wasn't at all sure what I would do if he said no. Once we were seated, I couldn't wait a second longer. I started making my case even before the waiter brought us menus.
"Dad," I said, trying to sound businesslike, "I'd like to spend next year learning Italian in a city called Perugia. It's about halfway between Florence and Rome, but better than either because I won't be part of a herd of American students. It's a quiet town, and I'll be with serious scholars. I'll be submerged in the culture. And all my credits will transfer to UW."
To my relief, his face read receptive.
Encouraged, I exhaled and said, "The University for Foreigners is a small school that focuses only on language. The program is intense, and I'll have to work hard. The hours I'm not in class I'm sure I'll be in the library. Just having to speak Italian every day will make a huge difference."
He nodded. Mom was beaming at my success so far.
I kept going. "I've been living away from home for almost two years, I've been working, and I've gotten good grades. I promise I can take care of myself."
"I worry that you're too trusting for your own good, Amanda," he said. "What if something happens? I can't just make a phone call or come over. You'll be on your own. It's a long way from home."
Dad has a playful side to him, but when he's in parent mode he can sound as proper as a 1950s sitcom dad.
"That's the whole point, Dad. I'll be twenty soon, and I'm an adult. I know how to handle myself."
"But it's still our job to take care of you," he said. "What if you get sick?"
There's a hospital there, and Aunt Dolly's in Hamburg. It's pretty close."
"How much is tuition? Have you thought about the extra costs involved?"
"I've done all the math. I can pay for my own food and the extra expenses," I said. "Remember I worked three jobs this past winter? I put almost all of it in the bank. I've got seventy-eight hundred dollars saved up."
Dad wove his fingers together and set them, like an empty basket, on the table. "How would you get around?"
"The university is right downtown, and there's a city bus," I said. "And Perugia is small. It's only about a hundred and sixty thousand people. I'm sure I'll learn my way around really fast."
"How will you stay in touch with us?"
"I'll buy an Italian cell phone, and I'll be on e-mail the whole time. We can even Skype."
"Will you live in a dorm?"
"No, I'll have to find my own housing, but I'm sure I can get a good apartment close to campus. I checked with the UW foreign exchange office -- they say the University for Foreigners will give me a housing list when I get there. I'd really like to live with Italians so I can practice speaking the language."
I didn't know what my father would think, but I was pretty sure we'd be going back and forth for weeks no matter what. To my astonishment, he said yes before I'd picked up my fork.
"I'm proud of you, Amanda," he said. "You've worked hard and saved a lot of money. I can tell how much this means to you."