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Testing the Waters

Four days on New England's idyllic waterways. Is it enough to win a father's blessing for his daughter's new life?

The Magalloway flirts with NH 16 en route to Lake Umbagog. I prepare my argument for New Hampshire and almost on cue we pass a mix of dilapidated and renovated “camps” (cabins). A For Sale sign adorns one with a rotting, half-submerged dock that matches its rotten siding.

“Or what about this house?” Dad says. “You could buy this one instead and live here on the river.”

It’s taken me my whole life to truly learn how to resist rising to my father’s bait. The first time I broke free of a reactionary response, he’d suggested we celebrate my high school graduation at McDonald’s. I was a vegan and had disdained fast food for a good three years by then, but in a seminal moment of clarity, I swallowed my hysterical defense. I suggested Wendy’s instead, and I’ve been working to perfect this strategy ever since. It makes our banter more enjoyable, and signals to Dad that I’ve made a choice he’d better learn to accept—and maybe even (I hope) respect.

“I’m not sure that house would have the mold problems we have in ours,” I say.

I can almost feel my father smile in response even though I can’t see his face. “Or this one.” Dad waves his paddle at another structure missing its windows. “Maybe you can get a two-for-one deal and Peter could work as a carpenter instead of amountain guide.”

I choose not to say things like, Dad, you are being annoying. Dad, can it just be OK that I am living where I live? Instead I focus on being patient and on the repetitive pulling and feathering of my paddle. We move through the water and just as my resolve is about to cave, my dad picks up his paddle again and looks back at me. “Oh well,” he says. “At least in North Conway you have access to three airports.” I’m not sure if this is some odd mathematical sign of acceptance, but I decide it means progress because he’s actually referencing where I live instead of trying to convince me to change.

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