Remember when dad would just go to China?
today at 6:52 am
There will never be another business trip to China.
I’m not saying we’ll never go back to normal. Or that Covid will never go away. No, what I’m referring to is a true business trip. Like the ones my dad went on back in the ’90s.
Back then, “We’re doing business in China,” meant literally in China. There was no Zoom. No email. No Slack. In the 90s, business was a road game and the buyer controlled the “in.” So you’d hear things like, “We do business in China.” “In Japan.” There was no, “We do business with.” The buyers didn’t deal with the jetlag.
I picture my dad getting on the airplane with very few luxuries. The pilot makes the announcement:
“Good evening everyone, our expected flight time will be 16 hours. We’ll be coming around with a community bowl of peanuts at 4 in the morning, and we’ll be showing Al Pacino’s “Scent of a Woman” on repeat. You can view the movie by squinting at the one 14” TV at the front of the plane. So, sit back, relax, and try not to think about how alone you feel right now.”
Download movies from Netflix? Nope. Create a Spotify playlist? Not a thing. I guess you could bring a portable CD player and if you could sit perfectly still and hold your breath, your music wouldn’t skip. No AirPods or Bose headphones either. Headphones in the 90s were always a tangled mess and the earmuffs were made from kitchen sponges. The only people with noise-canceling headphones were astronauts and that one guy with the $45,000 massage chair from Sharper Image.
Plane lands, time to find the hotel. When you land in Europe, you can’t read the signs but at least the letters make sense. It’s like when you see Crocs for the first time, the brain still registers, “Alright, well, it at least that seems like a shoe.” But when you’re looking at Chinese characters? There has to be this moment of, “I think if I closed my eyes and walked forward, I’d have just as good of a chance.”
My dad was a guy alone on the streets of China, trying to find his hotel room. GPS on your phone? Nope. Ask someone for help? Good luck. The line between a 15th century explorer and a ’90s Dad was incredibly thin.
Gets to the hotel room, lays down, breathes a huge sigh of relief. Time to call home. Mom picks up. Me and my brother running around.
Say hi to Dad. Hey Dad, I’ve got a blah blah blah. Dad, I did a blah blah blah. Hey, Dad. Dad. Hey, my turn. My turn! Don’t hit your brother. WAAAH. Tom. He started it. Chris. Mom. Dad. Sorry. I love you. I love you too. How was the flight?
Phone call ends. There’s no post-call texting or a mindless Facebook scroll. Brush your teeth. Turn out the lights. Look up at the ceiling and finally think to yourself, “Welp, I’m completely alone right now.”
Mom’s side of those business trips was no picnic either. These were two-weeks of survival mode with two boys on a steady diet of PopTarts, Fruity Pebbles, and chicken nuggets. The 90s kid was essentially running around on cocaine and there was no emergency iPad to throw to the wolves.
To add insult to injury, it’s not like my Dad conducted his meetings while leisurely strolling alongside the Great Wall. This wasn’t a sight-seeing trip to post on Instagram. No, he was in a conference room. You flew to the other side of the world to sit in an office. And if the deal wasn’t finished, well, come back home, fly over again.
I can still remember the sound of the garage door opening. My brother and I turned from wolves into puppies. Tails wagging. Dad’s home! Dad’s home! We’d sprint after him the second he opened the door. Wrap his legs in a bearhug. Mom had the Pizza Hut boxes staying warm in the oven.
I don’t know if there’s a happier look on a dad’s face than after he’s hugged his kids, kissed his wife, sipped from a Diet Coke and taken that first bite of Pizza Hut pan pizza (supreme, no mushrooms).
Home. I’m finally home.
There were two voices in the head of a 90s dad. The first is the one of the worker. The climber. The one who is determined to feed his family, keep a roof over their heads. This voice provided the courage to get on a flight to China.
But there was also a second voice, the one that speaks up during that first bite of homecoming pizza. Wait, why would I ever go back to China? Everything’s right here.
One says, “Why do all of this?” The other says, “This is why I do all this.” Which sets up the delicate dance; if the 90s dad gave the first voice too much air time, he doubled down on work. If I do four or five more China trips each year, I can advance faster, make more money. Long-term it’ll pay off for my family.
But give the second voice too much air time, the one that just wants to relax and eat pizza, and the kids start to ask, “Hey Mom, I don’t think Dad’s showered in three weeks…”
Unlike the Macarena, my Dad mastered this 90s dance and by the 2000s, those long business trips to China were few and far between. But he and thousands of others spent the 90s erring on the side of sacrifice. As a result, we had opportunities on the individual level and, on the national level, our economy grew, our technology advanced. Our moms and dads endured a deep personal fatigue so we could one day experience… Zoom fatigue.
So every time a Zoom meeting launches, one that involves wifi instead of airplanes, we should all take a moment to raise a glass of Diet Coke and a slice of Pizza Hut pizza out of gratitude to the 90s Dad.
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Have a great rest of your week!