Why I'm Afraid to Take a Vacation

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Why you should care

Because what’s par for the course for some is a huge luxury for many. 

Millions of Americans will take a vacation this summer. But millions of others won’t. Indeed, travel industry reports claim that Americans leave some 439 million vacation days on the table. In this essay, regular OZY columnist Anthony Hamilton tells us about his vacation plans, and why he’s put them off for so long.

There were rules to working, and in my father’s eyes, only one way to get paid. Be better than everyone else, clean up after yourself and, oh yeah, ain’t no eating on the job. My father was always right, even when wrong was written all over him. He never seemed tired, constantly moved forward. I had no choice — I became his shadow. When work got “hard” for us, my father and I made “work” behave. There was always more padding to be put down, tack strips to be run around the walls. Over the years, I must have nailed a million nails and laid hundreds of rolls of carpet.

We can rest when we’re dead, I heard over and over. Who could know for certain? But I never saw my father take a vacation, and a part of me knows why.

His work was second to none, but I will be the first to admit that at times he was a taskmaster. I wasn’t ever shown how to calculate my hourly wages — plainly because there were never any set. My father paid me like he came home, and that was whenever he got ready to. Before the hands of morning dared to attempt to shake the hands of the following day, my father and I were headed toward our next job. Resting was for the wimps, and “Son, I didn’t raise no wimps. You hear me? If you stay up like a man, you have to get up like a man.” I hadn’t yet reached my 10th summer, let alone puberty.

I know I need a vacation, not just from work, but also from my father’s beliefs, from the darkness that doubt brings to my mind.

Over time, my father became a one-man band, so to speak. No one wanted to work with him — not even me, his youngest son — and he had to buy a lot of self-help tools. His once-elevated reputation in the carpet business deflated. He feared losing his leverage, being replaced. So he worked on days when his peers wouldn’t, never taking time to recalibrate or celebrate.

More than 40 years later, my father’s youngest son still shares his reality: broken from the inside out, too afraid to rest, too weary to dare believe that relaxing is possible. Unable to envision what it might be like to be away from the only thing he knows. I’ve never gone on a vacation. But it seems like everyone else has. It’s time that I admit that I am afraid to go. I am not sure I even know what a vacation entails.

But I do know this: It is vitally important that I take one. It’s OK for me to spend the night away from home. I know that I want to fly far away from the oppressive arms of what-ifs and doubts that whisper that no one will be there when I return. I know I need a vacation, not just from work, but also from my father’s beliefs, from the darkness that doubt brings to the mind of the workaholic. My father taught me how to work, and that was a good thing, but I wish he had also taught me how to rest.

The black of my hair has begun to gray, and my back, though I wish it weren’t true, is weakening. While my legs are able, I must move them in joy’s direction before the hour for such a journey ends. I have grown tired of people telling me that I need to breathe, that life’s too short to waste it just working. They are right, and for far too long, I’ve been wrong. So I plan to travel somewhere this year — yes, a fixed holiday — and to be gone for a period of time … just because I can.

So I’m happy to reveal that at this very moment, my emotional garment bags are firmly packed. My mind is fixated on the thought of enjoyment and I shall no longer bother with the idea of waiting until the time is right. Right now is as good as any, within my reach, so I will touch it in hopes it will return the favor. I want to stand there with my shoulders broad, my feet firmly rooted in that moment. I can see myself there. My eyes are watering at the thought, but this time not from sadness. My heart is racing. I am stuck in joy and far, far away from my life. And the day calls for nothing to be done, so I will do lots of just that, and when sleep begins to press away at the lids of my eyes, I shall not war with it — for I, my friend, will have nowhere else to be.

Video by Tom Gorman.

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