This essay was originally published in Chesapeake Taste Magazine in June 2012
When I was 15 years old, I traveled to Mexico with my parents. It was the first time any of us had visited another country (although my father had served in World War II, he was never shipped overseas).
An artist and head of the studio department at the University of Maryland, College Park, my father, Herman Maril, had been granted a one-semester sabbatical. To simplify our travel arrangements, my parents decided it was best to stay in one central place—Mexico City—for our three-week visit. The plan was to take side trips to neighboring smaller towns that included Taxco, Cuernavaca, and the pyramids of Teotihuacan.
Each time my dad traveled to another part of the country he was freshly inspired by the differences in landscape. The shapes and varieties of trees, flowers, rocks and mountains as well as the colors of foliage, sky, and valleys all made their way on to his canvases. While he was traveling, he sketched on a notepad. Like a writer taking notes on an interview, my father drew notes to himself in his notebooks. Mexico was no different.
Whenever I was with my father, I was always so impressed by the ease with which he could talk to anyone. My father didn’t speak Spanish, but he had no problem communicating with cab drivers, guides, and storekeepers. While I struggled with the words in my Spanish phrasebook, my dad was already laughing and exchanging pleasantries with newfound friends. He did so by pantomiming, and resorting to pen and paper when necessary. The sparkle in his eyes and his warm smile caused most people to take to him immediately.
I wished I could be so confident and relaxed. During our travels I observed that when my dad made eye contact, a firm handshake and a smile was often more important than spoken words. Shared laughter broke across any barriers of age, race, or social strata.
My first years away at college, my greatest challenge was feeling confident and relaxed enough to talk to anyone. It doesn’t come easily. I still work at it. Being a journalist gives me an excuse to ask questions, but it’s when our eyes meet, and we share a smile and a story, that I make a real connection, something I can write about.
My father’s warmth and gregarious nature is something I remember with gratitude. It taught me the importance of the small daily interactions we have with strangers, whether it’s a simple exchange of hellos with a neighbor or taking the time to chat with the checkout clerk at the supermarket.
Today, June 20th is Father’s Day. My father has been dead for decades, but his influence on my life remains. This month, let’s take time to honor those who have nurtured us materially and spiritually. Happy Father’s Day.