Out There: Father knows best

I could have saved myself a trip back to the airport with the wrong suitcase.

So there I am at the in-laws’ in Chicago for a visit two weeks ago. Just before turning in, I reach into the outer pocket of my suitcase for my laundry bag.
I search and search, but can’t find the laundry. One thought runs through my mind: “What kind of sick individual steals a guy’s dirty clothes?”
But then I get a grip. Why blame somebody else? Maybe I just placed it inside the suitcase, and not in the outer compartment as I usually do. Yes, that must be it!
But when I opened the central compartment, I didn’t see the laundry bag or the three clean shirts I had packed, nor the stash of Hot Tamales and Good & Plenty candies I started purchasing in bulk to bring home to the wee ones.
Instead, what I saw was women’s underwear and some neatly folded skirts. It’s a weird and somewhat unsettling sensation opening your suitcase to find someone else’s personal belongings therein. It was 10.30 p.m., eight hours after I landed, and it suddenly dawned on me – this was not my bag! Genius that I am, I had taken someone else’s bright blue American Tourister suitcase out of baggage claim.
And what made this all the more maddening, frustrating and irritating was that this was the second time I had turned this particular trick in a six-month period, both times in Chicago, both times making the discovery at my in-laws’.
In November, it wasn’t the blue American Tourister suitcase, but a small brown checkered American Flyer that I had mistaken for my own. When I opened that one, I didn’t see skirts and underwear, but some blouses and about a dozen plastic bottles of calcium supplements. “Why did I buy those?” I thought, staring at all that calcium, before realizing that I never had.
I raced back to the airport with the mistaken suitcase in hand, and felt an overpowering urge to hug the customer service agent when she trotted out my bag, which – thankfully – no one had mistakenly claimed as their own. My first thought was that since I had mistaken someone else’s bag for mine, she obviously must have mistaken mine for hers. But, alas, she was wiser than me.
ALL THIS, by the way, has put paid to my efforts at impressing the in-laws. When I screamed out in their home that I had done it again, and needed another ride back to the airport, my mother-in-law – whom I’m still trying to win over some 24 years down the line – just buried her head in her hands as if to say, “Nebech, is this really the best my daughter could do?”
Beyond the inconvenience of having to run back to the airport (important note: airlines don’t send out your bag if you take someone else’s), I also had to grapple with another humbling sentiment: My dad is always right; I should always listen to my dad.
And that sentiment, in my middle age, is neither easy to internalize nor admit.
Parents never really stop giving their kids advice. My father, for instance, never fails to tell me when I visit him not to eat between meals because I will “spoil my appetite,” and when I sleep in his home, he still recommends earnestly that I go to bed early.
And kids, eternally in the adolescent mode when dealing with their own parents, do not readily want to acknowledge that their folks’ annoying advice might actually be right.
“I’ve got four kids of my own, dad. I’ll eat some potato chips between meals if I want,” I say, sounding as a grown-up very much like the adolescent who – no matter what – doesn’t want to take his parent’s advice. After my dad’s last visit about a year ago, I told The Wife: “It’s weird, and I hate to admit it, but the man is always right.”
“C’mon,” she said. “Grow up. You’re 50 years old. You can think for yourself.” 
Sure I can, I replied, but he’s always right. As proof, I pointed to the time in eighth grade when he told me to tie my shoe. I didn’t listen and ended up falling flat on my face, losing my front tooth in the process.
Or more recently, when he came for a visit shortly after my son received his driver’s license, went with him for a ride and said the lad drives too fast. “Don’t worry,” I replied, “he knows what he’s doing. He’s in the army, for goodness sakes.”
Two days later when driving with the boy, I found myself repeating my father’s exact words.
And then there was the time last year when son No. 2 placed a can of Coke in the freezer. “That’s not a good idea,” my father said, “It’s going to explode.” 
“Don’t worry,” I intervened, a bit annoyed, “he’s done it 1,000 times.”
A few hours later, as if on cue, the can exploded, leaving Coke all over the freezer, and egg all over my face.
This time, too, had I listened to my dad I would have saved myself atrip back to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport with a strange woman’s suitcasein hand, and would have saved that poor lady the grief of wonderingwhat had happened to her bag.
Because had I listened to my father, I would have tied a piece ofbright orange yarn around the handle of my suitcase years ago toidentify it as my own, and I would have gotten into the habit ofalways, but always, checking the name on the baggagetag.
But no, not me. “I’ve traveled a little in my time,” I told my dadsomewhat condescendingly when he tried to impart this wisdom. “I knowwhat I’m doing.”
Or not.