Passports and my dad

When you walk through security at a federal courthouse, you can feel – you know- that what happens there is serious business. At the Dallas federal courthouse, where I go to for hearings and trials now and then, there’s no chit chat with people on the elevators; even the employees who know one another keep work-related exchanges to a minimum.

But there are moments that add some levity and joy to the elevator ride to the courtrooms, where what transpires is often dark, bad and sad. For me, those lighthearted and happy moments happen when I see children who are going to get their passport.

To know me is to know I love to engage with children. So yes, I start asking questions: is this your first passport (often it is), where are you going, are you excited (always yes).

The little boy I chatted up today was sweet and shy, though he did answer my questions. He was getting his passport to see his grandmother in Vancouver.

I love to see children excited about their passports, a document that is loaded with the promise of adventure, and who doesn’t love that?

I’ve had the privilege of traveling since I was a practically a newborn. Wasn’t even a month old – I was 23 days old, to be exact- when I was issued my first passport. And I know that because I have it!

My dad, with whom I was very close, kept every passport I had as a minor. I didn’t know that until after he died and noted he was the only parent who signed them. It may be that only one parent needed to sign them, but in my mind, it’s a reflection of the presence he had in our lives against the absence of my biological mother, and perhaps more broadly, an indication of the fractured marriage he had to my biological mother and our equally fractured family life.

Herewith, my favorite anecdote about passports and my dad.

We needed to get our passports renewed and, as usual, he was running late. The film processing shop in Guatemala City he liked to go to to get his passport photos taken only took and developed them till early afternoon and we weren’t going to make it that day. No worry!, he said. We’ll get them taken around the embassy.

Turned out that there were people who had set up makeshift photo studios and darkrooms in garages in houses surrounding the U.S. embassy. And it was in one of those convenience stores-makeshift photo studios where we went to get our picture taken.

I was horrified. These places, with their bed-sheet like curtains that separated the convenience store from the photo studio and lab, reeked of illegal activity. But they were, in fact, legitimate businesses.

What we were given were mug shots. In those photographs, we look like criminals. But not petty criminals. Bombers, cocaine traffickers. I was nineteen, but looked much older. (See picture lower right, above.)

No way we’re going to be able to travel with these pictures, I argued. We’re going to get stopped at the airport all the time. Let’s get our passports on another day.

But my father insisted the pictures were fine and off to the embassy we went. We got our passports and never once were we stopped at an airport for questioning. We should’ve been, because those photographs are awful.

I still have that passport – and the tale of at least one adventure to go with it.

 

 

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