On the Hilarious Dynamics of Family Travel (with Mild Nudity and Sibling Violence)
Days into a trip spent with his father and brother in Greenland, author Wells Tower was seized by a tantrum-pitching impulse and the overwhelming desire to punch himself again and again in the face
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
You’re about to read one of the Outside Classics, a series highlighting the best stories we’ve ever published, along with author interviews, where-are-they-now updates, and other exclusive bonus materials. Get access to all of the Outside Classics when you sign up for Outside+.
In the Inuit village of Tasiilaq, on Greenland’s east coast, in a bar whose name, as far as I can tell, is Bar, people are enjoying themselves as though the world will end tomorrow.
There are maybe 30 folks in here, few of them women, nearly all of them catastrophically drunk. Two men who look fresh from a seal hunt are locked in a dance that is part boxer’s clinch, part jailhouse waltz. One of them falls. I can feel his skull hit the floor through the soles of my boots.
I’m on vacation with my father, Ed Tower, an ebullient man of 65 with a belly that strains his parka nearly to the point of rupture. We are not handsome men, but a pair of retirement-age ladies have apparently had enough to drink to find us appealing as potential dance partners.
A gray-haired woman approaches me unsteadily. I hold out my hand and she falls over, bashing her face on my shin. I help her up. She thanks me, lists hard to starboard, and capsizes again.
A second woman whispers something in Dad’s ear, and his eyes go wide.
“Wells,” he yells over the band, “there’s a woman in here who ate her own babies.”
Read This Before Traveling with FamilyWells Tower on discovering the hard way that his father sleeps naked, how to navigate sibling punching episodes, and the simple fact that, pitfalls and all, it’s important to take your chances and just go
We are in this establishment at my father’s insistence. Our guidebook warned that Bar was best avoided but said nothing about an in-house cannibal. Now seems like a good time to get out, but Dad’s having another close conference with his new friend. “Oh, OK,” he says. “She is talking about the song they’re playing.”
Still, we’ve been in here long enough. A pair of Category 4 hangovers await us. But then the band lurches into an Inuit rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
“Do you dance?” the woman asks Dad.
I can think of several reasons, actually. One, those men by the bar are not looking at us kindly, and, it should be noted, you can buy guns at the grocery store over here. Two, my father, survivor of an exotic strain of lymphoma, is still in delicate shape from a bone-marrow transplant a couple of years back, and I’m not eager to see him shake his fragile moneymaker on a dance floor that looks like a fourth-down blitz. Three, and most important, is the fact that, in my father’s company, trips have a tendency to spiral into disaster. The mishaps are sometimes large and sometimes inconsequential, but the specter of calamity always rides in his sidecar. Here, on our ninth day, we are both still in one piece. We fly out tomorrow. The smart thing, it seems, is to quit while we’re ahead.
I look at Dad and jerk my head toward the exit, but he just takes the woman’s hand and makes for the dance floor.