As a longtime subscriber to several travel magazines, I’ve been inspired by Andrew McCarthy‘s travel writing for years; his journeys to Maui, Ireland, Ethiopia and more have helped to put whole swaths of geography on my “go there” list.
But until reading his memoir, The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down (set for release on Sept. 18), I’d never imagined that he and I had much in common. McCarthy’s tale has hit a poignant chord with me, and reminds me why it’s rewarding to be fully present, no matter where you happen to be.
McCarthy’s memoir traces his evolution from a small, isolated boy with a supportive mother and volatile, distant father, to a semi-committed husband, divorced dad and – after jumping headlong into a new relationship – conflicted fiancé who struggles with devotion to family life and love. In between, he becomes a successful actor (star of some of the most seminal films of my youth, Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire), reacts to the social onslaught of fame by drinking enormous amounts of alcohol, and emerges a sober and well-regarded TV director and travel writer.
The consistent thread in McCarthy’s tale is his urge to flee the confines of home and routine, to find comfort in his own skin amidst strange people and even stranger surroundings. However, the difference between him and anyone else with mere social panic and commitment issues is that his career choices have required large amounts of travel, enabling him to lose and find himself while exploring his own detailed, vivid version of the world.
In some ways, McCarthy’s life reads like the fulfillment of a traditional male fantasy: consistently leave your loving family behind, roam the globe on someone else’s dime, and upon your return, be highly praised by your peers for your efforts. But whenever he touches on the pain and insecurity this pattern of constant departure stirs up in his fiancé and children, this fantasy feels achingly familiar to me.
See, today, in addition to publishing this book review, I signed and sent off my legal separation papers. Having now had a memoir-like opportunity to examine my 18-year relationship from every possible angle, I can point squarely to traveling as my optimistically romantic, certainly life-expanding, and ultimately unsuccessful solution to the problem of drifting apart.
Unlike McCarthy, I originally viewed traveling as a means of bringing my husband and me closer, rather than providing myself with the means of escape. As our separate commitments to work grew over the last two decades, our trips together became our best opportunities for reconnection, rather than mere breaks from routine. By the time he started a business and mine was losing focus, I’d begun to feel left out of the action; starting this blog and kickstarting a new career became my travel-drenched plan of defense against marital discord.
As my readership grew, we began to be invited on all-expenses-paid press trips; my husband was often thought to be my business partner, which, in light of his growing success in his own field, created a regrettable identity crisis for me. As his work responsibilities mounted, I found myself feeling lonely at home and accepting trip invitations pitched just to me; I’d begun to crave the company of fellow travel writers, as well as the buzz of journeying solo to an unknown place.
McCarthy alludes to a passion for travel as a form of infidelity, and I would have to agree.
Away from my increasingly obsolete role as a housewife, I felt I was my best, most functional self; at home, I drifted away from longtime friends and grew unsure where I fit into my husband’s busy life, which seemed (to me) to go on just the same, with or without me there. I began to pressure him about traveling with me more often, missing that connection we always found while on a trip; eventually, though, even when we were away together, I began to feel distant from a man who’d been my best friend for nigh on half my life.
In The Longest Way Home, McCarthy also struggles with the lure of taking flight versus staying home. He recognizes that his youth is fading, but his halting attempts to shoulder the weight of family life haven’t always been as successful as his travel articles. He finds pleasure in his own quiet company, delighting in the surprise of a Patagonian glacier that seemingly shimmers just for him; he also celebrates a phone connection on Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro that allows him to assure his betrothed that, despite his bum knee, he’s safely made the epic climb. His not-always-patient fiancé understands that wanderlust is woven into the fabric of his being, but still makes it pleadingly clear that she needs him in her life.
It’s when McCarthy seems to embrace the responsibility of being needed — as well as needing emotional connection from his family in return — that I feel he arrives at a deeper understanding of how and not just where he belongs when he comes back home.
Alone in my own apartment in a different part of town, I finally have a better understanding of this concept of belonging, too. Home in this new life for the past few months, I can once again feel an equal measure of comfort in my own skin and a stirring of wanderlust — coupled with a hot sting of tears just at the edges of my eyes. McCarthy’s touching, honest, sometimes gut-wrenching and often funny book tells a deeply resonating life story for anyone, like me, who’s just trying to find their place in the world.
Andrew McCarthy’s The Longest Way Home:
One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down
will be available in stores and online as of Sept. 18