A man can cry in public. What can I say, I was raised in a Western-European feminist household in the 1970s. But as a middle-aged guy I did feel deeply uncomfortable the other day with my abundant display of tears. It happened at Schiphol Airport in Holland, holding on tightly to my mother before saying goodbye. She was sobbing just as hard.

After the long era of separation we all experienced, I had decided to fly from Los Angeles to Amsterdam on my Dutch passport. Armed with documents proving two Moderna shots and a negative COVID test I felt completely safe to make the trip. The plan was to grab my parents, who are also vaccinated, then fly them home to LA using my American passport. Given their ages and health issues, they would need some help during the trip. So this was a highly personalized kind of  ‘Uber Air Service’, as a friend said, for my folks to meet their brand new grandson, Asher, and reunite with their two young granddaughters, Madison and Camille.

The excitement about Opa and Oma coming over to play, and bringing a teddy named ‘Blue Bear’ by Camille on countless FaceTime calls, had been building in our house for weeks. But the Biden government said ‘no’ through its opaque, needlessly reinstated travel ban that blocks even healthy, vaccinated relatives of healthy, vaccinated citizens from entering the country.

I had assumed that they were allowed entry — and an American immigration officer at Schiphol Airport later told me I’m far from the only one. The crushing blow of similar bad news is dealt many times a day at airports all over the world right now. Confusion reigns among those desperate to reunite with their non-citizen relatives.

It stems from a tricky, hopeful sentence in the travel ban. Several reputable travel media outlets have reported it in wording like this: ‘Exceptions to the ban include US citizens and permanent residents, as well as the spouses, parents, legal guardians, siblings, and children under the age of 21 of citizens and permanent residents.’ I take responsibility for not carefully reading the actual ban, which in fact says this: ‘Exceptions also exist for certain family members of US citizens…including…parents (provided that his/her US citizen…child is unmarried and under the age of 21).’ Emphasis added by yours truly to underline my own neglect.

As my ever wise philosopher father said: I missed, or blocked, the unwelcome information that to this day prevents my parents from coming here. I played a psychological trick on myself, pretending to know something (‘they can come and meet Ash’) because I wanted it to be true; because it should be true. ‘The desire makes you careless because it’s so strong,’ my dad said.

Like countless disappointed citizens who have been apart for so long from loved ones overseas, Delta Airlines clearly has no clue about the statute either. A kind agent on the phone helped me book the flights for my Dutch, non-citizen parents. She did so even after I’d asked twice to make sure they would be able to enter the country as the foreign ‘dependents’ of an adult citizen: me.

Maybe airline workers are confused because the ban makes zero logical sense. Upon inspection of the policy I learned that if they were sick (or dead) my parents (or their corpses) might be able to make it across the border. An academic, a journalist, a worker ‘providing vital support to the US critical infrastructure’ — all of them can get in. Having a son who is a citizen, and a newborn grandson who’s American, on the other hand, does not help their case. Pfizer shots? Meaningless. Repeated PCR tests showing a ‘negative’? No.

What matters within the travel ban, apparently, is that the US citizen is under 21 and single. So, a thought experiment. Imagine a 20-year-old American, whose foreign father had her later in life, say at age 62. She can bring in her 82-year-old dad, assuming he’s vaccinated and tests negative. But I cannot bring in my mother, who is a sprightly 80-year-old. Dear President Biden, what does the underlying science look like? CDC director Rochelle Walensky, is there anything there but the ‘impending doom’ you sometimes feel?

Living in Southern California my wife and I are well versed in the politics of fear. Many young, healthy residents in our neighborhood, no doubt doubly vaccinated, still don’t walk their dog without a mask, alone on deserted streets. Solo athletes explore the Pacific coastline for a sunset run on the beach, not a fellow soul in sight, their faces covered in cloth.

Parents force toddlers to wear masks at mostly empty playgrounds, which as a father of three kids under the age of four I can assure you is closer to child abuse than child protection. Unmasked surfers, carrying their boards across the breezy beach, get yelled at from afar for endangering lives. My wife, a petite, healthy and vaccinated young mother, still regularly faces vitriolic screaming from across the street for not wearing a mask, outside, walking by herself, minding her own business.

Until recently, Los Angeles County encouraged all of this behavior. Folks were fined for walking without a face covering regardless of the proximity of another person. To this day many public schools in California are not fully open for in-person learning. I have been amazed to see how many of our neighbors quietly follow government mandates as well as media outlets and social media companies intent on instilling existential dread while at the same time repeating ad nauseam that this, and only this, is the way to follow ‘the science’.

The beauty of it is that the scientific argument, of course, is never presented.

I’m not being original, but perhaps we should go over it one more time. The actual science proved last fall that outside masking is useless, especially for young kids. Overwhelming evidence from around the globe shows there is no reason to keep children out of school, while there is abundant proof of the damage it inflicts when we do. We have also known for a while that airplanes — very clean with well-filtered air, I can now testify — are simply not vectors of transmission.

Most importantly, if the vaccines are miraculously effective, as they are, why are we banning international visitors? Why wear masks outside and keep children from learning in school? Crucially, why would the hesitant slice of the American public choose to vaccinate if the fear-based, anti-scientific policies remain in place? If vaccines are so marvelous, why until recently did we see a president wearing masks on Zoom calls and in meetings when he’s socially distanced as well as vaccinated like everyone else in the room?

Travel internationally and you find out that, at this point, the policies on both sides of the Atlantic consist primarily of window dressing and virtue-signaling about political priors.

The kind lady at Delta’s check-in desk at LAX airport merely glanced at the date on my printout of the COVID test and said, ‘they’ll take a look on the other side’. She didn’t ask for proof of vaccination, while I’d laminated and treasured the card proving me fit to travel. TSA workers and ground crews greeted me with joy — that was a first — because they were bored out of their minds, they told me. None of them checked any of my documents, except my passport and boarding pass. It felt very 2019.

Upon arrival at Schiphol Airport I was ready to be quizzed, possibly detained before entering the EU. The Dutch government has been aggressively discouraging anyone from coming in, going out, moving around, or getting together. The government website (now updated with somewhat more polite words) was typically blunt last week. ‘Do not travel to the Netherlands,’ read its first line. Prime Minister Mark Rutte makes California governor Gavin Newsome seem positively Floridian; until last month the Netherlands had a 9 p.m. curfew in place, something not seen since the German occupation 75 years ago.

But at Schiphol Airport no one asked a thing. The young customs agent flipped through my Dutch passport, mumbled ‘welcome back’ and waved me through. In I went, without anyone of authority making sure I was vaccinated and tested. It’s not that the manpower was lacking. Airline workers, armed security and ‘enforcement agents’ in brightly colored vests were everywhere, on both sides of my flight, standing around. They’d laugh about their own half-hearted attempts to mask up, while urging passengers to cover their faces.

Like I said, at this point it is all window dressing.

But it’s not fun and games for families divided. This policy is not just unscientific, it’s cruel, hurting families all over the world. Before my mom and I cried together over the unexpected, continued separation that I had not seen coming, a young Dutch-American-Turkish woman approached me, desperately seeking information after overhearing us talk to a KLM agent. She and her elderly mother were in the same position, she explained, nervously wiping away tears with her headscarf. In her case, no one had even tried to tell her why her mom couldn’t come home to America with her. They felt confused, sad and ignored.

I tried to explain the US policy to her, but I couldn’t. I can’t explain it. So all that the young woman could do was embrace and weep with her mother, about to be separated again.

Just like us.

Diederik van Hoogstraten is a writer living in Manhattan Beach, California.