For the first 49 years of my life, my dad and I had this sort of relationship:
ME: Hi Dad! It’s me!
DAD: Hold on, here’s your mother.
It wasn’t that we had any animosity toward one another, we just never talked. And if we had to talk, it was normally very awkward. An excerpt from my recently published memoir, 14 Days: A Mother, A Daughter, A Two-Week Goodbye (Savio Republic), highlights one of these conversations as my dad and I were driving to the hospital to visit my mom.
“Talking to my dad one-on-one was always a very stilted venture. Most of our conversations during my life took place with my mom as a go-between. A sort of translator between the two of us. We never had much to talk about, I guess. And that morning wasn’t any different.
“Soooooo…” I said, drawing out the word ‘so,’ hoping that it would trigger a topic, or at least six or eight more words to complete a full sentence. “I see they remodeled the Taco Bell,” pointing to the fast food restaurant at the side of the road.
My dad, just as awkward in his response said, “Yeah, it’s been a couple years now. Your mother likes Taco Bell. She likes those chalupas. That’s some good Mexican food, that Taco Bell.”
“Those chalupas are good,” I added.”
Air fillers. Time passers. Words between two people whose sole purpose was to fill a hole without much interest in each other beyond that. And if there was interest, permission had not yet been granted to open that door. To cross that line.
Until one day, about a month after my mom had passed away, my phone rang and it was my parents’ number on the screen. My first impulse, of course was, “Oh my mom…” until I had to remind myself that calls from my mom wouldn’t be coming in any longer. I picked up.
ME: Hello, Dad?
DAD: Hi Lisa. What are you up to today?
Taken aback, I hesitantly responded.
ME: Ummmm…nothing. Just driving to work. What are you up to?
DAD: Nothing. Just missing your mother.
ME: Me, too, Dad. Me, too.
The door slowly opened. A hand was extended.
And so began our morning ritual. A relationship born from the seed of my mother’s death. He at 90. Me then at 50. He in Michigan. Me in California. And today, four years later, he joins me every morning on my way to work via Bluetooth as I fight my way down the 405 freeway. A welcome presence to an otherwise grueling commute.
Sometimes we talk about his life at his new independent living facility:
DAD: Joe died. “Giuseppi,” as we called him. They had a sign-in sheet at the desk for the bus to his funeral.
ME: Did you go?
DAD: No. No one signed up.
ME: That’s sad.
DAD: But 7 people signed up to go to the casino.
ME: At least they have their priorities. Poor Joe.
Sometimes we talk about my mother:
DAD: I talked to your mother today. I always talk to that pretty picture of her.
ME: What did you talk about?
DAD: I asked her if she knew what day it was.
ME: What did she say?
DAD: She said she didn’t know.
ME: What did you say?
DAD: I told her it was our anniversary. She said she didn’t know that. I told her it was 65 years! She said, “Oh yeah. Now I know. Now I know.”
ME: In Heaven maybe they don’t have calendars or celebrate holidays anymore.
DAD: I guess not. But I told her Happy Anniversary, anyway.
Sometimes we discuss politics:
DAD: Well that Melania will certainly be the most sexual first lady we’ve ever had.
ME: What about Martha Washington?
DAD: I’m sure some found her attractive.
And sometimes we simply talk about our day:
ME: Did you do anything fun last night for New Year’s Eve?
DAD: We had dinner at noon, played bingo at 2 and had a party at 6.
ME: Was the party fun?
DAD: Fun? Nobody knows the songs! They don’t sing the songs, they just verbalize them! ‘Auld Lang Syne…Auld Lang Syne…” Sing the darn song! We sang Old McDonald and all anyone knows is ‘E-i-e-i-o!
And over the past four years I’ve realized things about my dad I never knew before. He’s funny. He’s good. He’s kind. And he’s a great conversationalist and companion. I look forward to his phone calls every morning. I make mental notes of things to talk to him about every day. Had my dad preceded my mom in death – which is probably how I would have scripted it years prior – I would have never had this time to get to know this man and call him my friend.
Happy Father’s Day. To the mother of all fathers.
For more excerpts from my conversations with my dad, check out The Bluetooth Diaries at: www.thebluetoothdiaries.com. And for more information on 14 Days: A Mother, A Daughter, A Two-Week Goodbye, visit the book’s website at www.14daysamemoir.com.