Phone Call Follow Up
As I explain to him where I live now, he cuts me off, “I know. I saw you on YouTube and listened to you on the radio. I’m pretty proud of you.”
I didn’t know how our first talk in five years would go, but by saying this, he sets the tone for the conversation.
My dad is proud of me.
I realize, while talking to my dad, something I had forgotten: I really like my dad. He is funny and interesting. I forgot that. There has been so much between us for so long, that I forgot how much I liked my dad. I never stopped loving my dad in all the time we were estranged, but I forgot how endearing he can be.
He goes through the members of the family and gives me updates on them, mostly health updates. Apparently, grandpa feels the best he has in years and my little nephew isn’t so little anymore. He is 6 feet tall and has a girlfriend.
I make some comment that I can’t believe how big my nephew is, and my dad asks me to speak up, “I have to get a hearing aide, I don’t hear well anymore.”
It feels odd to realize he is aging. I am getting older, so it stands to reason my parents would to. But, I can’t totally conceptualize it. It creeps up on me in the little things, like realizing my dad needs a hearing aide.
I hadn’t realized people in the Midwest have an accent. Anyone who has ever heard me call a drinking fountain a “bubbler” may disagree. But, there in my dad’s voice, I heard it. “What’s the weather like in Vurrrrmont?”
It was almost comical. I have only lived in New England for a few months, so I am sure I have not lost my Midwest accent, but I don’t hear it in myself.
I listen as my dad talks about the weather in New England and the history of the area. He has done research on where I live. Instead of telling him about where I live, he tells me. Previously, I would have found that intimidating and threatening, that my father knew more information about me than what I shared, but this time it was nice. I saw his initiative. I also saw his reverence for geography and history.
I find history interesting, but I don’t have the reverence for it that he does. I wish I did. I find geography utterly overwhelming, and an area I quickly embarrass myself. It took me a while to conceptualize that DC was not in Washington State.
“They don’t call them rummage sales there right? They call them something else, what do they call them….” he trails off thinking.
“Tag sales,” I smile.
“oh yep, that’s it: tag sales.”
I find it interesting that he knows these odd details. But, I like it. It makes me feel known. He may not be able to connect to the last years he has missed, but he can meet me in the geography and the history of the place I have chosen to call home. This time, I am ready to meet him there.
His voice pulls away from the phone, “…don’t pull the trigger.” I hear the distinct sound of a gun cocking in the background. The noise is a bit jarring coming from a man I have spent most of my life fearing. I paused for a moment and realized my reaction wasn’t fear, but laughter.
“Dad, what are you doing?” I started laughing. “Are you loading a gun?” I don’t assume anything scary; I assume it has to do with hunting or something of the sort.
“Oh yeah, there was a bear or something, maybe a Mountain Lion…” now I really hear his Midwesterner coming out. “ Don’t worry, we don’t shoot um, we just shoot the air-the noise scares them away.” This is a clarification I appreciate when later in the conversation I hear the gun go off.
He goes on to tell me they are on their vacation land up north. He tells me all the work they have done on it and all the issues with Mountain Lions they have been having. He talks about the protected wetlands nearby by and a drama that ensued because his neighbor didn’t get the correct building permits and built into the wetlands. I listen to him with pride.
He was always exceptionally environmentally conscious. He gave me a subscription to an Animal Fact File when I was a child. Every month a few new animals’ fact files would come in the mail and I could learn about them. I find it endearing that he comes off as this stereotypical Midwestern-simple-hunter-blue-collar- working man, because he really is a lot more. His circumstances sometimes keep his talents from showing fully, but he has great culinary awareness, great environmental awareness and a better appreciation of the wilderness and animals than almost anyone I know.
He goes on to talk about my grandmother, “of course grandma is almost done with all the Christmas shopping —-she knows how to take care of everyone on a budget– if we had a few more like her in politics we might be OK….”
I just laugh. That is exactly my grandmother. I leave the political comment on touched, I find it funny. I like that my dad cares about politics. I am not sure where he stands politically, and in this moment I don’t want the conversation to be stolen away by politics.
He asks me about my doctoral program, “Wait, so I could tell people ‘this is my daughter, Doctor Danielle’?”
“Yeah dad, you could,” I smirk.
“Well, that’s pretty cool!” So that’s a big difference from the MA program right? You could really command power that way.”
I smile, unsure what to say. I am contented to just listen to my dad speak; to hear the pride in his voice. I don’t think you are ever too old to appreciate your parent’s pride. He tells me that his wife found a picture of my daughter and I from Facebook and that he printed it and put it in his wallet.
“It’s the first one in my wallet, so when I flip to it I can see her [my daughter] smiling.”
We talk about her and all the things she likes and the ways she is like me. He says he remembers me liking to play dress up. He says she looks like me; she is tall like I was when I was young.
I decide to let Aimee talk to him for the first time. Aimee jumps on the phone.
“This is your dad, mom?” she asks me in an aside whisper covering the mouthpiece of the phone with her hand.
“Yeah honey, that is mommy’s dad.”
“Oh, hi….,” She says excited as she tells stories about preschool and her pets. My dad’s wife comes on the phone and she gets to talk to her too. His wife refers to my dad as “grandpa.” I don’t correct her.
Instead, I decide I like the sound of that. I know my dad only as a grandpa to my step-sibling’s children. I never thought that I would get to know him as the grandpa to my child(ren). It rolled off the tongue: grandpa. Not only did I have a chance at a relationship with my dad, my daughter gained a grandfather.
My dad leaves the phone for a little while and I get to talk to his wife. She tells me that their wedding anniversary is coming up soon, “Your dad is the best man.”
This time I hear her. I hear the sincerity in her voice. For the first time, I don’t feel like it’s something she is saying to try to convince me. It is just something that for her is a fact.
When my dad comes back on the phone, I am delighted to hear that he is just as disgusted by New England’s inability to make potato salad as I am. He is further appalled when he asks me if there are brats (as in the food) here and I say, “not that I’ve seen.” He promises to send a care package full of cheese curds, sausage and brats—things a Midwesterner should not be without. I agree to send a New England care package.
Before we finish talking, I tell him that I recently won a cupcake baking competition. You can hear the excitement in his voice. “I always knew you could cook.”
“I got that from you, dad.”