Ring, Ring, Ri—
My father always answers the phone in the most polite way possible. Its always “good morning” “good afternoon” good evening”…. Never ever the more common (and less intimidating) “Hello!” of most of my friends. I tend to rely on my caller ID and change my tone and inflection appropriately. “Bon Giorno!” “HEY!!!!” “Hi ya!” and even “Yo Bitch!” all can be a totally fine way to answer the phone in my opinion, providing your caller ID is working.
But I called my dad, so I am more polite, “Hi Daddy.”
“Hello?” My father, refuses to say my name out loud and always sounds surprised when I call. I call often.
“”Its me, hi”
“Oh hello! Yes?”
This is why I will sometimes write notes before calling. The acceptance of wasted time and space on the phone for my father is minuscule.
“I just wanted to call you, to wish you a happy father’s day.”
“Oh? Well thank you.”
“Sure, I got you something, maybe I’ll see you sometime this week… or something.” I am actually quite proud of what I got him… It was a random impulse buy at a Santa Cruz book shop… something that he will either love and appreciate the sentimental value or else be mildly confused but polite in his thanks.
“Well that’s nice. Thank you.” He could be talking about anything… in his case, he is talking about everything.
I love my dad… In the last few years I have even grown to like him as a person. The estrangement from my rebellious teen days is enough behind me to offer perspective… and the fact that when he was my age he was dealing with a troublesome child… and I can’t be trusted to keep plants alive, has given me a certain amount of respect for him. I have gotten over any parenting issues he may have had. At 25, who wouldn’t have parenting issues?
The pause goes on.
But the thing is… I have a hard time talking to my dad. I don’t always know what to say. Usually that is, I usually don’t know what to say.
The pause goes on, still.
And the other thing is, that I know he doesn’t really know what to say to me either. We have fall back conversational topics, my job (and how I am not ambitious enough), my romantic life (and –again- how I am not ambitious enough), my health and general eating habits (where my lack ambition is traded for a sever case of apathy when it comes to keeping track of my iron and protein intake, something that I know continually saddens my father the chef).
In the background I hear the hose running, I can picture him on the sidewalk washing down the cars. I know they are probably covered with ash… the fires in the valley left the entire area with ash laden cars and a decidedly apocalyptic hue in the air. I know my father can’t stand a dirty car. I know he was fascinated by the smoke in the air and the smell of fire on the wind. I imagine that it reminded him of the yearly burning out at the ranch. I wonder if he remembers taking me out with him and my uncles (me being thrilled at being included) to watch and maintain the burn piles. I wonder if he knows how much it meant to me.
I wait for him to speak because I have too much to say. He clears his throat.
“So, what’s new?”
This is my moment… and I weigh my options.
I could be sentimental. I could tell him that I love him, that I value his steadiness, that I am glad he is my father, honored that he chose to be my dad.
I could be emotionally open and slightly vulnerable and tell him that I broke up with my boyfriend (who was never really my boyfriend), or that one of my closest friends found a lump and we are all scared shitless of what that may mean.
But the mushy stuff always increases the awkwardness.
“I was in Santa Cruz the other day and a bird attacked my head.”
When in doubt …. Pull out the most recent anecdote from “my chaotic life of continual adventure; true stories brought to you by Kay, weirdo magnet extradinare.”
“What?” I can almost hear him almost drop the hose. The whooshing comes to a halt.
“Its true… I was walking down the sidewalk and this big black bird swooped down and then I felt something big and sharp on the back of my head.”
It actually is true… Santa Cruz has been nothing but interesting for me… and it had actually hurt quite a bit not to mention that it had scared me beyond words.
“Why? What do you mean?”
I have his attention now, but its fleeting and I rush to tell the story before I lose it.
“I know right? It was so scary, I don’t know what it was doing or why, but it hit me, or clawed at me or something… a few guys came out and waved newspapers at it and it flew away, but it was horrible.”
My hand gestures are lost to him but I wave my arm anyway as if this nonverbal show of agitation can somehow travel inter-line and get to him.
“It just flew near you?”
“No, it flew at me… it hit me in the head. I’m ok and everything, but it was so strange.”
And that is that. The hose whooshes back on. I lack the words to tell him anything of substance and even my “exciting story of the week” has really failed to impress him.
“Yeah well, it was interesting, but I’m fine.”
“Well, ok then,”
“You guys doing anything special for father’s day?” I know the answer even before he says it, but sometimes people need to hear the question.
“Having some steaks” And then, “Do you and Jessica want to come over?”
I resist pointing out my status as a vegetarian.
“Can’t today… I just got home, Jessica is out, and I am pretty tired, just going to go to bed. It was an odd weekend… you know, with the bird and stuff.”
I can hear him nod, I don’t think he is surprised. But still, the offer was made and I appreciate it. I want to tell him that I am just too emotionally raw right now to do the family thing, that I fear turning into a puddle of tear water pathetic messiness at any moment. Instead,…
“But thanks, some other time.”
He shifts the phone to his other ear. I know what’s coming and I beat him to the punch.
“Anyway, I have to go, but I just wanted to call and say Happy Father’s Day!”
“Ok, thanks for calling.”
“No problem. Love you Daddy.”
I have always called him Daddy. I am 27 years old. I doubt it will ever change. Something else that will probably never change:
And the line is dead.