Monday, January 03, 2005

...and a 'happy new year'

My dad and I don't talk on the phone; we grunt, we hem and haw. It is a contest to see who would be the first to make up an excuse to hang up. We don't have conversations, we have a series of non sequiturs. When we sit together, the room is too big/not big enough, our lungs in a tug-of-war over the air we breathe. I cannot relax in his presence because he is there.

Also, because he's a serial farter, but that's beside the point.

I think that being comfortable with someone means that you don't have to think about the other person, you can just be. It's kinda ironic that all the effort you spend to get to know someone is so that you can get to a point where you are comfortable enough to ignore each other completely.

I remember when Brian and I first started dating, we would spend hours just talking on the phone about growing up, our first crushes, where my right hand was at that minute. We had long conversations on what movies we've seen and what books we've read. I remember once Brian told me he loved Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. I excitedly said that I loved it too. Then after I hung up, I ran out to buy the book so I can finish reading it by our next date.

All my dad's friends would probably say what a great father he is. I remember many times when we visited relatives or friends of his with small children, how playful he was with them. He would chase them around, tickle them, make goofy faces or noises. The children's laughs would fill the air, their parents beaming. I do not remember him doing this with us at all. I do not remember one single instance of him tickling me.

Opposing counsel would probably stand up in court and point out that my father did not finish college, married my mother at age 22 and had three children within two years. Counsel would approach the jury and tell of the long, hard hours my father spent driving a taxi cab so that he can bring home enough money to pay the rent on the tiny two rooms we lived in and feed three squalling babies.

Later, after a fourth child--a little girl, my sister--he had scraped up enough money to start his own business. His own father and brother, already prosperous and wealthy, were miserly with their help.

My mother told us of the time when my uncle, my father's brother, broke into my father’s office and took back the calculator he lent my father. Calculators were expensive back then. My father had borrowed it from my uncle because he could not afford it himself and needed it support his business. My mother then sat all of us down and told us a brother should always take care of a brother.

(I heard those words mother, and took them to heart; my brothers are my lifeline)

Years later, when my father had built up his business, I was already a sullen teen. He had missed the playful years of our childhood. We had moved to a bigger house, the four children installed in our own spacious bedrooms--but we had locked the doors tightly against him.

It was nothing he did, or maybe the nothing he did, that we teens rebelled against, I don't know. I don't the 'why' of things I did then, and they are unknowable now. Those were just years of roiling emotions only becalming twenty years later. I don't know if I had been tickled but once in those early childhood years whether things would have been different.

When I called him yesterday to wish him a 'happy new year,' you'd have thought that by his surprise that he forgot that he had two other sons who are living in Chicago. It was like he didn't expect that his son would call him up just for a quick hello.

Moving away from home has given me the opportunity to reconsider our strained relationship. The distance between us, these miles numbering in thousands, has helped me come to terms with my feelings, my past.

And much as I hate the Hallmark holidays--the commercialization of sentiment and the wholesale cultivation of guilt--I am glad that I can use it as an excuse to give my father a call, even if it is only to attempt to communicate my respect and love through the grunts, the hem and haws that is our only language now.

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