The Spins of the Father

My father’s visiting next week. He’s been threatening to visit since summer, before Christian was born. Before that, he was talking about going to Argentina with my cousin, to visit some relatives there. I was all for it, but my cousin has a job and a family and he couldn’t commit to a date. My dad also refused to pay 200 dollars a night for a hotel room, although they probably would have shared the room and the expense.

He told me he didn’t know why my cousin wanted to go, because he was closer to those relatives than my cousin. I stifled a laugh on that call. My father’s never shared enough of himself to be close to anyone. His job once sent him to assertiveness training. He said the class was ok but he didn’t want to participate because people were using examples from their own lives, and “I’m not gonna do that, in front of everybody!”

Once the Argentina trip fell apart, he started saying he wanted to come here. I worried he’d want to come right away. I was pregnant. The last time he saw me pregnant, he called me obese. Now I’m obese, but I wasn’t then. At the time that I saw him I was six months along with Rose and had only gained 16 pounds.

So I tried to put him off, but it turned out I didn’t have to. Someone at the Senior Center must have suggested that he wait to see his new grandchild. So I got a stay of execution. After Christian was born, I told him we were very busy and he accepted that. I knew I’d have to acquiesce sometime, but I wanted some time to lose weight before he saw me, so I wouldn’t have to hear his nasty comments.

Then he started trying to pin down dates. Fortunately we had a few people stay with us after the baby came so I told him we were having houseguests. But we finally ran out of excuses and he started to shop for a plane ticket.

That was an ordeal in itself. My dad knows very little about using his computer, and he hasn’t traveled since the 90s. Back then, we still had travel agents and they would find the best price and get us our ticket. Now we buy tickets online. Somehow my father knew that – maybe it was his computer class at the center, maybe it was seeing that little gnome on TV – so he attempted to get a ticket online. But the travel websites baffled him.

He called me, “What do I do when I get on to Travelocity?”

“You click on ‘Flight’ and enter your cities and dates,” I said.

“Where do I enter my cities?”

“Where it says ‘Locations and Dates.’”

“Where does it say that?”

“On the ‘Flight’ page.”

“Where’s the ‘Flight’ page?”

“I think you should go to the Senior Center and have them help you.”

“Naaah, they don’t know anything there,” he said.

“Ok, well you find the ‘flight’ page, click on it, and enter your cities or airports and your dates and then click ‘search flights.’”

“Where’s the ‘Flight’ page?”

“Are you on there now?”

“No.”

“Call me back when you’re at the site.”

“What number do I put in to get there?”

What address did you put in before? Sigh. “Www.travelocity.com”

“How do you spell that?”

A few days later he called me back. “Can you buy me the tickets and I’ll pay you back?”

“I can’t be charging things to my credit card.”

“I’ll pay you back.”

“Well if I buy your ticket you can’t use express check-in.”

“What’s that?”

“Ok, fine. Let me boot up the computer. We were just about to eat dinner, Dad. Matt, would you get dinner ready for us, please? I have to buy this ticket for my dad. Dad, do you have your credit card?”

“Let me go get it,” he said.

Five minutes of silence.

“Hello? I’ve got it.”

“All right, so what dates were you looking at? “ I entered them. “Ok, the lowest price ticket is $343.”

“I saw that. But there were a lot of numbers on the page.”

“Yes, those are different flights. You’re supposed to pick one.”

“How do I do that?”

“You click ‘Select Flight.’”

“Ok, well, you do it,” he said.

I picked round trip flights and got to the confirmation page.

“Ok, with taxes and 19.95 for trip insurance it’s going to be 372 dollars,” I said.

“I don’t need trip insurance,” he said.

“It looks like it’s mandatory. I don’t see anywhere to opt out.”

“Oh, well, then I guess I’ll just go to the travel agent,” he said.

He did go to the travel agent. He got his ticket $10 cheaper. The next time we spoke, I said, “As long as you’re here, you can’t make nasty comments about my weight.”

“When did I do that?”

“All the time. The last time I was pregnant, you called me obese,” I said.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he said.

What does that mean? I thought. Will he abstain from commenting or is he saying that his comments shouldn’t bother me? I guess I’ll find out when he gets here. In preparation, I have changed my eating plan and I’ve lost some weight, but it’s been tough to get to the gym because I have Christian and the gym childcare won’t take him.

So now I’ve got to see my father at my largest. About 10 years ago I lost 90 pounds. I came home for a wedding looking svelte, and he asked me, “So how big were you?” So I doubt he can abstain from the nasty comments and I’ll stress eat and he’ll berate me for that too. There is one saving grace. My father’s a teetotaler, but in our house we have a full bar, and I’m stocking up for his visit. If I’m drunk, maybe his comments will roll off my fat.

Nasty comments aren’t the only thing that worries me. My father and I are political polar opposites, which would be fine if we refrained from discussing politics, as I’m sure even the Schwarzeneggers and Kennedys do. I don’t bring politics up, but my father does. I think he wants so much for me to be like him that he’s convinced himself that I am like him. He constantly brings up snippets from Hannity or Rush and expects me to agree with him. I admit I take the bait. I point out all the obvious impossibilities that these guys manage to sell to the paranoid right in my arguments. And he still doesn’t get that our politics disagree.

Not only that, but he thinks I should emulate these “great conservative minds.” He thinks my writing business is “cute” and I guess he wants to help, so last week he said, “There’s this guy around here. He puts out this conservative newsletter. You know, he does it to get the ads. I pick it up at the Stop n Shop. I’ll send it to you.”

“Why?”

“So you can see how other people write,” he said.

“I read. I know how other people write.”

“It’ll just cost me a stamp, that’s all,” he said.

“I don’t want it,” I said.

“I’ll send it to you,” he said.

After we hung up, my husband said, “You should let him send it. It gives you stuff to put in your book.” He was right. I have to absorb everything my dad says and does so I can portray him effectively in the book. Once again I’d taken the bait and I’d let my pride deprive me of priceless memoir material. So next time I’ll tell him to mail me the newsletter. It’ll make him happy and give me something to mock in the blog.

So now I’ve got my strategy. If anything positive can come of this visit, it’s new writing fodder. Usually I just post his notable quotes on Facebook, but I need to keep those snippets for the blog and the book. I’ll study his character every moment and take notes. Depending upon how it goes, by choice or chance, this could be our last visit. He’s not getting any younger. I’ve got to appreciate him for the character he is while I can.

2 comments on “The Spins of the Father

  1. I love the idea of using this visit as a character study on your father. The challenge is to not take anything personally. Good luck. Can’t wait to hear how it goes.

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