I didn’t know what I’d miss about my dad — the calls during dinner, long rants about President Obama, tales from the geriatric dental world. But what I do miss comes as a surprise.
Last night we ate at a sushi restaurant – the kind where a conveyor belt slides little plates of food by you and you pick up what you want. The kids love it. My five-year-old loves to grab the food and my two-year-old likes to cheer “That one! That one!” until his sister gets it.
On our way out, I thought that I’d like to tell my dad about the place. When I was a kid, he told me about eating at the Automat – where the food sat in little compartments and you’d put your coins in to get them out. I think he’d like to know that the concept was alive and well, sans the little compartments, at the sushi place. He would never have eaten sushi but I know he’d love hearing about it. But now that he’s gone, I can’t tell him.
I never thought I’d say this, but I do miss our weekly phone calls. I miss putting him on speaker so my husband could hear his Obama rants and the crazy ideas he got from his right-wing radio shows. I miss laughing so hard, trying to muffle my guffaws. I miss his paranoid thoughts and unnecessary ethnic labeling when he talked about people. Most of all, I miss the fact that I can’t just make a call when I need a blog topic.
Along the same vein, I was hoping my dad would live long enough to give me enough Dad stories for my novel. He didn’t. Now I have to make them up and my imagination doesn’t hold a candle to his “reality.”
A couple of weeks ago, I heard musician sing a song about his dad loving his kids the only way that he knew how – tuning up their cars, doing home repairs for them – and I choked up. I had not shed a tear for my dad until then but my dad was that kind of dad. When I lived in my first apartment, 1,200 miles away from him, he’d call and ask me about my car – whether I’d had the oil changed, how it was running. I couldn’t understand why he cared about the car so much. I didn’t get that he was trying to take care of me. Of course, the rest of the conversations focused on how disappointed he was in my first job and all the other ways I was currently letting him down, so it was easy to overlook his concern. But the mechanical interest was what he had to give, and he gave it.
A lot of my dad’s failings were the result of his engineer’s personality and stinginess. For years, he didn’t ask about the kids when he called, until suddenly he did. I think someone at the senior center told him to. Either that or someone asked about his grandchildren and he didn’t know what to say.
Just recently, when our house’s foundation gave out, he called us every other day to offer advice when what we really needed was money. Again, I think somebody suggested he offer us money because after two long months of thrice-weekly phone calls, he said he wanted to help pay for the repairs. But what I didn’t realize was that while he was offering his “expertise,” like, “the water will stop coming in when the ground freezes,” he was honestly trying to take care of me. He didn’t offer money because he was so cheap that it never occurred to him. But whatever prompted him, eventually he gave us $18,000 worth of concern.
My dad did care about me, and what little he had to give, he gave. But it’s not his concern that I’ll miss. I can get that from a mechanic. I’ll miss the things that made us such different people — our politics, our perception of the world and its dangers, and stories about the times we grew up in. Much as he was a stubborn, opinionated pain in the ass, I’ll miss him. And I know he’ll miss me too.