Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dads and Dings

My father was a pretty quiet man. He enjoyed being behind the scenes, listening more than speaking. And I can remember his writing me only 2-3 letters over the years. (One of which, I should note, was written soon after Audrey and I got engaged to tell me how happy he was with my bringing her into the family.)  
My father in his early 20s
During my phone calls home from college or in later years, my father said very little, but I could usually hear him breathing in the background. Now, part of his silence may have been a result of my mother’s ability to dominate any conversation. And part of it was his natural reticence. But there may also have been a cultural connection.

Calvin Trillin, discussing his dad in the book Messages from My Father, describes a similar man. He also tells a story that rings true for many fathers I know, maybe even me. Young Calvin gets cast in a play at Yale and calls home to tell his parents the good news. “What part are you playing?” his father asks. “The Jewish father,” Calvin replies. “Oh no,” his dad bemoans. “Tell them that you want a part that has lines.”

I am thinking of fathers and communications because of what happened in our family before 7 a.m. this morning. I was brought to attention in our den by a dinging cell phone with a text message from my daughter, who was getting ready to start her workday in Findlay, Ohio, of all places. She texted an article that related to Scottish terriers, our dog of choice. I quickly responded with a short comment and almost immediately heard a second ding coming from our bedroom. My wife had received both my daughter’s and my messages. She replied seconds later, and more dinging ensued. Within a few minutes, another ding. A reply had come in from our son in Astoria, Queens. More dinging followed. The whole family had had an entire conversation, in 21st century style, before 7:30 a.m. It might have been finger-to-finger instead of face-to-face, but it was a good and clear connection. Email wasn’t an option for my father, and I’m not sure that having email would have changed his communication style, but I’m happy it is there for me. I’m glad that I can touch my children so quickly, and get a response, even before our separate lives get underway so early in the morning.

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