I was taking my regular afternoon nap one Saturday when I heard my father’s voice.
That’s all. Just my name spoken as a question, the way my father used to greet me whenever he called me on the phone. We spoke nearly every morning during the 10 years I lived away from Brooklyn and that’s how our conversations always started.
My father’s been gone nearly seven years now, so I guess I was dreaming when I heard him speak.
But this audio fragment was the only thing my aging brain cells were able to retain. Any accompanying images vanished the moment I woke up.
And yet, as brief as it was, my father’s greeting still lingers in my mind.
It got me thinking about my relationship with my father and I have to say that we got along extremely well when we were on the opposite ends of a long distance phone call.
On the telephone my father was always supportive and kind. He’d ask me about what I was doing, what stories I was working on.
I’d complain about the idiots I had to work for and he’d remind me that “your boss may be wrong, but he’s still your boss.”
“Just keep doing your job,” he told me, “and look forward to the day you when walk into your boss’s office and say ‘I quit.’”
We hardly ever argued, and certainly didn’t scream at each other, like we did so often when we were in the same room. My father didn’t try to show me up, mock me, or make any cruel wisecracks. I didn’t lose my temper with him or roll my eyes in disbelief at something he said.
When we were on the phone we just…talked.
Once I had an early morning assignment in Hartford, which was about half-hour or so from where I lived in Waterbury. It was snowing and my father called me moments before I had to leave.
“Don’t go,” he said earnestly. “The roads are terrible.”
“I have to go,” I said. “It’s my job.”
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I didn’t get angry or annoyed at his suggestion, which probably would’ve gotten me fired. I didn’t feel like he was controlling me.
I could see that he was looking out for my safety, even though he wasn’t being realistic about it. And, for the record, the roads were terrible that morning.
I have been holding on to many bad memories of my dad, so “hearing” his telephone voice, even though it was only in my mind, reminded me that I did have a lot of good times with my father.
Last month I went to a Veterans Day reading in Park Slope. The writers had served in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and, since my dad had served in World War II, I felt I should be there.
Listening to these writers describe their experiences, I thought about how my father’s generation was expected to come back from the nightmare of killing and destruction in Europe and just resume their lives as if they had been away on a camping trip.
I remember years ago we were watching “Adam-12,” a Jack Webb TV show about two cops patrolling the streets of L.A.
In this one episode, a rookie cop sobs after killing a thug in a gun battle.
“Bullshit!” my father said. “When you survive a gunfight, the first thing you feel is relief. You’re just glad to be alive.”
Obviously he was speaking from personal experience—he had been shot at and, most likely, had killed people. But I was too young and too self-centered to make that connection.
At the end of the reading, I made sure to greet and thank all of the authors for their service and their work.
On the bus ride home, I saw a woman sitting across from me suddenly start making the sign of the cross.
I was confused for a moment, but then I realized we must have been passing Our Lady of Perpetual Help on 59th Street.
The woman was holding her smart phone at the time, so I watched her glowing hand move across her body as she blessed herself in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It was a haunting image that sticks in my memory with the same tenacity as my father’s greeting. I’ll take it as a sign that I should declare peace with my past and to hear only the good voices, while letting the bad ones fade away.