In April 1996, I received a phone call from a TTY telephone operator.
She introduced herself and asked if I had ever worked with someone like her.
“No,” I replied.
“On the other end of this line is someone hearing-impaired,” she explained. “When she wants to call someone, she contacts me and then types what she wants to say into a device. It then appears on a screen in front of me. I’ll read it to you. You reply to me. I type it back. It’s a slow process but it allows her to ‘talk’ to you. Ready?”
“Yes,” I replied hesitantly.
She then — in a stilted, halting manner — read the words as they traipsed across her screen. Not waiting for full sentences to appear, she pronounced each syllable as it materialized, like someone reading a news crawler on the bottom of the TV screen; with the caveat being that the text was scrolling too slowly. Not only was it a sluggish process, it was eerie, and unnerving.
“My… name… is… Mary…” read the operator. “I’m… sorry… to… tell… you… that… your… father… has… passed… away…”
Some background is in order.
Over the nine years I’ve been publishing this weekly column, I have written about my wife, mother, children, grandmother, aunts; even my pets. However, there’s a glaring omission: my father.
Obviously, I had one; and yes, I knew him. However, we didn’t get along and my rebellion manifested itself as me growing up to be his polar opposite. Over the years, I invested a great deal in therapy to release myself from the behaviorial bonds that I felt shackled me to a person I did not want to be.
Fathers and sons have had differing viewpoints since Adam and Abel.
Understanding that, I tried to maintain a relationship; even moving him up here when things got tough for him. However, after he split in the dead of night, requiring me to clean up his financial and actual messes, our relationship bottomed out. We stopped speaking.
This odd phone communication was the first time I had any contact with his world since that time, several years prior.
“How did you know my dad?” I asked.
“I… was… living… with… Sy… He… was… a… warm… and… wonderful… man…”
The conversation — like my relationship with my father — then deteriorated, becoming kaffkaesque, with Mary blaming me for every ailment my father ever had, physical, emotional, even hypothetical. To say I was upset would be an understatement, as I had shut the door on that stage of my life a long time ago.
Or so I thought.
Years passed and the resentment I harbored against my dad — and now Mary, whomever she was — never diminished. Obviously, it didn’t make sense, but isn’t that the thing about much of anger?
As a child, I remember my dad buying an Ed Ames album for my mother. On that LP was a song, My Cup Runneth Over. I remember them dancing in the kitchen while he sang it to her. It is one of few fond memories I have of their relationship.
For some reason, years after the call from Mary, I heard that song and realized that I feel the same way about my wife today that my father must have felt about my mother five decades ago. It made me realize that what I feel must be similar to what he felt.
Put another way, a measure of my father still lives within me.
He wasn’t a perfect man; none of us are. I’m sure he’d do things differently if he could. (Wouldn’t we all?) But to dislike someone whose soul flows through your veins is a form of self-hatred. Hence, I released and I forgave.
I do not condone much of what he did, and no, I’m still not similar to him. Yet, that song remains one of my favorites, despite its age. When I sing it, I feel I am channeling my father.
More importantly, I like that I am.