Dear old Dad. To hear retailers tell the story, he’s a transparent creature, someone who is pleased by the simple things: a shirt, a book, a steak, a new gadget. But the dads most of us grew up with — and without — are a more inscrutable lot. They’re people, after all, whose past lives, present concerns, and future legacies can vex, perplex, and frustrate their children. Can we ever really know these men? Some of the best writing about dads embraces that mystery, confronting the hard questions of what it truly means to know one’s father.
This week we’re sharing stories by Evan Osnos, Ashley C. Ford, Michael Grabell, Chris Heath, and Becca Andrews.
At Refinery29, Ashley C. Ford has a moving personal essay about getting to know her father now that he’s been released after thirty years in prison Her father has missed so much of his daughter’s life, but that’s not all he has to catch up on. Having been incarcerated since the late 1980s, he is way behind the times, technologically speaking. He’s new to the whole world of cell phones, not to mention texting.
At least once a day I open my phone to scroll through our one-sided text conversation. There are a few sentences from his end, words separated by periods. He has trouble with the space bar. I see the uninterrupted column of my selfies and views of my surroundings. I know he appreciates the technology that allows him to see my current world so clearly, as he missed so much of my past. Because he has trouble responding with text, he calls to say how wonderful I am, how proud of me he is, and how much he wishes he could see the things I see every day. If I can’t answer he leaves minute-long voicemails. He is a talker, and I am his rapt audience.
I know someday he’ll figure out how to text exactly what he wants to say. When that happens, I’ll miss how much we’ve had to fit into phone calls, and how I’ve had to describe all the things he can’t see about who I am and where I am. I’ll miss his voice, too. His strange and familiar voice that sounds so much like my brother’s, and his brother’s, though the thoughts often sound just like mine.