Here’s Your Mom

 Why is it that men so often have little to say to the men closest to them: their fathers and sons?

My father and I never seemed to have much to say to one another. When I was growing up, he spoke and I listened. He had been raised by the clichéd-but -onored dictum that children should be seen and not heard—a rule in my grandfather’s household that extended even to meal times, when adults ate first—by themselves—at the dinner table, replaced by the children only after the grownups had finished.

There was no enmity between my father and me. We never argued, but we never just talked either. Most conversations between us had a specific purpose; to the point, then done. After I left my father’s house and went out on my own, all meaningful communication between us simply ended. My father respected my adulthood and refrained from unsolicited advising, lecturing, or otherwise telling me how to live, or not live, my life. This attitude was also a legacy my father’s upbringing; when your children go into the world, you must leave them alone find their own way.

As my parents aged, I would call home every couple of weeks. If my father answered the phone, we would carry on an innocuous chat for a few moments, then he would say, “Here’s your mom.” Having met our obligations, we were both relieved when he handed the phone to my mother. It was a system that seemed to work for us.

Then my mother died. No one to hand the phone to.

I wish I could say that being forced to talk to one another made us actually talk to one another, but it didn’t. It merely underscored the incongruity of our relationship, making our inability—our unwillingness—to communicate ever more protracted and awkward.

It’s not that there weren’t things to discuss—my father’s mental and emotional health chief among them. He had lost his life’s partner of almost 50 years and was patrolling the house in a purgatory of isolation, each room pungent with oppressive and immutable grief. He was alone.

And the best I could do was ask, “How you doin’, dad?” Unerringly, his answer was what we both wanted to hear: he was doing okay; he wasn’t. We both knew the truth but didn’t want to deal with it. I left the serious interrogating to my sisters: are you bathing regularly, dad? Are you doing your laundry and changing clothes? Are you eating? They could ask that sort of question; I had not the courage. For me to ask my father if he was seeing to his personal hygiene was—well, I can’t explain it but it just wasn’t possible. Men will know what I mean.

Still, if I failed to call him within a few weeks, the phone would ring and I knew who would be on the other end of the line. It seems we had a lot to not talk about. Perhaps what was important was the simple blessing of hearing each other’s voice; the sound carried meaning that words could not.

As I was raising my son, I determined things would be different—that during his years at home and beyond we would be able to carry on meaningful conversations in an easy and natural way. Now he is grown and lives a thousand miles distant. When he calls and I answer the phone, we engage in a brief moment of innocuous chat.

Then I say, “Here’s your mom.”

Photo jglsongs/Flickr

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About David Davis

Recently retired, Mr. Davis has published works of short fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in various online magazines.

Comments

  1. This very sad story reminds me of the Harry Chapin song where the son unintentionally imitated his father’s inattentiveness and only realized it once his son was an adult.

    Perhaps this is a cultural trend in some families or even ethnic groups more than others. It’s certainly not the case in my family and culture. Thankfully, I never had that experience. I’ve always been close to both of my parents and although I have no sons, I am close to both of my daughters and plan to continue to be close to them throughout their lives.

    • Athough I don’t agree with the implication that this is generalization, I think writing this article has value for parents who are still raising their children, boys or girls.

      Also, the Harry Chapin song is called “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Here are the last few lines of lyrics (written from the father’s perspective):

      “I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
      I called him up just the other day……..
      I said “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
      He said “I’d love to Dad, if I could find the time.
      You see my new jobs a hassle, and the kids have the flu.
      But It’s sure nice talking to you, Dad,
      It’s been sure nice talking to you……..”
      And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
      He’d grown up just like me,
      My boy was just like me…………..

  2. That sounds unimaginably sad and depressing.

    But you say “Men will understand.” I’m a man and extremely thankful that I do not understand what you’re talking about. At all. My dad is one of my best friends and I can always talk to him about anything. Granted, his relationship with his father was like the one you described with yours, but my dad made sure that didn’t continue.

    I’m planning to do the same with my son.

  3. I know exactly what you are talking about, although I’m a daughter. My dad had no idea how to interact with me and my sisters. Still doesn’t. Our relationship has improved slowly over the years to the point that we can exchange a few sentences before he puts mom on the phone. Very sad.

  4. The thing that’s hopeful about this article is that it seems both men still want to connect, even if they find it hard. Maybe the old-fashioned way, by snail-mail, might work. Sometimes it’s easier to write than talk.

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