Tom Fiffer longs to hear the ping of a new text message or email: the one that would let him know his father got his message and is replying.
My father died in 1975.
He never sent an email.
He never went on the Internet.
He never talked on a cell phone.
He wrote longhand, on yellow legal pads, in block capital letters.
He did his research in the library.
His address book was called a Rolodex.
And yet, he was as thoroughly modern as any man of his time.
His stereo system—McIntosh tuner and speakers, Advent tape deck, and Dual turntable—was state of the art.
His Pentax camera, with wide angle and telephoto lenses, was the latest model.
And I remember the day he brought home an enormous calculator, obtained by depositing $50 in our local bank, and placed it proudly on the desk in his study, next to his silver letter opener and gold Cross pens.
His Siri (the iPhone virtual assistant) was a secretary named Dolores, who answered his phone, took dictation in shorthand, and transcribed the tapes he made, pausing, then restarting, with her foot pedal as she typed late into the night.
I don’t believe my dad missed anything by dying before email was invented. We all leave here at a certain time, and if, as he did, we make the absolute most of the time given us, we do our best with the tools available, and we do the work to leave our legacy, to ensure that it shines on, then what comes after is simply that which is beyond our ken.
But this is not about my dad.
It’s about me.
It’s about the emails I never received from him.
It’s about my inbox still waiting for, still craving his input.
It’s about my desire speak to him, to read my work to him, to seek his counsel, or just experience the warmth of his smile and bask again in his larger-than-life presence.
This is about the ping I want to hear early in the morning on my iPhone, reminding me that he’s risen as usual at 4:30 am, put on his favorite classical music, made his coffee, and answered what I sent him the night before.
Would it be too maudlin to write, “Where are you, dad? Answer me! Answer me please.”
I suppose it would.
He never saw the Berlin wall fall, the Soviet Union crumble, the twin towers collapse, or our first black president take office. And I want to know what he thought about all of these things.
He never met either of my wives, my brothers’ wives, or any of his grandchildren, some of whom are now married themselves. He would have loved them so.
He never saw me almost die in the prison of a dysfunctional life and then escape to come blissfully alive again. Maybe it’s a good thing he never saw that.
And he never made it to my aunt and uncle’s slide show on New Guinea, dying instead of a heart attack in their driveway on a cold February day.
I loved him with a childlike love and a healthy dose of hero worship. And back then, I could not measure the magnitude or fathom the depth of my loss. I have only come to understand it fully now, as I raise my own children, as I understand who I am to them, for them, and with them. And as I continually, miraculously find the father, my father, in me.
I have come a long way from the nine year-old boy who bit his lip, denied his grief, and soldiered on. I have fought my battles, grabbed my demons by the throat, throttled them, and won.
And I suppose I don’t need the email from my father that says, “Tom, I’m proud of you.”
But I still want it anyway.
Fuck, I want that email.
Read more about Fathers.
Image of vintage amp courtesy of Shutterstock