Vol. 9, No. 24
June 14-20, 2001
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My Father’s Voice
The dialogue continues, even when you’ve got to figure out the answers for yourself.

by Martha Blume

Ring, ring, ring …

“Hello, you have reached 610/555-1234. We can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave your name, number and a short message after you hear a series of beeps.”

I hear my dad’s voice on the answering machine. I listen to the entire message. I hang up the receiver. I wish my dad had answered the phone in person; there are things I wanted to ask him.

I wanted to ask, “Dad, why were you so impatient with me when I couldn’t learn how to ride my bike without training wheels after you ran me back and forth, back and forth over the school playground, or when I couldn’t understand how to file my income tax return when you explained it to me over and over again?”

Or, “How come you never said, ‘I’m sorry’ when you hurt my feelings by being too sure of yourself to hear my point of view?”

Here is more of my imaginary conversation: “Dad, I didn’t understand how you stood at the pulpit on Sunday, preaching about how Jesus wants us to love our fellow man, then come home and sometimes act like you didn’t hear your own message. Didn’t you know I expected you to be perfect?

Dad, why did you continue to overeat when you were already overweight and had high blood pressure, and we didn’t want you to die too soon because we didn’t know what it would be like not to have a dad? “Why did you become a pastor? What did you do for fun when you were a kid? What do you think of your grandchildren? What do you think of me?”

Those were some of the things I wanted to ask. There were also some things I should have said.

I should probably have said, “I’m sorry for the times I was disrespectful, the times I didn’t trust you and the times I got angry and stomped away instead of trying to talk about it.”

I also might have said, “Thanks for showing, not telling me, that it is our duty and privilege to take care of those less fortunate than ourselves. Thanks for helping so many people. For visiting folks in the hospital and really making them feel better. Thanks for telling jokes. For being able to laugh at yourself. For taking me fishing. For teaching me the value of a good education. For expecting me to do my best. For being proud of me even though you didn’t tell me that much. For teaching me that it’s most important to do the right thing. And for not taking anything too seriously.

“Dad, I’m sorry I didn’t ask you how you felt. I’m sorry I didn’t always listen when you had something you needed to say to me. I’m sorry I never told you that I was proud of you. I’m sorry I never said ‘thank you’ for being there for me for so many years. I really appreciate that you tried to be the best dad you could. You did a pretty good job.”

These are some things I could have said to my dad if he had answered.
I would have been surprised if he had answered. He died on Thanksgiving Day in 1999. Chances are if he did answer, I wouldn’t have said them anyway. So I tell them to him now and hope he can hear the words in my heart.

My mother keeps the phone message. She says she does it so that strangers who call don’t know she lives alone. Maybe she has other reasons too. Anyway, sometimes it’s good just to call and hear Dad’s voice, even though all he’s saying is “I can’t come to the phone …”

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly