I wasn’t sure if I should. I debated not doing it. I thought that because we haven’t talked in six months, he wouldn’t notice if we didn’t talk for another day or for six more months. I didn’t know if he expected me to or even if he wanted me to call. I wasn’t going to call. I told myself I wouldn’t call. But then it’s Fathers’ Day and I can’t help but call.
So, I dial my grandmother, thinking that maybe he’s around. Maybe she will pick up the phone and casually pass it to my dad like we had just talked yesterday, and it’ll take the pressure off. It will be like I’m not even calling him. I’m calling to talk to Nana, the one I always call when something happens, the one I expect to relay all information that I’m safe, I’m okay, I’m eating, I just published something in some place or I got my grades in and they were or weren’t what I wanted. My Nana means that my father and I never have to talk, that not talking can be as good as talking, that I won’t have to let him hurt me again.
But it isn’t my Nana who picks up the phone. My little brother answers. He asks where I am and what I’m doing. I tell him I am on the bus and going to a coffee shop. I ask him how middle school is, and he reminds me he doesn’t have that right now because of summer. He asks me how grad school was, and I remind him we don’t have that right now because of summer. This is the way our conversations always go, because he is 12, and this is how 12-year-olds communicate.
But then he asks me if I want to talk to Dad, because I think he knows somewhere that Dad is why I called, because my little brother is 12, and 12-year-olds are weirdly wise about things they can’t communicate. He knows Dad and I don’t speak or don’t speak often. We speak when we have to, at family functions or funerals or weddings, but my little brother doesn’t know why. I wish I could say I didn’t know anymore, but I do. I don’t think my father knows anymore, and that’s the problem.
I let the receiver go silent for a few seconds and then I tell him to put Dad on. I wait. My father speaks, and I realize that my little brother’s voice is starting to sound like his. This scares me, because I realize that my little brother is starting to sound like him, because my little brother is starting to become him, because I’ve been scared of that since my brother was born.
I wait while my father talks. He talks about my little brother and my Nana and his work, and he mentions that he started working new hours. He works nights now. He tells me that he tries not to work over 40 hours anymore, so he can be at home with the kids. I tell him that this is good, because he shouldn’t work so much, because he doesn’t have to work so much, because he’s a workaholic and he’s always been a workaholic. It’s why I called. I wait while the receiver is silent again and while I let my thoughts stop running. I want to light a cigarette. I don’t have any cigarettes because I quit last week, again.
He asks what I’m doing and I tell him about my website, about grad school, about the play I saw last night, about the people I met there, about the endless city, about how summer makes me nervous because I don’t have A/C, about how I’m thinking of cutting my hair again. I don’t tell him about the boys I’m seeing, about my friends, about my chosen family, about how Mom is, about what I really do, about what I really want. I wait. I want to light two cigarettes. He asks me what I’ll be doing after graduation, as if I’m not already doing something. I wait. I want a pack of cigarettes.
I tell him about looking for jobs in other cities, about trying to find a job in my city even though it seems like no one is hiring, about wanting to find a job doing creative work rather than supplementing my writing habit with a job I don’t like. I don’t tell him about my fear that I’m not good enough, that no matter how much I write it won’t be enough, that I’ll never be enough. This is not why I called, because he won’t tell me what I need to hear, because he doesn’t know what to say, because he doesn’t know. I don’t think my father has ever known, and that’s the problem.
I’ll start smoking again when the conversation is over. But I don’t tell him that. I tell him about how I just finished shooting a documentary, about how I want to shop it to festivals, about how I’m trying to get my professor to help, about how it’s nice to have someone who believes in you. I don’t tell him about how that comment is about him, but he knows and that’s the problem. He doesn’t ask anyway. He waits.
He asks more about what the documentary is about, and I don’t wait to tell him, even though I know he won’t understand and he won’t know what to say. I have to tell him, just to say it, just to try. I don’t tell him it’s why I’m calling, but I tell him what my film is about, and he says it sounds cool because he doesn’t know what to say but saying something is why he answered the phone. He says that he would like to see it, and I tell him I’m not done with it because I’m not happy with the audio track, because I’m a perfectionist, because I need it to be good enough. He says that he understands but he wants to see it when I’m ready, and I tell him that it will be done soon. I will be ready. I wait. The receiver is silent.
I tell him that I need to go back to work, because I’m a workaholic, because I’m starting to become him, because I’ve been scared of that since I was born. But I don’t tell him that, and I wait. I tell him I love him. I wait. The receiver is silent. I wait. He tells me that he will call me later, which a friend explains is as good as “I love you, too” in Dadspeak. He tells me he’s going to call tomorrow, he tells me he promises, he swears this time will be different — even though we both know that’s the problem. The receiver is silent.
It’s not perfect, but progress is better than nothing. It’s something, and something can be good enough, because that something can be silence, because that something means he knows now, because that something is why I called. I won’t let him hurt me anymore, and I don’t need to wait.