Never can say goodbye

My father never could say goodbye. You know the feeling: Someone across the room that you really don’t recognize waves and smiles at you. You return the smile and wave eagerly thinking “Oh, hello…you!” Then you realize the intended recipient of the wave is behind you. It’s embarrassing and awkward. Just like conversations with my father on the telephone. One minute he was there. The next minute, I never really knew when, he had finished and hung up. No goodbye. Red-faced, I would keep on talking just in case anyone within earshot could hear me. “Oh, yeah, uh-huh, OK Dad, sure goodbye!”


He was not being rude. He was just efficient. I guess that’s just about the nicest way to say it. His efficiency extended to how he addressed each of his five children, all boys as “Son”.

“Son, this is your Dad. Just calling to see if you’re still alive”

I suppose the Dad part was redundant. But you have to admire the efficiency of not having to remember our names. On the rare occasion when he did try to call us by our name it was as awkward as his telephone conversations. He would go through the list: “Chu, John, Matt, Bill…” After each name, he would realize that it didn’t work, blink and snap his fingers. Put a beat behind it and it was a name calling scat routine.

And if he had issues with remembering our names, it paled in comparison to the list of his “lady friends” names. Being the cunning attorney that he was, he found a way to identify them all without admitting the guilt of not remembering their names. The waitress, the girlfriend, the wife, the lady with the husky cigarette voice and fire red nails all had the same name: “Sweetie”. It was necessary because he always had one waiting to enter center stage as the other one exited. Performing a Scat of girlfriend’s names was not acceptable.

I did not have the type of lady friends that my father had. My friends, who were female, actually were my friends, which was a source of constant worry for my father. While I could admire the wrapping on the package, my father enjoyed what was inside the package much more.

I did have two female roommates in college. It was a “Three’s Company” type of arrangement, but with a twist. I was the gay man playing a straight man. Because my father provided a monthly stipend based on half of the apartment costs, it only made sense to take in a third roommate without telling my father and spend the leftover money on beer. This was my college finance major in action!

What I didn’t count on was my father calling the apartment and talking to my third roommate, a blond bombshell. When Karen told me that she spoke to my father I felt like the gig was over. “But he seemed really sweet.” Karen said. “He called me sweetie!”


 
I called my father prepared to admit the scam.

“Hey Dad, so about Karen…” I started.

“Son, you never told me about her.” He said.

“I’m sorry I should have told you I had another roommate.”

“Yeah, sure son, another ‘roommate’” He chuckled. I could almost see the invisible air quotes he was making. This was not the reaction I expected. He suddenly sounded like Dean Martin. I half expected him to say “You old dog, you!” Then it clicked. He wanted to believe so badly that Karen was my live in lady friend: a real lady friend, happy ending and all. Who was I to deny him this one small pleasure?

Many years later he lay in his bed and waited for all five of his sons. After we all arrived, he quietly slipped away. A year after he died I was determined to visit his graveside and tell him who I was: disclosure and closure. I searched the cemetery for hours in tears looking for his tombstone. While I knew exactly where he was buried, I could not find him. Later I learned that my brother had neglected to order the headstone. Even in death, my father never could say goodbye.

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