My dad and I don’t really talk. There’s not much beyond the “how was work”s or “how
was school”s and I can count on my hand the number of times we’ve had an in-depth conversation. There is this sort of disconnect I suppose, this conversational barrier.
I’ll accidentally zone out and offer blank “mhm’s” once he starts talking about work, or he’ll not know an overly specific reference I made, making the next few sentences in my rant or gossip fall short of making sense. That’s not at all to say my dad embodies the strong, silent archetype either. He’s a real sensitive guy and a huge social butterfly, often to the point of admiration. I’ve scarcely met a person who can loudly project the stupidest joke and either a) have it land or b) have the confidence to smile and charismatically brush off a failed land. And the real irony of our tendency towards thirty-second-long interactions is that we are both outspoken and talkative.
It’s not that we don’t have a relationship, only that throughout the past few years our conversational barrier has made our relationship dwindle because of how much of a physical barrier we’ve had. We’ve lived on the opposite sides of a continent since I had awkward fringe bangs in eighth grade to last April. Calls gradually became very infrequent and punctuated by long silences. What were we supposed to do? We’d never had to actually talk before.
As a kid, my dad expressed his love for me by doing rather than saying. When he had errands he’d scoop me and take me grocery shopping and pour me the juice samples at Trader Joe’s, or take me to the bank and tell me the (publicly handed out) lollipops were exclusively for “special members” like us. During the summer he’d host water balloon fights for us, light fireworks, and when we lived in Venezuela he’d randomly take us to the beach. He’d make us reluctantly go to bed at nine p.m. so that we wouldn’t be completely incoherent as he shook us awake the next morning at the unholy hour of five a.m. We’d drive down to the private military beach that my dad swindled membership for thanks to having some cousin, uncle, or whatever-they-were in the military. I adore that beach; the sand was cleaner and the water prettier than any of the others we went to. He taught us how to bodysurf the giant waves (or at least, giant from my then 4’8 foot perspective) and made cheese-and-ham sandwiches with french bread. We left once the sun began to drop and plop our saltwater-soaken and sand-filled shorts on the long metro ride home, exhausted beyond belief. After a hot shower, I’d lay in my fresh clean bed, close my eyes, and could still feel the waves pushing me back and forth gently, letting the phantom water rock me to sleep.
That kind of love can’t translate into a call or text. So for the past few years, I’ve brushed away concerned comments, “you haven’t called him in how long?” Of course, sometimes, I stressed myself out thinking we were estranged in some way. But I also knew how he expressed himself throughout my entire childhood, and knew where we stood.
Once my dad was back in my life last April, our relationship pretty much picked up where it had been left off. He seamlessly moved into my daily routine, picking me up from school or driving me to a friend’s house, without demanding any major uprooting of my life. Because well, he’s here now. Since he’s been here, I’ve discovered there’s this beautiful balance in the starkly different relationship I have with my mom compared to my dad. I’ve never had to work to get along with my mom, our similar interests and personalities always gave way to an easy flowing relationship. She’s taught me the incredible value of finding a natural, stable love in someone. Whereas with my dad, there’s always been a bit of tweaking and work in order for us to build a relationship. As I’ve grown older, I begin to mimic him. It’s in the way I switch the music I play when he’s around to something I know he likes, like ABBA or Hombres G (an 80’s Spanish pop band my parents love that has managed to bleed into my music taste). Or how I suggested we get burritos when we went out for dinner, because I knew he would be comfortable tossing Spanish jokes to the chefs there. How I keep suggesting we watch movies we both will like, dystopias and action or decades old comedies. My dad has taught me how to work for love.
So yes, I will gladly take those long, awkward pauses during a phone call with my dad. Because they’ve taught me that love with family can’t always come naturally, and sometimes you need to work for it. And loving my dad is worth it.