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A Conversation with My Dad

I searched for words to bridge the gap between Dad's disappointment and my desperation, but in the end, I didn't need to.

I packed my bags haphazardly, not really caring about the clothes I was bringing. Most of them I left for my sister, since soon none of them would fit me anyway. Dad was waiting downstairs alone. Alyson, my older sister, had left for school hours ago, and my step-mother was out of town. Her stipulation was that I be gone by the time she got back. They could've put me on a plane or train, but my dad chose instead to drive me the ten hours to Ohio. It was an odd choice for him to make, I thought. The car ride was bound for painful and awkward silence.

We rode in the car for three hours without saying a word. Long silences were not uncommon where my introverted father was concerned, and he was especially uncomfortable with conversations of any emotional kind. I opened my mouth a dozen times to say things, but closed it each time I realized there wasn't anything I should volunteer about my predicament. If he wasn't asking questions, how could I impose the answers on him? Regardless, even if he made the predictable queries, the answers weren't very enlightening. Yes, it was my first time. No, we didn't use anything. Yes, I knew better. No, I had no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

If this last question were asked of my mother, however, the answer would be one of absolute certainty.

"You'll come home to Ohio," she'd said on the phone. "You'll have the baby here. I know of a high school program for expecting girls. And, of course, we'll help you raise it." These words were uttered between her sniffles and sobs, but the crying only lasted a few minutes. Maybe she was in shock. But it was more likely that, with four young kids of her own to take care of, she was comfortable with this crisis. It meant she was getting me back.

When I got back to the car with a bottle of Sprite and a box of Ritz crackers, Dad wasn't in the driver's seat. I spotted him in a phone booth with his head bent close to the receiver. Breaking open a sleeve of crackers, I watched him shake his head rigorously as he talked to my step-mother. They were fighting. This was a rare occurrence, and I felt guilty.

Dad walked slowly to the car.

"Debbie?" I asked, needlessly.

"Mm-hmm," he grumbled, and came around to unlock my side of the car. I took a deep breath as we both strapped on our seat belts.

"Dad? I'm so sorry." He didn't look up. "I didn't mean for this to happen," I croaked. Minutes of silence passed, and the despair was overwhelming. I thought of the past few agonizing weeks. The day I skipped school and took the pregnancy test alone, my hand shaking as I held the results. The day I first felt the morning sickness, at seven weeks along, and vomited in the smoke-filled girls' bathroom. The day I'd walked down our neighborhood street, as if in a bubble, and watched kids playing, people mulching their flower beds. I'd sat down on the curb and squeezed my eyes shut, wishing myself out of my own body.

I searched for words to bridge the gap between Dad's disappointment and my desperation, but in the end, I didn't need to.

"I love you," Dad said, his voice cracking. "And we're going home." He pulled off the next exit and headed back the way we'd come. I started to shake and cry, and he reached an arm over to comfort me. Finally.

In the hours that led us back home, he told me about Debbie's miscarriages. If I lived with them, she would be tormented by my pregnancy. She already was. Against her wishes, he was taking me back so that I could weigh my choices. This was the first time he'd spoken to me like an adult, so I answered in kind. I talked about Mom's alcoholism, a secret I'd buried for so long, and described how hard it had been to leave her. I couldn't bear going back.

The decision was an excruciating one.

After the abortion, my conversations with my father eventually trickled back to one-word grunts and perfunctory report card lectures. It would be years before we'd speak openly again. But in twenty years, I've never had a conversation with him matter more.

Comments

ctgoods2 says,

Brave and excellent writing. Thank you for sharing your moment.

Bevvie says,

I was about to cry when he turned the car around. I did not expect the abortion. The story really touched my emotions!

Steve__Anthony says,

Very powerful. So sad and real. thanks for sharing.

Believe says,

Wow. Such an honest story. Beautifully written.

paparazzo1 says,

Courage and honesty do indeed seem to be the foundations of love. Thank you for sharing your love.

penguin1 says,

"BETTER THAN WALKING" CLUNKERS

Growing up in South Minneapolis, in the 50s and 60s, our house had a very large driveway in back by the alley. It lined the lot from one neighbor to the other – plenty of room for an endless parade of vehicles.
When dad was driving us somewhere, we would refer to them as clunkers – shaking and smoking. “Dad, it’s rattling is so loud.” He would say, loudly, ignoring the background noise, “It’s better than walking” and then continue driving us where we wanted to go.
We would sit in the back seat with torn upholstery, rusty doors and holes in the floor. “I guess ‘It IS better than walking’, we would whisper to each other.

Our driveway always had a section under the lilac bushes where the gray gravel was spotted with spreading dark oil stains. This was for vehicles ‘under construction’ set up on old cement blocks left over from the basement foundation dad built. Something always needed adjusting or replacing or refilling. There he would be with his gray work pants from Kaplan’s, grease and oil smeared on elbows, knuckles, forehead. His ‘tools’ were spread out on the ground – not the complete auto mechanics tool set in the red metal box on wheels from SEARS. These instruments would be an assorted array of old make-shift items laid out in the gravel on an old rag or two.

The cars always seemed to sense the most severe weather to malfunction: the sweltering heat of July, his hatless balding head with sweat beads dripping and white tee-shirt drenched; below zero temp of January, his parka, black pull-on overshoes with zippers, fingers white from working with the cold metal.

When my brother and I reached the monumental age for owning our own cars, the realization came to us, as it must to all adolescents at some point – Dad knew a lot about cars and we needed him. Often, he would ask, “How’s your car running?” to start a conversation but also because he really wondered. More often, we came to him. “There’s a funny noise…” So eventually, there were two, sometimes three, figures under the hood.
Of course, it wasn’t in the extreme weather. Dad would take that on himself. “I’ll just take a look. After the ‘look ‘ that sometime lasted an hour or more, he would come back in to the house. “Why don’t you give it a try now?” And it would start right up. It was kind of magic he could work.

I wanted that magic, too, so I registered for an auto mechanics class in the Community Education program. I practiced changing tires, oil, spark plugs and filters. I was so confident of my newly-acquired ‘magic’ that I asked Dad if I could give his car a tune-up. I had youthful, blissful pride. He had quiet, knowledgeable wisdom. “Sure, let’s see what you’ve learned.” He stood beside me the entire (long) time while I painstakingly gapped spark plugs and other unmemorable procedures. He never criticized, never corrected, never really said much at all, which was his way. He let me do it and he let me think I did it right. I never knew if he went back and changed anything. I felt proud, like I had, indeed, gained a little of the magic. But, of course, I was not nor would I ever be a master.

Sometimes, I think of these car experiences not so much as magic but more like a way to begin a connecting bond. When I hear my husband talking with our daughter, he will often say, “How’s your car?” It’s a phrase that opens communication and begins a conversation but is also asked because he really wonders.

Dad and his magic are gone and I gave up that self car care long ago. Now, I must look for trustworthy neighborhood mechanics. But whenever I see broken down, rusty rattling vehicles parked by the curb or in the driveway with someone hunched over the hood, I can hear my dad’s quiet simple response, ‘It’s better than walking.’

Donna_Becton says,

I wish I could have had a conversation with my Dad. I've always wondered what he thought of me.

Winethief says,

New here 3M but this one was a grabber. There is and will always be a special relationship between father and daughter. But know this; in a fathers eyes you will never get old, you will never grow up. You will forever be the snotty nosed little floppy haired rug rat that somehow grew up and grew too far away. As the way it should be.

bbrown2060 says,

I get emotional every time I read this. It was brave of you to write it. Love you.

penguin1 says,

I'm so sorry that I left my memory in the comments section. How embarrassing. I apologize.

three-monkeys says,

Thank you all for your touching comments. (Penguin, no worries!!)

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