“Someone has to take the iPad,” my mom said. “I’ll never use it, you know.” I am certain my eighty-year-old mom will never dabble with technology. She still calls the internet the “world-wide-web.” It’s such a shame, I think. If she just tried, a computer would really open up her small world but I know it’s futile. She seems relatively content (at least accepting) that it’s now herself, old movies on TV, and her dog for daily companionship.
I’ve learned it’s often easier just to do something you really don’t want than to say no or explain why you don’t want or need your dead father’s iPad. Taking it will make my mom feel better and allow her to check this one off her list. And to know that one of her children has it, that makes her feel good too. It really has nothing to do with pleasing me specifically, just one less responsibility my dad has left behind that she has to address.
I bring the iPad back to my apartment. Along with the iPad, my dad kept the charger and the stylus pen in a separate plastic zip-lock storage bag, properly marked “iPad accessories.” Unlike most men, his handwriting was unique and beautiful, and I skim my finger over the words, trying to feel my dad. He’s been gone six months now, and my brain has finally processed (and convinced my heart) that he truly is no longer walking on the planet. The sorrow has settled in my heart, like a boiling cup of tea that has cooled just enough to sip and elicit comfort. I can think of him now without the raw, burning pain that immediately follows death. I sip him in daily.
Reflections of my father are warring factions in my brain. Sometimes I have to remember the bad stuff: the alcoholism, the way he disappointed my mom, us kids. The Friday nights he’d walk in from a week of travel for work, not knowing if his eyes would be sharp or glazed. My mom would have the table set for seven, the kitchen capturing the warmth and smells of her careful work over the afternoon preparing dinner for her family, all together. She, too, looked right into his eyes and knew instantly, and whatever she saw reflected would set the mood for days. When I heard his car pull into the driveway, listened as the car door shut behind him, I could feel the anxiety build for that unknowing minute that passed while he approached the house, watching the knob turn as he entered. I always prayed for the sharp eyes that would bring in a man who kissed his wife, embraced and smiled at his children, so happy to be home. I knew the glazed eyes brought a dazed, sad, denying man who infuriated my mom.
But mostly during his last six months of life when a little piece of him slipped away every day never to be seen again, I thought about the good stuff. His warmth and gentleness, his intelligence and kind spirit. I think about the father who would round up his five kids on Saturday to tackle the chores assigned by my mom. They’d sit at the table, sipping their coffee, my dad with a pen and paper, jotting down the list in his scripted handwriting as my mom recited the needs of the weekend: cold cuts, the newspapers, a bottle of gin. The list didn’t change much week to week, but he enjoyed this assignment, not just to spend time with his kids but to give his wife a few hours of peace and quiet. He’d leave with a kiss good-bye to my mom (be careful, she always said), the list in his pocket along with $40 in cash—his allowance, they joked.
During those Saturday morning adventures, he showed us that the best bologna one could buy was from a German butcher located a town away. He brought us to LaSala’s, an old-fashioned corner store that had a long, linoleum countertop and a row of swivel stools, their round, cushioned tops shiny and slippery. There we were introduced to cherry or vanilla Cokes right from the fountain. And he’d buy us each a scratch-off lottery ticket. It was as if he needed to seek out any semblance to his New York City childhood in our suburban environment. He wanted to share that piece of himself with us. The shopkeepers genuinely enjoyed talking to my dad, who always made conversation with them lighthearted but personal. He had the gift for gab, always engaging others and genuinely interested in them. He had a way of making others know he saw them.
How many times are we asked when we’re young, what do you want to do? What makes you special? What do you love? What are your talents? Questions I naively tackled before choosing a major in college, a career path. What a joke, being asked to direct your life as an eighteen-year-old. What a disservice we do to our youth. I’m good with numbers, my seventeen-year-old self deduced. I got an A in calculus last year! I will be an accountant. Oh my God, why didn’t someone speak up, stop me? Didn’t anyone know me and think to say, “That might be a pragmatic decision, Pam, but you’re a people-person. The two don’t really mesh.”
It took me fifty years and my dead father’s iPad to figure out what I am good at, what makes me “me.”
My apartment is coming together after separating from my husband six months ago. I’m getting acquainted with this new way of living on my own. No longer defined by the constant demands of a husband and three children, I feel surprised by choice…choice of what to do with each found moment that I have declared my own. What do I want for dinner, or better yet, do I want dinner at all? Read or write? Red or white? Choice feels both powerful and foreign, like winning the lottery after living paycheck to paycheck. Choice isn’t natural yet; I feel unsteady.
Although the apartment may be coming together, I’m a mixed bag of emotions—excitement for this new chapter in my life, guilt for disappointing my family, anger at my husband for not taking care of me, acceptance that my children are becoming adults, sadness that my dad is gone. My daughter tells me that her father is not coping well, the house is dusty, unopened mail is piled up, and the fridge is bare. Did I detect a small hitch in my son’s voice when we talked last week? Does he resent the forced change I have brought with my desire for a new life? What would I have felt if my mom had left the man whose eyes were glazed more than sharp?
Like a chisel on an ice block, I feel the guilt chipping at my resolve to be unmarried. I am personally responsible for redefining my family, moving ahead with no one’s permission but leaving a trail behind me of hurt and disillusionment. There is a cost to choice.
I need a talk with my therapist, Joanna, who was more of a partner to me through some of life’s most difficult moments than my husband. She’s helped me through so many crises. But Joanna moved; her husband retired and is now in Vermont. I send her an S-O-S text. We talked about Facetime therapy sessions before she left. I’m not too keen on this idea; it feels a bit stilted, emoting to a camera lens on the computer over the “world-wide-web.” But I really need to talk.
So good to hear from you, she texts back. Should we give Facetime a try? How about Monday at 6 p.m.?
Sounds good. Thanks, Joanna.
Where did I put that iPad? My phone will be too small for Facetime therapy. I’m pretty sure I can Facetime on the iPad. I may be good with numbers, but I’m really limited with technology: routers, IP addresses, service providers, domain names—it’s all Greek to me. Certainly not on the “Things I’m Good At” list.
I find the iPad and plug it in. It’s completely dead, like Dad. Wonder when he used it last? I figure about a year ago, before he got so confused and incapable. I let myself feel sad for a second, remembering the very intelligent man, always trying to stay relevant even when his abilities started to fail him. That was the most difficult part to witness, watching him fail. Okay, today’s “sip o’ Dad” burns too much, back to the iPad.
The screen eventually comes to life, the battery symbol registering a red 3 percent. I let the iPad recharge, and when I look a few hours later, the full screen is relit. The usual apps appear—he has Facetime. Funny, he never used it, and I’m mad at myself that I never showed him how. Damn it! And then I laugh to myself because I’m sure he would have used it a lot and maybe not at a level appreciated by his children and grandchildren.
And then I see his e-mail icon. Do I dare? It seems unethical, looking through a dead person’s e-mail. But it’s Dad. I click on it. I can’t help myself. My palms are sweaty—I don’t expect to find anything outrageous in his e-mail, but I feel like he’s right there with me.
It’s as I would have predicted: e-mails to his children relating something he’s read in The New York Times or heard on NPR and a few to his old friend from childhood, nostalgic reflections on their childhood in Astoria. I read through a few. He writes to his sons, remembering fishing trips they took out of Rock Harbor, questioning an arcane golf rule that has come into question at this year’s Masters, the trials and tribulations of being a New York Mets fan. I realize I’m not breathing. It’s not the content that has me frozen. I’m reading his words and I can actually hear him, his voice, the unique way he talks, the cadence of his speech. He writes his e-mails like he speaks—there’s nothing formal in them or composed. It’s him. A tear runs down my cheek. DAD!!!
I only read through a little of his “Sent” folder. I feel overwhelmed with the emotion of his presence and my intrusion into communications that don’t belong to me. I do make note that the last e-mail he ever wrote was to my sister Julie—I will tell her that, it will make her feel sad but good. I turn my attention to his “In” box. I’m not reading content anymore, just scrolling, mostly.
And then I see a note I had written to him just before he got so sick.
I had forgotten I had written it. It was a thank-you note. I had come home after a very long day of work, exhausted footsteps to my front door, where I discovered two bottles of wine wrapped in that silver, shiny skin. Chardonnay, what I like the most. It was a busy and stressful time in my life, working six days a week, enrolled in a master’s program that demanded one day a week of internship—all on top of the jobs of a mother and wife. My life had turned upside down. I was stretched so thin and wound so tightly, like a piano string ready to snap if any additional pressure was applied. The little unexpected doorway gift lifted me instantly, and I knew who left it.
July 29, 2015 at 4:52 p.m.
I am presuming you are the very thoughtful soul who surprised me with not one, but two (!) bottles of wine in my mailbox! Put a big smile on my face. Many thanks!!!
You should know that as I look back on my life and reflect on parenthood, I know how much love and support you have shown me through the years. You are always there with great pride and encouragement and a real interest in my life. Everyone seems to think I am this great big, strong woman, but this path I am on now is very overwhelming some days, and those bottles of wine and words of love and encouragement mean the world to me. They keep me going. Thank you.
I’m crying; the tears are running uncontrollably down my face, saturating my cheeks, washing me. I can picture him walking to my door, hunched over and frail with the full load of his own problems but set on helping me through mine. He couldn’t physically do much at that point, but he knew how to say, “I see you, I love you.” The power of that raw love washes over me, whisks me back to my childhood, the kind man who touched so many people’s lives because he took the time to see them: the pork store owner, the waitress at LaSala’s.
And there it is. When I reread my words to my dad, I realize what I do best. It was my dad who showed me how to take the time and really see others—discover, acknowledge, support, and celebrate their unique selves. He showed me how, with a few words or a small token of love, you can deeply touch another human spirit. It’s the secret of being an exceptional parent, a genuine person.
You’ll never find that on a personal inventory list, but it’s what makes me “me,” and it’s a gift from my dad.
After raising three children and a quirky labradoodle, Pamela Domonkos has redirected a bit of her energy and reclaimed time toward her love of writing. She is inspired to write about life’s ‘aha’ moments that define us and which tend to be revealed at unexpected times and through incidental events. Pam grew up in New Jersey, lives and works in New York and dreams about living and writing full-time on the Cape, with her family and quirky labradoodle.