Thursday, September 27, 2012

Humor Me: My aging dad's unintentionally alarming voice mails

I don’t like to think about how my dad is getting old. He’s 76 now, or in his words, “getting up there,” and it reminds me that I’m also getting older. I prefer to picture us years ago, when I still had my hair and I still had hope that my dad would figure out e-mail.

I’m still waiting for my first e-mail from him. My dad sends me lots of snail mail, often with articles clipped from the newspaper, but never an e-mail. I once e-mailed him photos of the grandkids, to the one e-mail address my parents share, and my dad’s head nearly exploded.

“The photos are attached,” I told him.

“Attached?”

Fortunately, my mom is better at that high-tech stuff, although she probably won’t open any e-mail with an attachment. Viruses, you know. But she has now branched out into text messaging, which I discovered a couple months ago when she sent a message that said “test message, please let me know if you get this.”

I responded that, yes, I did receive it. I haven’t heard from her since.

At least not by text message. We’ve received lots of phone calls, and those are always welcomed. But we’ve also received a lot of voice mails, and they can be weirdly alarming.

I’m going to specifically call out my dad on this one. He’s always been my role model, and he’s a full-blown hero to my three young sons, but his voice mails have grown from comically confusing to downright stress-inducing.

Here’s a voice mail I received recently:

“Matt and Janell. Hello, it’s your Dad.”

Long pause.

“Grandpa.”

You might see what’s happening here. My wife has her own dad, and she has never referred to my dad as “Dad.” I think my dad was realizing this as he left the message and he got a little flustered, which is understandable. Except that he does this pretty much every time he leaves a message.

Still, not a big deal. That’s my dad. When he’s forced to be a conversationalist, it sometimes sounds like he’s reading cue cards. I once found a cassette tape of him and an insurance colleague practicing a sales pitch that was possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.

Most of his voice mails are pretty funny, too. But sometimes, well, let’s get back to that voice mail. After my dad established who he was, he moved on to the message.

“Matt, I just wanted to tell you that …”

Then another long pause. I don’t know if my dad forgot what he was going to say or if my mom was distracting him with some kind of directions, but the silence really stretched out. It was like he was struggling to break some bad news, and I felt true anxiety for a moment.

My parents are in pretty good health, or I think so, anyway. But as they get older, I think more about the day when there will be bad news. Maybe it’s because my wife’s mom passed away at a young age.

My dad’s hesitant voice, followed by the long pause, worried me. Seriously, the pause was like three or four seconds. I should’ve timed it. I should’ve saved the voice mail, in fact, because my dad would laugh if he heard it.

“Matt, I just wanted to tell you that …”

One Mississippi (is something wrong with Mom?), two Mississippi (bad news from the doctor?), three Mississippi (oh no, does the computer have a virus?), four Mississippi (please Dad, would you begin speaking again?).

“… I saw that game the other night. What did you think? Give me a call when you get a chance.”

That’s it? That long, dramatic pause was to rev up for a question about a baseball game?

Yes, that was it. I did call my dad back, and we had a nice conversation about the weather, the grandkids and politics (his favorite). We also got around to the baseball game, although I never did get around to telling him that his voice mail almost gave me a heart attack.

Maybe I’ll tell him in an e-mail.

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