My dad made one phone call to me in my entire life and that was to tell me that my mother had died.
The call came about a year after I’d reconciled with my parents after a ten-year estrangement. He was 88. His voice on the phone was matter of fact but wobbly. He was getting things organized, he said. Would I come to help him? I had never helped my father before except to hand him a wrench when he was fixing something or to fetch the net so he could land the pike he’d hooked.
I got in my car and drove six hours to the Michigan town where they lived. When I got there, he was typing out my mother’s obituary notice on his ancient Underwood typewriter.
Five. My daughter. My brother’s son and daughter. My sister’s two sons. Five.
He asked me, “Does this sound ok to you?” Never having been asked my opinion before, I said, “Yes, it sounds fine.”
“I just want to do the right thing,” he said.
“I know,” I said, sitting on the office chair next to him, watching him pound out the obituary notice. Watching the old keys strike the ribbon, black and red. He could type 80 words a minute on that old thing. And he could zing that carriage back fast as you please.
But it wasn’t five. It was eight. My mother had eight grandchildren. The five birth children, if you will, and the three my husband and I adopted from Nicaragua. Eight.
I didn’t correct him.
I let it stand. Five.
I basically let my own father forget that he had three additional grandchildren.
I could give reasons for this. That I was tired. That I didn’t want to get into it as we say. That it wasn’t the time.
That I was equivocal in my own heart is the last reason I would recognize.
This isn’t a story that has a good resolution. I never corrected him. My dear daughter (birth) dropped everything and came from California to tend to us, make lasagna, and sooth everyone. My other kids (adopted) piled in the car with their dad and made the mad dash from Milwaukee to our little town in Michigan.
They all stood behind me at the cemetery.
They never knew.