One of the great gifts of my adulthood is that my dad and I are developing a friendship and coming to a place where we can laugh together. You see my dad was never someone I actually communicated with. He was always the DAD in “Love mom and dad” in her handwriting in birthday cards and inscribed in the books she carefully chose, wrapped in recycled paper and placed under the Christmas tree. Growing up, my dad never really spoke to me about anything. Not my hopes or dreams and certainly not about his.
When I was in college, he visited my University for the very first time for an Easter picnic with the family a couple weeks before my graduation. You see, I went to the school that was the RIVAL to the team he’d long supported. Though he didn’t go to college, he was such a big fan that he’d wallpapered his home office with the red and white NC State insignia.
In those days, there was a WOLFPACK RED line painted parallel to a TAR HEEL BLUE line crossing Highway 54 just as you entered the Chapel Hill City limits. When I’d chosen to attend the school on the other side of that line, Dad swore he’d never crossover under any circumstances. The man has his principles. But four years finally broke his resolve, and as we sat on a picnic blanket under the Davie Poplar in McCorkle Place, mom passing around egg salad sandwiches tinged with food coloring from the dyed hard-boiled eggs, my little sisters squirming in their Easter dresses and my brother leaning back on his elbows casually checking out the co-eds walking by, dad asked me “So Suzanne, I was wonderin’ what you’re getting your degree in cuz some of the fellers from work want to know.”
Indeed my dad never seemed very interested in my life himself and he also never really shared much about his own difficult childhood, life experiences or even his opinions until he discovered how easy it was to forward emails.
Dad regularly chose to pass on messages sharing that “Barack Hussein Obama is surely a MUSLIM” and how “Hilary Clinton’s emails will destroy America as we know it.” After his “Message for Christians that Donald Trump is a ruthless warrior rowboat sent by god,” I could no longer just hit DELETE and begged him to stop sending me Rush Limbaugh-inspired memes. PLEASE DAD! PLEASE!
Though we haven’t exactly agreed to disagree, we’ve agreed not to talk politics. And dad has taken to forwarding PowerPoint images of sunsets and cross-species animal friendships or inspirational veteran videos.
But then the other day, I got this voicemail from my dad. “Hi Suzanne, there’s this important Anniversary I need to tell you about, please call me back.”
My mind started to race. Was this the day that George Herbert Walker Bush promised NO NEW TAXES? Was this Sean Hannity’s birthday?
I got the message kind of late so it wasn’t until the next day that I had the chance to call him. “Dad, what’s up?”
“Well. Last night I was watchin’ the local news and Greg Fishel the weatherman came on. You remember him don’t you? Your brother used to call him “Fishhead Fishel.” Well he came on and said there was a big Anniversary in Raleigh that he’d tell us about after the break, so I stayed tuned like he suggested and at the very end of the newscast he said that yesterday was the 30th Anniversary of the big tornado that blew through Raleigh.” “Well yeah dad, I remember that. It ripped the roof off the Kmart we went to when I was a kid.”
“Yeah, it was a bad, bad tornado. Killed a ten year-old girl when a chimney fell on her as she slept.” daddy said, “But you know why I remember that tornado? It’s because when it hit, your mom and I were being intimate.”
“Oh wow dad. Ok. Um thanks for telling me? How did you come to realize that the tornado had hit during such a special time for you and mom?”
“Uh,well, the next morning when I was reading the paper it said right there on the front page that the tornado had blown through at 9:42pm, and there was your mama cookin’ up some scrambled eggs in her housecoat and I said ‘Dottie you know what happened last night when we were gettin’ all intimate? A tornado blew right through Raleigh!’”
“Bill!” she squawked, “Don’t you ever tell anyone about that!”
“Well your mom’s been dead for two decades so I figured I needed to tell someone and the only person who came to mind was you cuz I thought you’d appreciate that.”
“Well thank you dad. Thanks for thinking about me, but I’m wondering why is it that you remember this particular occasion…were your times of intimacy so few and far between?”
“Well, I, I just remember things like that. I remember goin’ to bed around 9:30pm and I keow what we did after that, but you know your how your mom was about such things. She was probably worried that the tornado might have torn the roof off of our house and she might have been discovered naked.”
And so I am left with that disturbing image and the sound of my father’s laughter, and my dad and I have now crossed into a new chapter of sharing. We may not route for the same team, or support the same candidates. He may not believe in global warming or not know what I studied in college…but we CAN connect over laughter. Now when the phone rings and I see that it’s him, I never know what new tidbit of TMI I’m going to get, but at least there’s a good chance we’ll both hang up laughing.
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As told at Story Salon in July 2019 and shared at the CrXeativity Festival November 16, 2019.