HEY DAD • by Wayne Scheer

Hey Dad,

I’ve been thinking about you lately. I remember you sitting in that big, overstuffed chair in the living room of our apartment in Brooklyn, smoking your pipe and watching the tiny black and white TV. Those were the days before remote control, so it was my job to change the channel. Sometimes you’d call me to do it, even if I was in another room. I didn’t mind. You’d let me jump on your lap. I’d smell your cherry wood pipe tobacco and feel safe.

 

Hey Dad,

Remember how we used to wrestle when I was a boy? You seemed so strong, yet you’d never hurt me. Even when you’d pin me to the floor and make me say, “I love my daddy,” in order to get up, I knew you were going easy.

 

Hey Dad,

When did we stop hugging and saying, “I love you?” My grandson is ten. He still hugs in private, but in public there’s a no touching rule. Was that about the time we stopped?

 

Hey Dad,

Things changed when I became a teenager. I changed, of course, and you did, too. At least you did in my mind. We’d watch the civil rights revolution unfold on our new Sylvania TV. We’d watch protesters, black and white, sprayed with water hoses or attacked by dogs, and you’d mutter how they had it coming. You were convinced Martin Luther King was a communist. We nearly came to blows one night when you went into a bigoted rant, and I finally had the nerve to tell you how I felt.

 

Hey Dad,

I know you felt proud when I graduated college, the first male on both sides of our family. You were even prouder when I got a Master’s. We struggled through Vietnam. You supported the war, but hoped I wouldn’t be drafted. I hated the war, and when I was drafted thought seriously about going to Canada or even jail. But I lacked the nerve. I don’t know if when you saw me in uniform, you thought I acted out of patriotism. I felt something very different.

 

Hey Dad,

Somehow, I survived. I wonder if you had second thoughts about the war when it was no longer being fought on TV by mainly black kids? We didn’t talk much about it. Of course, by that time we had stopped talking about everything, except baseball.

 

Hey Dad,

You were never comfortable with Maddie when I told you we were going to marry. You couldn’t understand why she wanted a career. Mom wanted grandchildren, but she supported Maddie’s plan to go to medical school. Something to fall back on was her way of accepting it. She thought Maddie wanted to be a nurse. Mom never knew how to drive a car or even write a check. You took care of all that. Maddie’s independence didn’t scare you, but it was beyond the reach of your imagination. You worried that Maddie’s feminism, a bit strident even she’d admit now, threatened my manhood. The more I scoffed at the notion, the more you wrinkled your brow.

 

Hey Dad,

When we told you Maddie was pregnant, you relaxed for the first time in years. But when she said she was planning on going back to her practice as soon as possible, the wrinkles returned. When I said I had arranged to take some time off from my job to be home with the baby, you looked at me like I started speaking in tongues.

 

Hey Dad,

When Kyle was born, you and Mom came to visit. I remember how embarrassed you were when Maddie breastfed, even though she covered herself. No matter how much we asked, you wouldn’t hold your new grandson. But when you were dozing in the recliner, Maddie put him on your chest and you held him in your arms. It didn’t last more than a few seconds before he cried and you said to take him, but I could see a softness in your eyes I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. Mom saw it, too. She winked at me. I don’t know if I ever saw her wink before.

 

Hey Dad,

You left after a few days to go back to work while Mom stayed to help out. Just before going, you watched me change the baby’s diaper. In a voice so low and pensive I barely recognized it, you said you had never changed my diaper. I laughed. “How’d Mom let you get away with that?”

“It was a different time,” you said.

 

Hey Dad,

Maddie and I watched you wrestle with Kyle, pinning him down and making him say, “I love my grandpa.” Maddie almost stopped you, afraid you might hurt the boy. I assured her you were being gentle. Kyle laughed so hard, he could barely get out the words, “I love…” You said that was good enough and let him go. I wanted to say, “I love you, too, Dad,” but it had been so long the words took too much time to form. When you shouted, “who wants dessert,” the moment passed.

 

Hey Dad,

A lifetime flashed before my eyes when I saw you for the last time, your cancer-ridden body little more than a skeleton. I wanted to reach out and hug you, but it would have made us both uncomfortable. Kyle was only seven when you died. I wish he could have known you better, but he remembers wrestling with you.

We were looking through old photographs the other day with his children when I heard him tell them how much fun you were. In one black and white photo, you were sitting on your overstuffed chair, a pipe in your mouth. I sat on your lap, wide-eyed, reaching up with tiny fingers to feel the stubble on your face.


Wayne Scheer has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net.  He’s published numerous stories, poems and essays in print and online, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories. Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife and can be contacted at wvscheer@aol.com.


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