The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 13, 2003

Features

Mornings with Dad

My father and I have been spending a lot of time together lately. Through various random twists of timing and fate, we've recently found ourselves situated for the moment at the same place, both literally and figuratively. He is in his second year of retirement, and I am on an extended maternity leave. As different as the contexts for our respective situations may be, we find ourselves in quite similar circum-stances these days.

A few events in our lives coincided unexpectedly. In late 2001, my husband and I began construction on a new home. Believing the project would take just six months, we sold our existing house and temporarily moved in with my parents. Our six-month stay turned into eighteen months, during which time our second child was born and I left a full-time position to stay home with her. Meanwhile, my father's 43-year teaching career ended, and he welcomed with relief the opportunity to spend more time at home. His post-career responsibilities include running a small cattle operation, mentoring various former students and colleagues, and leading a prison reading group. As for me, I feel as though I'm busier than I've ever been, with two small children. Nonetheless, both of us find ourselves with a little bit more time at home than we ever used to have.

So Dad and I spend our mornings together. At that time of day, the baby takes a long nap, and my son is attending preschool. Meanwhile my husband rushes between his desk job and supervision of our home construction, and my mother follows a busy schedule comprising a pastiche of volunteer commitments, business appoint-ments and social engagements. But Dad and I pass our mornings quietly, drinking coffee and appreciating the calm hours at the beginning of the day.

The past ten months have given us more time for conversation than we've had in the past three decades. Passing sections of the daily newspaper back and forth, we review current events and share reactions on everything from the headlines to the comic strips. From there, we frequently go on to discuss the peculiarities of my mother's extended family, a favorite topic of Dad's. At other times the subject is my four-year-old son Tim: we range from Tim's prowess as a baseball player (a topic that Dad initiates) to Tim's penchant for tantrums (my plaint). We spend a little bit of time agreeing on how sweet, cheerful and adorable the baby is · it may be a limited topic of conversation, but it means more to me to hear him say it than just to think it to myself. That usually segues into a discussion about the dog: Dad subtly makes it clear that while he fully endorses my parenting skills, he doesn't think I pay enough attention to our family pet. We debate word usage, spending hours on such questions as why writers use "rack" instead of "wrack" when talking about nerve-wracking moments, and he solicits my spelling expertise as he dashes off e-mails whose topics and recipients remain utterly inscrutable from my end ("How do you spell "frivolous"? How do you spell "metabolic"? How do you spell "theocracy"? Okay, this e-mail is ready to send.")

For both of us, spending long stretches of time at home is a new experience. We watch the patterns of the sun on the lawn; we lift books and family photographs off their shelves at random, finding details or passages we've never noticed before; we comment frequently on the weather, not as small talk but because weather is so much more noticeable when one is home rather than at work. When the baby wakes from her nap, he holds her so that I can make lunch. If she'll sit still enough, he even trims her tiny fingernails for me. It's been a unique and wonderful passage of time that we've shared together over the past year, and as it draws to a close I'm able to appreciate it keenly. For many reasons, I'm eager to move on, first to move into our own house and eventually to return to my career. For Dad, the arrival of summer generally means a lot more farmwork, a series of houseguests and some long-distance travel. But Father's Day seems almost redundant to me this month. To my great fortune, I've been enjoying a whole Father's Year.


2003 The Carlisle Mosquito