It was usually happening on Sundays. The phone would ring, I would see the number and prepare to settle in for a slightly long conversation. It would be only slightly long if for some reason I might feel it was going on too long.
“Hello! How are You?”
Over the last few months of his life, our conversations were mostly great. Actually they were really great. Truth is, the man and I never saw eye to eye on many things over his life. We disagreed politically and personally on many things. Those disagreements were always better reserved for round table discussions at my Grandfather’s place. Literally, it was a round table where we would all banter to our heart’s content.
Or discontent depending on who you might have agreed with.
Those last conversations on the phone were wide-ranging indeed. Dad was never missing a beat to ensure he covered all possible topics. Family, work, writing, sports. Anything he could think of where I might have a word or two in return offering. Political discussions were becoming few and far between. My interests in partisan politics was nearing the end. So if any of those discussions were happening I could easily make the case for how our country would be better served by consensus government.
Religion had long become a more difficult subject to approach with Dad. He was a Christian who was heavily involved in the Anglican Church. I had long left religion. The topic was becoming more uncomfortable to me. I think he felt a great sense of disappointment in my walking away from religion. All I was looking for was acceptance and understanding. A religious-themed Christmas card that he gave me in 2012 was a slight bit hurtful. He wrote several things in it that made me feel really rough about myself. I remember leaving his place in tears that day. As I said, all I wanted was acceptance and respect for my personal choice. My Dad was an Atheist who converted to Christianity in his early twenties so I was hoping for more understanding.
Incidentally, I have no desire to be part of any debates on religion or politics any more. Over the last few months I have begun to feel that if you are not hurting anyone in expressing or having whatever beliefs you have and if you are a good person, your religious and political ideologies would not change my opinion of you. When and if any more writing from me on those subjects is published, it would be for the purpose of telling a story and not to fulfill the need to engage in debate.
Fast-forward to early December 2013. This time it was me picking up the phone to call Dad. It was mid-week and not a Sunday. It was an exceptionally good conversation. Maybe one of the best we ever had. We covered all the topics as per usual but with more of a positive flair. A night or two before, I had accidentally struck a coyote on the highway and it crushed me. I did not sleep for days after that. We spoke about it at length. He seemed to understand that despite all the negative words that coyotes get, it was about listening to how I felt about it. This was an animal that might have been out to hunt for itself. Maybe it had pups to feed. Who knows. Animals deserve respect, especially in the wild. The funniest part of the conversation was his critique of my second book, Throwing Dice. He told me that he “did not get it”. As much as we both loved good comedy, my style of writing for that book was not appealing to his sense of humour. It was a fair critique and I was good with it.
I managed later to steer that conversation in the direction of the religious Christmas card. I explained politely that my hope this year would be that he might consider how I felt about religion and that if he were to buy a card it would not be religious in theme. I explained that to me that I would always say “Merry Christmas”. I would also say “Happy Holidays” or anything else I felt like saying to reflect the time of year. What I wanted was not to be preached to or made to feel guilty about my personal choice to leave religion.
He was excellent in his response. He spoke without missing a beat on how he knew that he could easily find a “more appropriate” (his words) card with no religious verse on it. I felt that he was finally accepting the choice.
The end of the call was like how most of our calls would end. We would usually say a few words and phrases that would make the goodbye last up to a minute. Sometimes it was funny. Most times it was serious. During this call as our phrases trailed off to the hangup, I heard him say,
“I’m proud of you”
I remember hanging up just after that. Feeling a greater sense of optimism on where things were going with our conversations. I remember feeling that it was one of the best talks we may ever had.
On the evening of December 9, Dad passed away suddenly. He had been in the hospital for two days. We were only contacted early that morning to be told he was even there. We all had hoped that somehow he would pull through and be on the road to recovery. His passing was a serious shock to the system. Over a year later there are days over the last year that I found myself in disbelief that he is gone.
The late great movie critic Roger Ebert once spoke about how writing was a release for him on an interview for Book Television. There is not a person in this craft and business who would disagree. This particular story is one I have wanted to release for quite some time. There is not a day that goes by where I am thankful for that last conversation. This is my way of letting more of the grief go. To embrace acceptance of the here and now, and to move forward.
So remember who your real family is. Remember your friends are also your family. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Have a real conversation. Debate if you must. Argue if it is necessary. Don’t feel like picking up the phone but want to reach out? Send an email. People’s mailboxes are full of mostly spam these days so a personal message would probably be a welcome for somebody in your life. You never know when you will be having that last conversation. Or when they will be having it with you.