“Well, I suppose it was inevitable.”
“What do you mean, Dad?” I asked.
“This app stuff. I suppose I had to fall behind eventually.”
I smiled as he fidgeted with his iPhone. It was a sad smile. The kind you have when you remember something great, while simultaneously realizing that it doesn’t exist anymore. I didn’t know why he had upgraded his device, nor did I know where it had come from. I considered asking, but thought better of it.
My Dad was always bringing home hot ticket items.
I remember asking my Dad what he did for a living, and being told he was “in marketing”. Thinking on it now, I’m sure this didn’t make him a “marketer”, but the particulars didn’t trouble me back then. My Dad knew a hit when he saw it. And when he did, he would go out and get it, quicker than the flash of a flint.
I didn’t see this quality in my friends’ parents. Other people’s parents seemed to see and get things at the same time. House by house, street by street, you could watch the trends roll out across their lawns, and inside their rec rooms. From sconces to swimming pools, suburban fashion to foreign food, the lag between us and others was greater than between them and everyone else. By the time other households got it, my Dad was already into something bigger, better, and more cool than that.
My Dad knew what was cool.
I wasn’t always sure how he found, or afforded what he brought home, but it didn’t seem to matter to anyone else. New items never arrived with a receipt. Many were dropped off by “Uncle Mike”. Contrary to this title, Mike wasn’t a relative of mine. I learned to love Mike, but I don’t know if it was genuine attachment, or an affinity for what he delivered.
Over the years, my Dad and Mike pulled off many surprise deliveries. I was given a Cabbage Patch Kid when no one else could get one. Years later, my sister got a Tickle Me Elmo from “Santa”, even though the TV told me that every kid in the western world was mourning a missing muppet on Christmas morning.
When that Schwarzenegger holiday film was released, I imagined my Dad as the hero. I pictured him jumping over obstacles, and flirting with convention to get the things he brought home for us. In my version of the film, I could hear the narrator’s voice saying “Lies may be told, and wisemen may burn, but it’s ok so long as the quest is a righteous one.” He was the star of the parade, and I was bundled up curbside, taking it all in.
My Dad, wasn’t like other dads.
My Dad wore cowboy boots with jeans, even in the winter. Somehow, it didn’t look stupid, even though we lived in Southwestern Ontario, where the snow is plentiful and the cowboys are distant. If he liked it, he wore it, and that was that.
My Dad, Roland, did as he pleased.
Roland worked out shirtless in the backyard. His routine a combination of weights and wild kung-fu. It should have looked silly, but it looked natural. Like his body knew what it was doing.
I’d eye him from inside the house. The sunlight concealing me as I followed along behind the glass. I tried on his confidence. I wondered if I looked as cool as he did.
My Dad, Roly, was cool.
Roly was an avid reader. He could binge espionage novels, and burn through the latest Stephen King thriller in record time. After he consumed these things, he would tell me about them. Neither were my favourite, but I loved hearing what he loved about them. His intense devotion made them sound worthy of attention. I’d find myself asking questions about spies, or The Stand that I didn’t know I had. His alacrity for them created a flame in me too. A curiosity. Oxidation.
Roly knew about films. Uncle Mike regularly dropped off screeners of the latest releases. The small print at the bottom of the screen stating “distribution of this cassette is intended for film professionals only” was never explained. I assumed that the threats of fines and FBI involvement didn’t apply to us. I knew that the next day, a new title would appear, with the same warning script. I stopped reading them because I knew what they said by heart.
Watching him in his armchair, I felt a wave of discomfort as I realized that he looked sort of… foolish. For the first time in my life, my Dad was staring at something with uncertainty. I had become accustomed to seeing Roly’s fingers on the pulse of pop culture. Picking up and putting down the latest and greatest, the flashiest and fastest, with ease. I wasn’t ready to see him struggle. Not so soon. The caped crusader in his final adventure, less heroic than remembered. No one queued street side to watch him pass.
I took the phone from my Dad’s hand and with a few deft taps, rearranged the home screen so that the most important apps (telephone, messages, search, and e-mail) were front and centre. I noticed some messages from Uncle Mike. “Of course!” I thought. Mike must have dropped off the new phone. I upped the text size, selected zoomed display, and then handed the device back to him, kneeling next to his chair as I did so.
The room smelled of cigarettes. As I settled into place, the circular singe marks along the right arm of the upholstery came into sharp focus. I reached across him, pointing out the changes I had made, and explained how they might help him navigate the phone in my absence.
He brightened, and flashed me a charming, but toothless grin. “You probably thought your old Dad knew everything, hey?”
He looked too small, and gaunt to be just 64.
I stood up, and matched his expression. “I sure do” I said as I turned towards the door. I noticed his cowboy boots tucked in next to the coat rack. I wondered how quickly they might catch fire.