Phone calls when I am catering a dinner are normally ignored, but when the caller ID said Refugee, Sr. I decided to answer.
“Hey, I was just watching the Final Four and thought about you. We still have to go one of these years.” My father’s deep even for a bass voice is unmistakable, even as he offers another hallow promise.
During my vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers fourth Super Bowl Refugee Sr. promised my 8 year old self that he and I would one day watch the Super Bowl, the Final Four, and the World Series together. Since I had not yet discovered my father to be a fallible man I believed with the unbreakable veracity of a son trusting his father’s promise.
“It’s good to talk to you, Pop” I replied. It took me years to say that statement truthfully. The dagger of timing was sharpened because it was basketball we discussed.
My father was a three sport star in High School but only had the time to teach me two of them before he and my mother split. I waited for him to teach me basketball. I waited for the weekends when he would come home and take me to the basketball court – weekends which never came. It was an early harbinger or future behavior.
“Pop, I can’t really talk at the moment – I’m doing a dinner for twenty people by myself. I just answered in case it was an emergency or you needed something important.”
By the shift in his tone, I knew that he got the slightly passive-aggressive note I used and for which I was only mildly sorry.
“No, Refugee, I don’t need anything. I was just watching basketball and thinking about my son, so I thought I would call. Is that all right with you?”
As I grew, so too did the promises (implied and explicit) and the accompanying disappointments. As my mind matured, I began to question the logic of fatherly wisdom. I no longer got excited about a new business venture. I no longer cared to meet a new friend.
“Of course, Pop. It’s just that I have a million things on the stove – this was a last minute client and I am working solo. Can I ring you later or is there something else on your mind?”
“Well… I did want to talk to you about my chess set. I have to get rid of a few things for my new place, and wanted to know if you want my chess set?”
I love my father. I love all of the things that he taught me, most of which I learned in those first eight years. Among the more important lessons: Always give more weight to people’s actions over their words. I learned that lesson too well and our relationship has suffered as a result. His greatest lesson is still in progress and unintentionally taught – don’t become him.
“I’d love the chess set, Pop. I’ll come up for a couple of days soon. l love you, but I gotta go. Bye, Pop.”