09.01.11

“You never pick up your phone…”

Posted in Society at 17:29 by RjZ

I don’t miss my last job much. I was actually glad to be laid off: it was more than about time I moved on. There was something I left behind, though. Something I can never retrieve, and I am sure it’s long gone by now.

I don’t miss my father much either, although certainly much more than my job. It’s not that we didn’t have a good relationship or that I am so callous, just that he’s gone and there isn’t very much to do about. What is left thinking about him now and again; thinking about how his life effected me, good and bad, and how much unlike him, yet just like him I have become.

My father prepared us all for his passing. He was a smoker who, after his first heart attack (at 37!) and open-heart surgery, the doctors explained “[his] lungs didn’t look that bad, for a smoker.” He only heard the first part and refused to remember the latter, or the admonitions, warnings, and downright Verbots the doctors insisted on over and over again.

Smoking added to ailment after ailment: a second heart attack; weakened bones and a bad hip and back; congestive heart failure. He would say each time the competing medicines got him down that he didn’t have that long to live anyway. Not the nicest thing to say with my mom around, but, well, he did prepare us.

The sad part isn’t that he didn’t live that long. Actually, he made it deep into his sixties, which is only just a few years shy of the average in the United States (75.6). What got me is not how long he lived, but how well. My father was mostly a happy person, made unhappy by pain and suffering of illness. It was understandably hard for him not to share that pain sometimes, even if I am confident he did his best not to. The Chinese often wish each other a long life. I can’t see any value in a long life without health. My father’s dying lesson for me was to make sure I take enough care of myself so that, now matter how long I live, at least I will have done my statistical best to make it pleasant on the way out.

I had worked at my last job for quite some time; over nine years. Like I said, it was time to move on (it’s not like they have a pension or anything). A few years before my father passed, he called me at work and left a long voice mail. He was funny in the part he meant to leave, but then, he didn’t hang up the phone properly and continued to babble on to the others around them, not realizing it was still recording. It wasn’t anything all that bad, but I imagine he’d be embarrassed if he had realized that I had heard his less than charitable comments.

To be honest, I am smiling as I write this. I used to listen to that message now and again and laugh. Sure not everything people say or think is nice but he wasn’t trying to hurt me (mostly self-promoting a bit, a frequent trait of his, even if this time it was a tiny bit at my expense) but there it was, a last missive from the last time I heard him healthy and cheery.

There was no way to pack that message into my cardboard box as I was leaving the building. No way to file it among the books and potted plants. The simple relic is probably gone now; the phone system reset. It’s been some years, so it isn’t hard to move on, but it would be nice, now and again, to hear that old voice mail once in awhile. In spite of his complaint, I’m glad I didn’t answer that day.

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