My dad is a New Year’s Baby born on January 1st of some year long ago. I don’t really know when; I’m terrible with numbers. I’ve always found his birthday to be highly inconvenient for a few reasons.
First, there’s the fact that my father is not especially talkative. He, like me, only really speaks when there’s something that needs saying. He uses words sparingly and when they come, they mean something. His words are insightful, witty or purposeful. Awkward silences don’t really exist with him. Some of my best memories of my father involve just silently sitting with him, fishing or watching a fire or what have you. Just his presence speaks volumes. It’s warm and familiar. It slowly, magically removes any anxiety without you even realizing it. But you can’t just sit with someone over the phone. You can’t watch a fire together. You can’t just enjoy someone’s presence because the only thing present on a phone is a voice.
My father is 100% Finnish. Most of you probably have no idea what that means since there are roughly 5 million Finns in the world. There are more people than that within a 20 mile radius of the backyard in which I’m writing this. Stereotypically, Finns love hockey, vodka and coffee. They are pigeonholed as stubborn, wry, funny, determined, resilient, stalwart, socially awkward, disinclined to talk until they start drinking and excellent snipers. There are probably so few Finns in the world because we are so socially retarded and taciturn. The Finnish mating process must be hilarious to watch. I am a stereotypical Finn. My father is even more of a stereotypical Finn than me. His father was even more of a stereotypical Finn than him. In the roughly ten years that I knew him, my grandfather probably said a total of fifty words to me and most of them were “hm.”
The joke is that the lion on the Finnish coat of arms looks like it is stabbing itself in the head with a sword. Go go retarded lion!
I am a lot like my father. I don’t chitchat. I don’t like talking about nothing just for the sake of talking. I hate the telephone because of the whole have-to-keep-talking aspect of it. I don’t use words quite as sparingly as my father, but I’m not prolix like my sister. I prefer texting my sister because trying to get a simple yes or no answer on the phone will take fifteen minutes of solid babbling. She is the opposite of our father in the words department. She spits them out nonstop. She is never at a loss for words.
Second, New Year’s Day is an awful time to have to make a phone call for me. When I was younger, it usually meant I was hung over as hell. And there’s a time change, three hours difference, so by the time I felt up to making a phone call, it would be bedtime in his world. I’d have to force myself to call earlier in the day. There were a few years when I had to excuse myself for a minute to go throw up.
Even now that I don’t really drink anymore, New Year’s Day is an awful time to have to make a phone call. Like my father, and very unlike my mother and sister, I am not a social butterfly. When I go to a party, it takes a lot out of me. It takes all of my strength to be witty and charming. Most of the time, I don’t really enjoy it. There are times when I’m feeling social, but generally, obligatory social occasions, like the holidays, are not among them.
The problem with the holidays is that they fall so close together. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve all fall within a paltry few weeks of each other. I don’t have time to recharge my social batteries. By the time New Year’s rolls around, I am spent. My face hurts from smiling. My back hurts from standing around talking to people. My meager supply of conversational topics has been exhausted. You can see the strain. By New Year’s Day, I am simply done, but it’s not over yet. I still have to make a phone call.
A telephone conversation between me and my father is difficult precisely because we are so much alike. We both pause, pregnantly, and then we both start speaking at the same time and stop. “Go ahead.” “No, you go ahead.” I’ve forgotten what it was I was going to say.” “Oh.” Pause pause pause… repeat. It’s easier when my sister on this end or my mother on that end are there to herd the conversation in a forwardly moving direction.
This New Year’s Day didn’t start especially well. I had a lot on my mind. I went over to my sister’s house with the devious intention that we could make the phone call to our father together, allowing my sister to do her job as conversation wrangler, thereby mitigating any awkwardness on the telephone and producing success! However, she had already made her phone call… Drats. Foiled again.
Then, I forgot. I just plain forgot to call. I got a text message from my mother on Thursday: “I cannot believe that you did not call your father on his birthday. He was hurt.” Gee, thanks for the guilt trip, Mom.
I called today. As expected, I apologized to Dad for not calling on his birthday and he said words to the effect of “whatever” and of course, he meant it. He wasn’t upset that I didn’t call on his birthday. That was just projection from my mom. My dad and I are one side of the spectrum, my sister and Mom are on the other. Family… eesh.
I talked to Dad for something like ten minutes. It’s almost a record. “So, how…” “Did you…” “I’m sorry, you go ahead.” “No it’s OK, what were you saying?” Pause. “So how…”Did you…” And so it goes.
Happy birthday, Dad. Now the holidays are officially over.