My dad called me this morning. It's a rare occurrence.
I generally talk to my dad on the phone a few times a year. My birthday, his birthday, father's day. Some years, one or the other has left a message and the other has not called back. Some years there might be an extra call or two if some family event is going on. The past year we've upped that to about bi-monthly chats.
He got his father's day gift today, a book that Milan had written about, that I thought would be right up Dad's alley. My father builds race car engines, so deals with physics on a daily basis. He also likes movies. And spending time in the bathroom. So really, this book seemed pretty perfect.
After the thanks and the how's tricks were out of the way, he said "The past couple of weeks have been pretty exhausting." I missed the catch in his voice at first. Racing season started up not long ago, and he's getting older, has been saying with more frequency that racing is a young man's game.
"You know the driver of our car, [redacted]?"
I made a small noise in agreement. Never met the guy, heard a lot about him. He threw my Dad's 60th birthday party, because we are ungrateful children. Over the past several summers, my father has spent nearly every weekend with him, driving all around Southern Ontario and Upstate New York. That's besides the work on the car during the week.
"He committed suicide two weeks ago."
The hitch and break in his voice was clear this time. I nearly dropped the phone.
"Oh Dad. Oh. Dad. I'm so sorry. I am so so sorry to hear that. Are you okay?"
He didn't really answer.
"I gave the eulogy, so there were a couple of sleepless nights before that. He was 35, nice guy,
seemed like he didn't really have a care in the world. Obviously he did."
I almost said something here, about how much it can take out of you to keep that front up, to seem like the person you want other people to see. But that would have cast the long shadow of my history across the conversation; I didn't think he needed that.
But I didn't have much more.
"Oh Dad. I'm so sorry. That's awful. For everyone."
"He was a good kid. The car's at my place now, and we don't know what to do with it. We're going out next week with the other car, but racing's not so much fun now, you know."
The part of my heart where my father lives is treacherous; hard knots of anger and fear starred by sinkholes of wailing mush; the occasional solid ground.
He didn't cry, not quite, but the tears were leaking through his voice. There's something about fathers, at least the kind of father my father is, that precludes this kind of sadness. Or at least the expression of it. The only time I've seen him cry is when his father died more than 20 years ago.
His voice on the phone hit that treacherous ground, softened up at least one of the knots.
"Well, I'd better go."
"Yeah, I should get back to work."
"Love you, Meg."
"Me too, Dad. I love you. Keep well, okay?"
"Yeah. Yeah. I'll give it a shot."