When I pulled my minivan out of the bank parking lot after making a deposit, I was trying desperately to get back to my church on time to pick up my two oldest kids from Cub Scouts. That’s when my dad called.
He called every couple of days. More often than not, I was too busy at work and didn’t see the call, or I would have loud kids in the car and couldn’t talk.
But that day, March 31, I was in my car and my kids weren’t with me. It was a rare moment of silence. I answered the call. The phone call lasted 3 minutes, 3 seconds.
It was the last time I would talk to my father. It was his last phone call before he died.
Over the last two months, I’ve thought frequently about that conversation. What was said — a whole lot of nothing, except me griping to Dad about how crazy busy my schedule was, how stressed I was rushing the kids between Cub Scouts and softball practice, how we’d been juggling soccer games, too. I was exhausted from traveling after recently returning from a conference in New Orleans, and all I desperately wanted was time at home, time with nothing to do.
“No rest for the weary?” my dad would often say. How true that was.
When we were able to talk, which often happened in the car, my dad was the person I could tell anything to, and he’d listen, without judgment. When I was having a bad day, he’d tell me to “take an attitude for gratitude” and look on the bright side, to count the blessings in my life, to be thankful for all the things that were good. When stressing over things in the future, Dad would tell me not to ruin my tomorrow by “worrying about today.” When my dog died suddenly in my daughter’s arms during a visit to the dog park in January, I called Dad and cried out on the phone for several minutes. Dad listened, let me cry, and then he cried with me. Two thousand miles separated us, but for us, the cross-country distance never seemed that far. Dad was always just a phone call away.
Sometimes he would call multiple times in a day. If I didn’t answer, he’d usually call repeatedly, minutes apart, until I answered. Sometimes he’d call me, then if I didn’t answer, he’d call my sister. If she didn’t answer, he’d then call my husband or my brother-in-law. Dad would call until he could talk to someone.
And sometimes, it was hair-raising. I’d rush to the phone after the third or fourth repeated call from him and ask, “What’s the matter?” thinking someone was in the hospital or hurt. But Dad would chuckle and say, “How’s my beautiful and intelligent daughter doing?”
Dad lived three blocks from the beach in Southern California. His daily routine revolved around taking his dog on a walk to the beach, going to the grocery store and calling his daughters. I couldn’t fault him for calling repeatedly when no one answered. Every time we talked, he told me how proud he was of us, how thankful he was for the blessings in our lives, how much he loved us.
And he kept calling.
Last week, I stood in front of a card display at a Dollar General, trying to pick out Father’s Day cards for my husband, father-in-law and my mother’s former boyfriend, who has been a longtime father figure in my life. But this year is my first Father’s Day without my dad.
I stood there in front of the card display, staring at the cards, seemingly paralyzed. If I had known that last year’s Father’s Day card would be his last, what would I have written to my dad? If I had known that short, three-minute phone call on March 31 would be our last, what would I have said? Certainly I would have had a lot more to say.
Looking back, I wish I had answered the phone more. I wish I hadn’t taken so much time to return his calls. I wish I had told him how much I love and appreciate him, as frequently as he told me.
How I wish I could answer his phone call now.
There are times lately when I’ll be driving in my van and I have an urge to pick up my phone and call my dad. But I know I can’t. So sometimes I listen to his old voicemails, just to hear his voice. Last week, after going card shopping, I chose a random voicemail saved on my phone from a year earlier — I rarely delete voicemails, for which I am now thankful, as I have dozens of them stored from my dad.
“My dear, I just wanted to tell you that you are a wonderful human being and that I am so glad you are my daughter. I love you,” my dad’s voice reverberated over the car’s stereo as I listened to the message.
“I love you too, dad,” I said out loud.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. If you are lucky enough to have a father in your life, give him a call, tell him how much he means to you. You never know when a phone call might be your last.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.