He never opened the e-mail; the birthday e-card was never picked up. Granted it was silly -- an animated e-card of a Tyrannosaurus rex with an English accent wearing a tiny birthday hat and sharing a funny yet offensive joke about a guy peeing all over a bar to win a bet. Just the kind of humor a veteran cop of 32 years would want to read on his 80th birthday.
But he never opened it. I only stare at the notification verifying this fact. I never open up the auto-responder either, marking it read to remove the blue dot next to the e-mail in my Apple mail. I just visit it from time to time in the list of opened e-mails as if it were a reminder of something lost, the blue dot exposing the space where the sadness seeps in.
And it's only been 21 days since I sent it to him, 17 days since I went to see him, and 9 days since he died.
Dad's lucidity intact when I sent it, there were bigger things on his mind on his 80th birthday. The fact that he and Mom could no longer take care of each other weighed heavily on them both, especially Dad. Mom's chronic illness came to a head again and my sister and I had to come help them both.
No more chemo, hospice in place, advanced directive decisions made all in a matter of a few days. Laughing, talking and then slipping away quickly, aware but unable to articulate any kind of verbal response, these haunting hiccups had started as his body began to shut down, as if his life were a worn record album with the needle jumping in the same place…
He hated my music. Maybe hate's a strong word, but when you hear "turn that crap down" or "turn that crap off" or "close your bedroom door when you listen to that crap" it leaves little room to wonder. Never a rock and roll fan in the first place, when the family tree of rock branched into grittier, harder more explicit and progressive directions, then Dad along with many others of his generation threw up their collective hands and then hung their heads in bitter silence, right before they shouted "turn that crap off."
Mom's the one who turned me on to music -- rhythm and blues, soul, light jazz, pop and of course my favorite, rock (and roll). And they both were actually supportive when I joined the Columbia Record Club and bought 13 records for 1 cent, which really turned out to be more like $46.01 in shipping and handling. But they both weren't really happy when they found out I still had to buy three more albums over two years at full overpriced Columbia Record Club prices. However, those first 13 albums where like precious metals -- Kiss, Kansas, Journey, Boston, Queen, Aerosmith and more (becoming a Rush fan would come later for me).
Shortly thereafter it was my 13th birthday and Mom and Dad took me to Sears to buy my very first bonafide home stereo for my room. My anticipation and impatience was palatable. Until that point I had played all my 45's on a Playskool record player. Really. How cool was that.
There was a budget of course as we walked up and down the electronics section of Sears. The choices were mind boggling. Every one I looked at I wanted and I knew I wanted the AM/FM radio, the record player and the 8-track player that recorded tapes as well. I practically peed my pants trying to decide which one.
"Son, you really should get the one with the cassette player, not the 8-track player," said Dad. This coming from a man whose favorite tunes were from the musical "South Pacific," on reel-to-reel tapes he purchased, ironically enough, in the South Pacific.
"No, I want the 8-track player," I said, defiant and quite sure of myself. I did already have a few 8-tracks and knew I'd be buying more of them and records with future allowance money.
Dad shook his head and smiled. "I'm telling you, son. 8-track tapes won't be around much longer. Cassettes are going to be the way to go."
No matter how many times he tried to convince me, with Mom concurring, I refused. I went home with an 8-track home stereo system and turned my crap up really, really loud. One week later, every 8-track tape still on the market was gathered up quietly from record store shelves and mail order services and shipped to an underground vault in Iowa, never to be seen again.
Dad was always insightful that way. Whether it was chasing people across paper when he managed forgeries and frauds on the force; or investing much of his retirement years on family research and genealogy, delving back generations and uncovering fascinating family stories over four family lines while smashing the stereotype that older folk don't know how to use computers and the Internet; or knowing how my music would last better over time (considering 8-tracks only lasted about a week until the tracks started playing over one another).
This is how we remember: the needle jumps around the record giving us snatches of our favorite riffs, choruses, melodies, guitar solos, drum solos, intros and outros. My girls won't understand the record player metaphor unless I explain to them, and explain it to them I will. I'll want them to hear the stories of my youth, of my Mom and Dad, of my family, of music metaphors and the sadness that sometimes seeps in.
The blue dot winks and I smile. I will miss you, Dad.