Grandpa

My father became a grandfather almost a quarter century ago, but I've never really thought of him as being an "old man". In my mind, his voice hasn't at all changed since the 80s nor has the colour of his hair or body shape. My out-dated mental image of the man does receive small updates every so often when we have an opportunity to chat with video, but this is the exception rather than the rule. My father has remained in his late-30s for decades, and this is the way that I picture him in memories and hypothetical scenarios despite the fact that I am now in my mid-40s. That said, this morning the image was drastically altered this morning when I heard his real voice for the first time in at least six months. As one would expect from someone in their mid-60s, he does not sound like a man in his thirties. In fact, I was shocked by how old and tired he sounded.

The passage of time is inescapable. There are no medicines or creams that will allow us to hold onto the energy of our youth. Over the last couple of months I've even noticed that the reflection in the mirror is looking much older as of late. Silver and white strands of hair can be seen mixed with the brown. The lines around my eyes are more pronounced. The pores on my skin are deeper than before. My hands, which most certainly feel like mine, appear as though there's just a little too much skin to cover the muscles. Regardless of how I might feel about the matter, I most certainly look my age. It seems only natural that my father would also look – and sound – his age.

Yet there's no denying that sound of his voice this morning took me for a surprise. Because of his medical status, because of the things he has done throughout his life, his body is tired. And this is what I heard this morning during our call. A voice I will forever recognise, but aged beyond anything I've ever been willing to accept.

Not that time gives a darn of what we might be willing to accept.

After our call came to an end I wondered how my son might remember my voice. Will he imagine it as it is today? Will he imagine it some other way, as a five year old child might imagine an ideal father? Someone who is present? There is no way for me to know the answer to this question, but I do wonder. Children often look up to their parents and emulate the behaviours they see. Like a sponge, they absorb all kinds of mannerisms that we are completely unconscious of1. Has the boy absorbed enough time with me to have built a semi-static representation of a father figure?

When the situation at home calms down, I will make an effort to visit my parents again. I have not seen my father nor step-mother since the trip to Princeton four years ago, and I haven't seen my biological mother or step-father since … I can't remember. At least 22 years have passed. To say that I've failed to maintain an honourable relationship2 with these people would be an understatement, but there is still a bit of time.

The older I get, the more I see that it's not what we do with our time that is most important, but who we spend that time with. Perhaps I can say this now because I've been employed for so long and had the opportunity to make a name for myself in a narrow field. Or perhaps I can say this because, like Joni Mitchell sang in the 70s, we don't know what we've got 'till it's gone … and I've lost access to the people3 that I care most about. Regardless the reason, the one thing I can say is that hearing my father's "grandpa voice" today was like being shaken awake. I need to re-think my priorities, get things done, and selfishly set aside blocks of time to be with the people who mean the most to me.


  1. The boy used to bring a camera bag with him every time we left the house. He wore it over his shoulder like I wear my shoulder bag. It took me a while to realise that he was emulating this. He saw me carry a bag, which would contain my wallet, an iPad, some spare masks, and other supplies in the event the boy needed something. So, thinking "that's what people do", he repurposed an old camera bag to do the same. Inside he would have a magnifying glass, because he liked to pretend he was a detective, along with a notepad and a pencil. One day I should write about how the boy reflected my own behaviours in such a way that I could see what was good to emulate and what I needed to change.

  2. The fifth Commandment is "כַּבֵּד אֶת אָבִיךָ וְאֶת אִמֶּךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ", which reads as "Honour thy father and thy mother" in many English translations. How a person does this is largely up to them but, no matter how I think I've honoured them, I recognise my failures. I seldom call. I have never sent gifts back for birthdays or Christmas. All in all, I've been disconnected with much of the family since leaving Ontario in the summer of 2002. While there was the stigma of shame twenty years ago that prompted the move to western Canada, there's no need for this anymore. My ego today is nowhere near as large or insufferable as it was back then … though it can still be a bit much at times.

  3. This includes Nozomi, though she is not a "person".