By: Matt Gordon
Today a man approached my home, rang the bell, and somewhat abruptly asked me a question that no human can answer well. He wasn’t a pollster or a delivery person. He was not a missionary of the Latter Day Saints inquiring about the state of my soul. No, he was a just a confounding man who pithily riddled me down to the very core of said soul. I had no good answer for him. His question:
“Is your dad home?”
Yep, those were the first words that came cartwheeling, all ninja attack mode, out of his mustache-capped mouth. He was around fifty-five, and I have never seen him in my life.
“Is your dad home?” he repeated like a prosecutor badgering a hapless witness into self-incrimination.
“Um, nope,” I said through vacant smile, “he isn’t.”
I didn’t actually know that. My dad very well could have been home. Just as he could have been in Rome or out playing squash, or even eating it for that matter. The thing is, I don’t know my father’s daily whereabouts because I am inching along toward forty years old and haven’t lived under the same roof as him since about the age of twelve.
“Huh,” my visitor said, surprised. He was obviously expecting my father.
Now, let me pause the narrative so we can consider the question once more. What does a grown person say to that?
He doesn’t live here, you offer. Sure, but that wasn’t what the question was after, was it? He didn’t ask if my father lived there. He asked if he was home, before looking skeptically over my shoulder as if I may be lying. As if my very father was bound and gagged by my hand somewhere in my home.
My wife thought I could say something like, I’m a grown up, which is a self-defeating utterance. It is what schoolchildren say when they want a later bed time or to eat popsicles in the bathtub, and what I say now when I glory in staying up late and eating popsicles in the bathtub. Sure, I could have been more direct with it: “I’m a grown-A man.” I’ve heard a guy say that one actually. He was volunteering in a foreign land and the organization to which he was in service had some ground rules about leaving the complex at night on account of our likelihood of being murdered and all. Seemed a sensible enough reason for a rule to me. But not to this fellow who offered emphatically when reminded of the rule before going out for a run, “I’m a grown-A man. I’m forty!” In that moment, sir, no you were not. You were eleven again and demanding to be allowed to stay out after the street lights came on. This is no suitable answer to the question at my front door.
I’m sorry, sir, you have the wrong home or idea, I think. Yeah, nice one armchair QB. Pretty easy to have all the solutions from afar, when the pressure of a white-haired stranger and his beady eyes aren’t staring into your own and demanding to know the whereabouts of your father. In that panic you freeze or you melt. Or, like me, your face makes a dopey smile that contrasts against your reeling mind and you say, “Um, nope. He isn’t.”
“Well, I was wanting to talk to your dad,” he continues, again looking over your shoulder like a police officer on TV who really, really doesn’t want to wait for his Commanding Officer to work the judge over to get the warrant before the big crime happens. He was fidgety and so was I.
“He’s not here, okay?” I tried not to sound defensive but that okay gave me away. I began to believe this stranger—perhaps I had confiscated my poor father. Search the whole house, I wanted to say to clear up my innocence, for both him and me. But I couldn’t say it. I feared what he might find.
“Okay, well, I need to talk to someone about the downspout we fixed.”
“Um, okay,” I said confidently. I can handle the downspout business, I tried to convey. You don’t need my father. I’m the man of this house, downspouts and all.
“Well, are you the one who broke the downspout?”
I wondered if I was? He seemed sure that it was, indeed, me who broke the downspout. More sure, in fact, than I was that it wasn’t me.
“It wasn’t me, okay?” Again I was betrayed by an okay—a clear admission that it was anything but okay. If ever a functioning downspout was needed it was now, with the sheer, wet drama building up to overflowing like it was.
“Okay,” he calmed me. And then looked past me again. “Well, if your dad were here I could just talk to him and have him pay this invoice,” he waved some sort of document before me.
I snatched it up thinking, I’m a grown-A man. I can pay the darn invoice, okay?
“This is 1401 Davidson, right?”
It was, so I nodded. At least I thought it was. I thought so many things up until this point though, but now I (and reality) was utterly undone. This could be any old fatherless place.
I read the form. It said 1407 Davidson. Was my father next door!?
“This says 1407 Davidson,” I feigned confidence at the prospect of acquittal.
He snatched it back. Read. Considered. Took one more glance behind me for my father’s sake I’m guessing.
“Well, aren’t I an idiot,” he said and walked away.
Yes, yes you are, I thought. And then I went to check the downspouts for any signs of my dad.