Without thinking even 60 seconds, I hit the Buy Now button and sent my 89-year old father his first computer, a brilliant blue IMac. The same day I wrote him a letter, gave him my email address, and told him to email me when he got the IMac.
Then I waited, nervously, anxiously. I’d never gotten my father such a big present and I’d had no indication from him whatsoever that he was interested in having a computer. He seemed happy plugging out letters on his vintage 30’s Underwood typewriter which he kept under a dust cover on a special table in his office. It was the machine he used to type out my mother’s obituary. I know. I sat next to him and watched.
His wife, my mother, had died just three months before. He filled his days reading big fat novel after big fat novel, so popular at the local library that he found himself checking out the same book a second and third time. There was always a hardcover book with its spine cracked resting on the table next to his chair, the TV tuned to CNN. It was what he did all day long when he wasn’t doing his errands or being checked on by relatives. He would admit to me only in the slightest way that he was lonely. “It’s just not the same without Mom,” he would say. I bet. Sixty-four years of constant companionship, yes, being totally alone would have to be pretty different.
So I thought the IMac would be perfect. Connect him to the internet, maybe get him interested in travelling again. It’s amazing what the arms’ length grievers think the primary grievers ought to think about. The idea that my father would ever go on a trip again was cracked; as I would find out over the next couple of years, he was loathe to be farther than an hour’s drive from his home and my mother’s grave. His was a very small orbit. It’s what he wanted.
I waited days to hear from him about the IMac but there was no word, no email, no letter. There would not have been a phone call; I didn’t expect one. Neither of us used the phone to communicate. He had called me only once in my life and I’ll let you guess why.
As the days went by, I started to get the unpleasant feeling that I had overstepped, sent him too big a present, made him feel uncomfortable, maybe even upset him. Maybe, like many older people, he had taken offense at having gotten something ‘newfangled’ that he hadn’t asked for and didn’t want and would now have to cope with the expectation that he would use. I regretted having sent him the IMac, hated myself for my endless impulsivity and for thinking that having a computer would be ‘just the ticket’ as my father would say to deal with his extraordinary, unspoken grief.
But life is full of surprises.
Dear Janice, This is quite a Father’s Day present. Thank you. I’m sorry it has taken so long to get this first email to you. I had to get some help getting going. TIE (take it easy) and SIT (stay in touch), Dad
This is a reposting of a piece originally posted 9/28/13.