April 19, 2019

The Digital Traces We Leave Behind

“I don’t remember the final conversation I had with my father. Toward the end of his life, he was hard to understand on the phone, as years of substance abuse and failing health had garbled his voice. He’d call at inopportune times — from a rehab center or hospital on Cape Cod, or the home of a friend in Florida he had somehow charmed his way into — and I’d hurry to get off the phone. Sometimes I’d find myself annoyed by his attempts to reconnect, and let the call go to voicemail. It had been more than 15 years since we’d had anything resembling a normal relationship, and more than 30 since he and my mother had. Even in my frustration, though, it was hard not to think of his looming existential deadline. I may never get the chance to talk to him again, I’d say to myself. I always did. Until, of course, I didn’t.

On good days, he’d tell me about his latest living situation, calling from a flip phone with a number that changed as frequently as a drug dealer’s. He’d ask about my writing and where I’d traveled to lately, seemingly in awe of all the opportunities I had that he didn’t; even approaching 40, I’d revert to the role of a young boy eager to make his father proud, despite having received plenty of love from my mother and stepdad. He’d lobby me to put in a good word with my sisters on his behalf, a message I would relay. Just call the old bastard back, I’d tell them. You’ll regret it someday if you don’t.

I do, however, remember the exact day and time of our final few text exchanges, because they’re still on my phone, where, for at least as long as the cloud exists and I stay current on my bill, they’ll live forever. There’s a photo I sent him from December 2015, just after I’d had a chance to interview Tom Brady. What Massachusetts dad wouldn’t want to see that? It kind of breaks my heart to read his reply again now: “im so proud of u my son i cant wait to show everyone tomorrow i cant express my joy dad go get the big fish son agAIN IM TO PROUD FOR WORDS LOVE YOU DAD.” ”

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