It was three in the morning on a cold Wisconsin night and Jake was headed home. He had several more hours yet to travel. He estimated he would arrive home just as night began to surrender to the morning. He had not been home for many years. He had left for college and never looked back.
It was easy enough to do. He was from a small family and was not particularly close to any of them. His mother had passed when he was ten and the relationship with his father was complicated one, to say the least. Except for a few phone calls a year they hardly talked.
For so many years Jake was ok with this fact. As the years passed he never understand why his father was the way he was. He just could not figure it out. Sure he knew now the death of his mother did real damage to his father. He was always a man’s man, to begin with, but her death seemed to shut down whatever feelings he had left. Jake really wondered if his father really wanted to see him anyway. He always thought he was a painful reminder of her for him.
These were the thoughts that Jake had as he traveled down the lonely night road. He tried to think of happy times with his father instead of being so negative. He was having a time thinking of any. One the few things he thought off was football Sundays. Every Sunday the Packers would play his father would make homemade little pizza’s and they would watch the Packers play. It was the only time they got along. Especially in his teenage years.
He could not help but smile thinking about those days. He recalled how his father would always say the same thing every Sunday when he brought in the food from in from the kitchen .“I know these are not good as mom used to make but they’re still pretty good” Every time without fail. He could not help wonder if he subconsciously decided to arrive home on Sunday during football season.
Lost in the happy memory he did not notice or hear the music stop and the electronic dash light with a message “Call from Jen”. After a moment he finally noticed and pressed the button on the steering wheel to answer the call. It was his finance. They had been dating for a couple years and he finally got the nerve to ask her to marry him. To his great relief, she said yes.
This was the reason he was traveling home in the first place. She had insisted on it. He could have gotten married without him but she was having none of that. She was from a large family unlike him but they had one thing in common. She had an estranged relationship with her father as well. Unfortunately, he passed away before they could resolve things. It was the reason she was so adamant that he make the trip in the first place.
He noticed the clock on the radio said it was five thirty in the morning as he playfully said “Hey Babe” Her response totally ignored his playful clip and was all business “Hey what time to expect to make it home?” His retort was a giddy sarcastic one responding “I miss you too” Her retort was quick and completely ignored his sarcastic response.”Will you just tell me what time you are going to arrive home? I am on a tight schedule this morning and this only time I have to talk.”
Which he knew was true. She was a commercial airline pilot and she was most likely in hotel airport shuttle on her way to the airport. The plan was she was going to jump seat in later that afternoon. She had requested the day off but as junior caption she at the mercy of the senior pilots. As luck would have it she could not get the day off. Which meant he had to drive all night by himself.
To accommodate her he just decided to answer her question without any further delay. “I should arrive in about hour and a half. So about seven depending on traffic.” It was her voice that was now playful as she retorted “ You see was that so hard? I knew you could do it. Pretty soon we have the whole conversation where you answer all my questions with having me to prod you for the answers” Then she immediately started laughing at him after she said it.
He could not help but laugh himself and only managed to say “Did you call me just to bust my balls or is a reason for this for this phone call?” She responded quickly with “No thats not the only reason I called it’s just a bonus babe. The real reason is that my flight was changed so I won’t be arriving at three like originally planned. So I am going to take a taxi from the airport when I arrive. So you don’t have to pick me up. You spend that time with your father”
This was not news he wanted to hear and it was clearly not happy about it and he let out in overly sarcastic voice “Wonderful” Which she respond in an almost lecturing voice. “Stop it, You’re going to be fine. Just keep it simple at first like we talked about. Ok?” He reluctantly just said “Alright”
Before he could ask her what time she thought she would arrive she pointedly just said:” Listen babe I gotta go now I will see you sometime this afternoon Ok?” He just took a deep breath and said: “Sounds like a plan.” A brief moment of silence passed and she raised her voice slightly and said Hey? He responded quickly with a softer concerned voice and said “Hey what” She let a moment pass and told him soft voice “I miss you to. Now tell me you love because I really have to go” In the most sincere voice he could manage he told her “ I love you, Miss Anderson”
She just playfully laughed at this and said “You fucking better” and hung up the phone.
He just laughed at this and for the rest of the trip, he did not think of his father. He thought about her. Sure she was a pain the ass sometimes but he knew he was no picnic either. He felt blessed he had gotten so lucky.
His mind did not return to his father until he was the street his old house was on. Now suddenly the nerves hit home. He thought about turning around in a bit of panic but it would only postpone it. She would not let him. So he drove slowly down the street. In an effort to delay it as long as possible.
The house was on a dead end street and it was the last one the left. It was a modest house that looked exactly like every house on the block. Each house only separated by a tiny driveway. A typical inner city house that blanketed the city.
Each house had a small front porch and he was no exception. When he arrived he saw two figures sitting on the porch. At first, he could not make them out but when he pulled in front of the house it was clear. It was his father and the other was Jennifer. Apparently, she had in fact, have the day off after all.
He got out the car and slowly walked up to them on the pathway the lead to the porch. They raised out of their seats and walked to the top of the stairs. She was holding a blue binder in one hand. He immediately recognized it.It was on that was chalked full of pictures of him as a baby and small child. Not to mention his mother who passed all those years ago.
When he got to the bottom of the stairs he just stopped and shook head and said. “Why am I not surprised you’re already here?” He was not mad at her. At best he was may be slightly irritated at her. He just pretended to be. She did respond to his question instead she looked at his father who was standing right next to her and laughingly said “He is not really mad at me. If anything it’s big relief to him already here. He just tries to act tough” Which drew a hearty smile and laugh from his father.
Before he could respond she hopped down the stairs and threw her arms around his head with one hand still holding the blue binder and gave kiss hello and said “That’s how you greet your future wife for future reference. Which drew some more laughter from his father. Then she withdrew her arms from around his head and with free hand grabbed the keys from his hand and said. “Now don’t embarrass me and go so hello to your father I will get your bag”.
He just watched her walk away for a quick second and then turned at looked at his father and said: “Dad” which drew a quick “Son” from him. After a moment passed he walked up the stairs and stood next to him. Not really knowing what to say. He looked out onto the street where she was getting his bag and asked him “ So what do think of her Dad? His father turned from looking at him and looked out at her while simultaneously placing his hand on his back and proudly said “She reminds of your mother. She got that same spunk she had”
This, of course, was the biggest compliment he could have paid her. It surprised him that it meant a lot to him that he liked her.
Still, the anger he felt towards his dad was not going to go away overnight. He was about to go into the speech he prepared in the head on the drive here. How he was only here for her and that was the only reason. Before he could, however, his father spoke and told him the following.
“Why don’t you go upstairs to your old room and get some sleep. You must be tired of driving all night. We will talk when you get up. The Packers play at one clock. We will talk then. I will make little pizzas. I know they are not good as mom used to make but they’re still pretty good.
It was in that moment that Jake realized just how much he missed his dad. The speech he had prepared in his head was gone. He felt like he ten years old again. He struggled to contain his emotions. Without thinking he leaned into his father and hugged him almost like a child would. Squeezing him tight and whispering in his ear. “I know they won’t be like moms. They will be better”
Jake was finally understanding.
By Keith Ashwood