I look over at my phone and see seven missed calls. I’m at my internship and my colleagues can see I am actively ignoring this blinking block of technology. Five years have passed and I’m still too uncomfortable to answer my phone with four co-workers and my manager within earshot.
“You have another missed call,” my colleague murmurs to me, clearly concerned that the multiple, incessant phone calls indicate a grave emergency.
But I know that’s not the case. I know it’s between 9:00AM and 9:30AM, and my father can call now, so he will. I need to talk to him about my budget this month — I had an unexpected medical expense that I don’t know how to cover — but I can’t step out of the room right now, definitely not for a thirty-minute call.
Thirty minutes is the allotted time for one phone call, and you’re charged the same whether the call is two minutes or thirty, so hanging up before thirty minutes is quite literally a waste of money.
“It’s okay, I’ll call him back,” I reply, knowing I can’t.
There’s no calling back a prison; no voice mails; and no “call me in 10s.” You pick up or you don’t.
On occasion we’ve gotten into heated arguments about this.
“You make yourself available when I call! We have important things to discuss and if we don’t talk you won’t know what to do.”
I understand his frustration — especially when I actually dodge his calls, something of which I am guilty from time to time.
But really, what are my options here?
I pick up my phone, look around the room wide-eyed and paranoid, wait 10 seconds, dial one number, and start talking as softly as possible, as to not attract any attention?
Take a minute to imagine what that looks like… I think it’s safe to say I would shortly after be unanimously labeled the biggest loon in the office.
But for arguments sake, let’s imagine I pick up. I continue to whisper personal details of my life: my budget, my doctor’s appointment, my roommates, the stock market, and our family financial investments — using up all 30 minutes. I can’t get annoyed when he can’t hear me, because I can’t move; and I can’t speak up, because I don’t want anyone to hear me.
I don’t want to discuss my budget, and definitely not my thyroid anomaly, in front of co-workers; I don’t want to explain why my Dad can’t Google market information and world news himself; and I can’t leave my desk in thirty minute intervals. It’s not feasible for me, or for any other kid of an incarcerated parent.
Still, this isn’t one of the “bad” things, really. It’s so small that I almost feel guilty complaining about it. It’s just another inconvenience; one more thing that makes life a little bit more difficult than it needs to be. You want to share great news? Bad news? Time-sensitive news? Better keep your phone’s volume up and be prepared to walk out of any business meeting, doctor’s appointment, subway platform, restaurant or movie-theater. I suggest living in a city like New York, where animatedly expressing intense human emotion on the street goes relatively unnoticed.
My father wants to impart wisdom on me and help me grow into a successful, strong person. I know he wants to take solace in the fact that I am resilient, and his errors and setbacks did not tarnish my future. The trouble is, he has limited pockets of time to do this. When I visit my father he does not weave advice into our conversations like tokens of patient wisdom; rather, he outlines a series of well thought-out, repressed gestures of love, and shoves them down my throat at an unbearable force. I often feel like a saturated sponge, listless and eager to dry off.
Unlike other parents, he doesn’t have the luxury of revisiting the conversation after I’ve “cooled down” from an adolescent outburst. So we get as much as we can out in one exhausting, often turbulent, six hour visit, once every two to three months.
Call me crazy, but I don’t see how this aspect of my father’s punishment “punishes” him at all.