My father is a reserved man. Stoic. Silent. When he does speak it always catches me by surprise, especially when he speaks with out prompting.
Now, he is no philosopher and most of the words he speaks form a complaint, so you shouldn't believe his words carry any more weight than a normal human. That said, because of the infrequency of his verbal contributions, I have always paid close attention to how he says what he says.
Intonation and tone can tell you a great deal about a person's character, dialect about where they're from, diction and word choice can reveal the depths of their education or the breadth of their reading and so on and so on. I'm not sure my father felt his education was a high priority but he's no dummy either. Take that for what you will.
Anyway, one unremarkable (Canadian) Thanksgiving he did something that still sits with me today. The family was buzzing around the kitchen, stirring, preparing and shooting the breeze, while my father and I sat Jin the room adjacent from all the noise. That's when it happened. All 6'7" of his hulking mixed-white dude frame stood to attention, his arm raised and his thick index finger pointed across the room as he said, “What's wrong with the robit?” He was pointing at a TV or Stereo or whatever—doesn't matter really—that was on the fritz.
So many questions began to flood my walnut-sized brain. How did this event get him to both move and speak? Has he ever used the word 'robit' since I've been alive? Did he learn the word 'robot' in the fifties and hasn't used it since? (Clearly, the dialect suggests so.) Is the concept of a robot even clear to him? Does he refer to everything electronic as a 'robit'? Does he speak like this all the time in his head, without ever voicing the words?
In our household, you never asked questions. We were far too pragmatic for "what ifs" I suppose, perhaps that's just what I told myself. So, like a good son, I once again towed the family line and poured an icy glass of repression on the fire in my mind. Swallowed down, all the way to those faded childhood memories of mine.
To this day I smile when I hear the word 'robot'. In my head, I swap what I hear and remember that curious moment from my past. I grin when I hear a random beep of a cell phone—your robot's beeping—or watch someone point an unflinching remote control at a television screen, their face twisted in frustration—Damn those ungrateful robots! Never do as they're told.
I get strange looks at the market, when I ask if the robot accepts Apple Pay and furrowed brows abound any time I forget to wind my watch: I am left with no choice but to reply, "Sorry mate, my robot's called in sick today."
I don't know much about you dad, it's a bit of shame really. It's clear that at this stage in my life I'll never ask, but you've taught me to relish the simple pleasure of never explaining a joke.
Clearly owned by someone from a generation earlier than mine, because all millennials—I had to look it up but yes, that's me—keep their phones on silent at all times. And I speak for all of my entitled and disaffected generation, wink-wink and/or nudge-nudge. ↩︎
I'll break the rule just this once. Adding "thanks, dad" after a reasonably dark and heated diatribe is, perhaps, my favourite way to break the ice at parties. ↩︎