About the Author

Alyssa Roqué is majoring in Mechanical Engineering as a part of MIT's class of 2011. She was born in Berkeley, California to a Mexican-American father and a European-American mother, and lived in Aurora, Colorado for thirteen years. She is the youngest of three, with an older brother and sister with whom she pretty much has nothing in common except her bloodline, but she loves them dearly. She is a member of LUChA, in the MIT Gospel Choir, and likes to dance, play volleyball, hang out with friends, eat, and try new foods from other cultures.

How to Phone Your Old Man

by Alyssa Roqué

You need to be verbally gifted, so stay in school, or else you'll end up just like him. Don't fall in love and drop out of college after just two years for a girl you think you're in love with. If you do this, you'll find yourself in a community college, thinking many years later that the reason why you don't currently have a job is because you dropped out of college to move half-way across the state because of–wait, what was her name?

Anyway, the point is that you have some information you need to give your old man, and while you're at it you figure you'll chat for a bit because it's been a while since you last spoke to him about what's happening in your busy life. Sounds simple enough, right? But let's not overestimate things here, 'cause heaven forbid you'll have to repeat anything you're about to say.

You want to pick up your phone to call him, but before you do, there are a few things you need to check first. In this situation, things are a little too brittle to go in unprepared.

Number one: make sure you're in a good mood. If any arguments emerge, being in a bad mood does not help the situation.

Number two: make sure you're not chewing on anything. That way, if one of you gets confused at any time in the conversation, there is no excuse for him to accuse you of being unclear. This would be a good time to ask if his partial dentures are loose, or if he just forgot to put them in that day, as you know he has many times before.

Number three: make sure you allot a fair amount of time to be spent talking to him just in case anything goes wrong. You can't just hang up on him if you get angry, that's like busting open a piñata with a baseball bat, only it's not candy that comes flying out–it's a pack of hornets. So, in order to avoid this, stay on the line and cleverly work your way through the argument.

Number four: make sure you know how to spell everything you plan on telling him. If he asks how to spell a word you just said and you don't know (or even if you do know, but he doesn't know what it means), plan to be on the phone for at least an additional thirty minutes. For as curious as he is, he'll begin to look up the word right there on the computer dictionary that he downloaded on his Windows 98 from a CD-ROM back in 1998. You're almost embarrassed that he still uses it, and even more embarrassed that he didn't have internet in his home until recently. Recently meaning months ago, so recently you can still count the number of months he's had it on one hand. But now, you're not as embarrassed. You give him the benefit of the doubt and say that at least he has Internet, even though it is dial-up, and it's slower than a granny on a motor chair. But once he's found the word he was looking for, he'll be so excited, and begin to tell you a random story about the daughter of one of his umpiring buddies and how she got a job working in the Boston area–and for what reason he began to tell this story, you do not know. A connection was somehow made in the brain of a man born in the 1940s. It remains a mystery. So in this case you just say "uh-huh," and keep on talking.

You can't just hang up on him if you get angry; that's like busting open a piñata with a baseball bat, only it's not candy that comes flying out—it's a pack of hornets.

Number five: remember to speak slowly. Even if you're not mumbling, he'll accuse you of doing so. You're the kind of person who tends to speak fast, but regardless, the average person can still understand you. That is, unless you're really excited. When this happens you tend to speak at warp speed and nobody knows what the heck you're saying because they're so amazed at the fact that you can speak so fast and say so much in one sentence without stopping and when they think you're about to stop you don't and you keep on going like the Energizer Bunny and at this point they start to ignore you because they can't understand a word you're saying and by now they think you've started to speak a different language because nothing sounds like English anymore but rather a mix of jumbledwordssquishedtogether. Your mother understands you. But she's not there to advocate for you all the time, which means you're frustrated half the time. Every other weekend you're left with a sordo and as a result you come home with a worn-out voice box after just three days of constantly speaking with a megaphone voice just so that your papá can hear every cotton-pickin' word you're saying. You and your siblings can all agree that virtually every conversation consists of a "What?" somewhere along the line. For instance:

"Hey Papá, guess what I did today? Well, I was over at Betty's house and she taught me how to play a Spanish song on the guitar. It's called Romance, and it sounds so pretty. It was so cool! You know how I love Spanish guitar music. But Milton, you know, Betty's dad–you met him at our joint birthday party last year, remember?–he plays the song so much better. He's so good, he should be a professional. But I'm not as good as he is. I just learned enough to make it sound like music. Do you want to hear me play it?"


Oh dear, do I have to explain this again?

And finally, number six: have patience. This is your old man–I mean, your father–you're dealing with here. You love him dearly, but you just can't stand the fact that he refuses to get a hearing aid, even though your own cousin, who's a professional otologist, has given him a discounted offer on more than one occasion. You think he'd get the point by now, but it's like he's in denial that old age has begun to catch up with him. But treat him with kindness, because if your parents are separated, you're all he's got, especially if you're the baby. But if this isn't the case, still treat him with kindness–he's your father for heaven's sake.

So when you're ready to give him a call, pick up your phone, find his name under your "contacts" list, and call. The phone will ring. And it'll ring and ring, until you think it's time for his voice message to come on. But just before it does, you'll hear the click that indicates that someone's picked up the other end, but you'll hear no voice. After a few seconds you'll wonder whether or not he answered and hung up because he's still trying to figure out how a cell phone works. Most likely he'll be there, but he won't say anything because he's plugging in his nifty headphones so he can talk on the phone with free hands. These headphones, with the black cushion covering the ear pieces, are the kind that go on both ears and wrap around the back of the head. The operator microphone comes down to the front of the mouth, with another black cushion that makes him look like a sports commentator. You laugh every time you see him put it on.

He'll finally get settled after a few seconds, when most people would have hung up, and he'll say "hello?" And you'll answer with a "Hey papá, how ya doin'?" Then he'll start telling you every detail about his day, which you don't necessarily care about–though you do care enough to know how his day was. But despite what you want, he'll tell you all the details anyway. If it's the weekend, he'll tell you about the two baseball games he umpired earlier that day, and you'll learn about how he worked the first game with a guy named Jim, whom you've never met before, and the other with his good buddy Mike, whom he's known for the past thirteen years. He'll also give you the details about why Jim didn't work with him for both games. He'll tell you that Jim had to leave early so that he could pick up his daughter from soccer practice at the other end of town. Then he'll tell you about the game itself–including every detail. He'll tell you about how Fairview High School was winning by eight home runs for most of the game, then ended up losing to Bear Creek High School in the last inning by just one home run. He'll tell you how angry this made the Fairview head coach. And how the coach got so angry that he yelled at your dad about how bad his calls were behind the plate. Of course, your dad will tell you how he just ignored him and left the field afterwards to have lunch with Mike and a few of his other umpiring buddies, because at least he's got some integrity.

But if it's a weekday, you'll learn every detail about a day in the life of your father's job in a cubicle. He'll tell you about the reports he wrote up, and how they changed the format of the whole thing to coincide with the new software that the company is implementing. Then he'll begin to complain about how he is taking the longest out of all his co-workers to adjust to the new software. He'll say that the idea to switch the software was stupid, because the new formatting is more complicated. But you'll let comments on that one alone as he'll finally tell you that he took five pieces of candy today from Cindy's office. And he'll tell you this as if he were a little kid who just stole a Lego from the toy box. "They were Babe Ruth's," he'll say, and this was seemingly the highlight of his day.

He'll tell you all of this in a muffled voice as he's nearly eating the foam cushion off the mouthpiece. He always has it so close to his mouth because he doesn't think anybody will be able to hear him otherwise. And on top of that, he'll almost yell in the microphone. You'll think, geez, just because you can't hear yourself, doesn't mean the rest of us can't. So, to stop the static, you'll ask him kindly to please move the mouthpiece away from his mouth so that you can understand what he's saying. He'll then say "Oh, okay, I'm sorry." And after a few seconds of silence you'll hear, "Is that better?" And you'll say, "Yes, papá thank you," with a sigh of relief. Your ears will then be relieved for a few minutes before the muffling starts up again. But hopefully your conversation will be coming to a close by then.

He'll finish his day with the usual update on the highway traffic coming home. You'll learn here that a red Honda sports car cut him off today as he was about to exit onto Hampden Street coming home, right by where the Nelsons live, and while he's at it, he'll remind you of the crush that their son had on you in elementary school. What a nightmare. He'll continue to tell you the incident of this red Honda sports car, and how he had to slam on his brakes to avoid an accident. "He was just a young punk with his music going boom, boom, boom," he'll say, "and his engine roaring like a whining cat." You won't be able to help but giggle at this comment.

This, to him, seems to be vital information that you need to know. So at this point in the conversation, don't just ignore him or sound annoyed, but rather, pretend to be interested so that he feels like he's not being pushed away. Respond kindly with an "Oh okay, cool. Well I'm glad you had a good day," and make a transition to talk about what you called him for.

He'll tell you all of this in a muffled voice as he's nearly eating the foam cushion off the mouthpiece.

You need to know what he's doing on a particular weekend. You need to update him with the latest information about when you're coming home for Christmas. You need to tell him when you're leaving and where you're going so that he'll know what time to meet up with you. You need directions to someplace. You need to talk with him about money matters, statements, and bills. You need advice on how to network. You need to know how to change a flat tire or where to go to get an oil change. You need to know how much soap you put in with the laundry. Whatever it is, speak as clearly as possible, using the simplest language. Never use acronyms unless you give them to him in writing. Because even after you've told him a million times that CPW, for instance, stands for "Campus Preview Weekend," the weekend you went to visit MIT in April of your senior year in high school, he'll still stop your flow of conversation and say, "Woah, woah, woah. Okay, slow down and enunciate your words. You're speaking too fast. And don't start throwing acronyms at me here. You went where in April? ZVW?"

"No, no, no. CPW. With a 'C' as caterpillar, and a–"

"Oh, CBW. With a 'B,' as in baseball, okay."

"No, papá. C–P–W. With a 'P' as in perro, potato, placemat. Campus. Preview. Weekend. The trip I took to visit MIT with Mom in April." (MIT is the only acronym he seems to understand, and even uses, for that matter).

"Oh, oh, CPW, that's right. Okay."

So the next time you bring up CPW you'll think he knows what you're talking about. But he won't. You'll have to explain it to him again. But by that point you'll be used to it. You'll have gotten used to explaining everything that you're telling him, even if it's unnecessary. You just don't want to have to be accused of being unclear. That's the last thing you want.

After you've given him the vital information, and gotten the information that you need from him, he'll be curious to know more on the subject. But to keep things simple (as you've heard him say all your life), give him a few details right then and there, then tell him that you'll send the rest by e-mail. This way, there is less confusion on one end, and less frustration on the other. Remember you want to keep both parties happy here. For heaven's sake, all you asked for was a simple conversation.

You'll be over the hump once you tell him the important stuff. Now, because he's your father, and you know he wants to know about what's happening in the life of his beloved, you'll need to tell him about what's going on with you. You may not be in the mood to do so, but do so anyway, because you know you love him, and you know that his day will have just gotten brighter simply because you'll have called him to talk that day. So tell him about your studies, work, friends, and events. He will most likely not know what you're talking about as far as your studies and work goes, so be sure to mention anything that involves something or someone he knows, like one of your friends that he has met, for instance. Or comment on how the professional sports team from your hometown is playing a game where you currently live. This way, he'll feel a little more involved in your life because he'll feel like he can still connect with you in at least one area of your life. Well, maybe not completely, but at least he'll know what you're talking about on at least one subject. But again, for simplicity's sake, don't go into too much detail. Save that for the e-mail so that he can slowly read at his leisure.

The conversation will then need to come to an end (he's hungry for that microphone). But before it does, you'll tell him that you appreciate your new printer that he paid for, that you love him–because you know you do, despite the frustration–and that you'll talk to him later in the week. And he'll respond with an "I love you too," an "oh, no problem, you know I'll always get you what you need, but not always what you want. Remember, I've told you that before?" (Yes, papá, I remember) and an "okay, talk to you later."

Okay, bye.

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