He drove the car along the windy dirt back roads of Connecticut with me every Saturday morning for who knows how many months or years. Out to the big white clapboard farmhouse in the small country town of Moodus, home of a talented music teacher. I say talented not because she was able to make a strong musician out of me (she wasn’t a miracle worker, after all), but because she steered me from the violin to the viola and taught me well enough to allow me to join a chamber group and a youth orchestra, both of which I adored. I stood with my viola in the old musty practice room with Connie – usually hoping against hope that it wouldn’t be obvious just how inadequately I had practiced that week – while Dad hiked around the large pastoral property or sat in the ancient house where the intellectual sounds of NPR drifted from the kitchen.
I have a clear memory of sitting in the car with my father and can even see certain intersections or curves in the road; a composite of scores of such drives. I don’t remember us talking about much of anything. Dad usually had some music playing, whatever he was into at the time, and I’m sure there was some conversation but not much. In my memory of these drives, it was a comfortable quiet.
We didn’t get to spend too much time together when I was growing up; my father was busy with his work and frequently on business trips during the week. But during our Saturday ritual of driving out to my music lesson together, I had him all to myself for a little while. I think I knew that if I needed to say something, I could.
I haven’t had time like that with my father again until this year. The day after I arrived in California last Christmas, Dad and I drove up to Stanford together from Pacific Grove for a test he needed. He had been diagnosed with cancer the week before, and first told me this on the drive to their house from the airport. So there we were again, in the car, my Dad driving and some of his favorite music playing. There was a lot more conversation this time, lots more detail and questions about his condition and options for treatment; his work; my work; the kids; my life in Chicago. But there was still plenty of comfortable quiet. We spent about 4 hours on our own together that day, for the first time in decades.
I was able to spend more time alone with my Dad last month. On the Friday night after surgery, my mother’s cold kept her home from the hospital. I went in to the hospital that evening to watch “Washington Week in Review” with him, a ritual he and my mother share on Friday nights. We sat in the chilly hospital room, attempting to ignore the nonsense from the patient in the next bed, tolerating the interruptions from the nurse, and watched quietly together.
How lucky I am that my father’s cancer was caught early and treated well. I had no idea until this year how much I value sitting quietly with my Dad, not saying much of anything.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I’m counting my blessings today.