When I was 16 my dad was in prison. Without our calls, I wouldn’t have known he missed us.
I was sixteen when my father went to prison on a felony charge. I had known that he was a cocaine addict from the age of about 7 or 8, but I never imagined it would lead to incarceration. The range of conflicting emotions undulating and twisting in my adolescent brain made it hard for me to feel something concrete at any point. For example, I never knew if I really missed him, or what I missed. I did’t know if I was totally mad at him, or a little sad, or a little relived that he was locked up; out of our lives for a spell. In hindsight, I know that I was all of those things at once, and that making direct decisions about my feelings-taking a stance, was not the business of my teen brain.
What I did know was that the phone calls from him were tough, but that I was glad they happened. My dad would call us once every other week or so. I wanted to ask him so many questions about what life was like in the can, but I usually refrained, asking him how he was, keeping it “light” like Irish Catholic families were conditioned to do. When he hung up, I was filled with a sense that he was OK, because as mad and conflicted as I was feeling, he was still my dad, and I wanted him to be OK.
When he got rheumatic fever after his strep throat went untreated, the calls stopped coming, and it was in their absence that I realized I truly wanted them. I didn’t have any reassurance that he was OK. I realize when I hear of a campaign to fight for prisoners right to call home, that it matters, even if you don’t know how you feel about the person on the other line. It matters for you to know they are still alive, feeling, thinking, hoping etc., and I’m sure it matters to them for the same reasons.
Without those calls, I’m sure I would have given up on him. Now he is out, and those calls have morphed into text messages. Again, I find myself staring at them, not knowing what to feel, or how to articulate it, but at least I know he’s OK.