At approximately 9 am every morning, my phone rings. If they are within earshot, my children break into the song from The Lion King, “Morning Report”, because we all know it is 'Petah', my father, calling to give us his. He is 83 years old, though you would never guess it. A few weeks ago, we went to a pre-op consultation for a heart procedure. Before stepping on the scale, Dad kicked off his Docksiders, removed his coat and belt, took his billfold out of his pocket and handed it to me, and then made sure to mention what a large breakfast he had had to the nurse, adding that he might have quite a bit of hair gel in, if the number seemed high. She laughed--nurses adore my dad. Once in the exam room, he asked a little sheepishly if his age would be a factor in the procedure.
“I don’t see why, Mr. Kistner,” she chirped and then glanced at his chart. The nurse turned bright red. “Oh, I, I’m sorry,” she stammered, “I thought you were sixty-three.”
"Oh," I rolled my eyes, "he gets this all. the. time."
But as a retired man of a certain age, living alone, with maybe too much FOX News in his life, Dad grew concerned in the past few years that Something might happen to him in the night, and then whether it is urban legend or a reported horror from Nancy Grace, he is afraid that his cats might eat him.
So we set up the Morning Report. He calls me every morning at nine. If I have forgotten to turn my ringer back on from the night before, he leaves me hilariously macabre messages, about how El Gato and Serena are maybe just nibbling at his toes, but he will fend them off until I can call back. He always ends the message, "Love from my house to your house."
In the Morning Report, we share all the details of what has happened since the last time we spoke, which is usually a matter of hours. He tells me who went home the big winner from his regular poker game, what new series he's into on Netflix, highlights something outrageous from his news feed, or says whether or not he slept with the windows open. "Great sleeping weather last night!"
Next I give him the report from the Hoffstead. He knows which of my children has a cough, or grouched about going to school that morning. He asks what I know about my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. I catch him up. We discuss animal news: which of my chickens are laying, which pony Piper and Quinn rode in their lesson, whether or not Sampson has gotten into any trash-digging or trouble.
Then we move on to weather, which is a real treat. If his cats have woken him early, he has already been through a round of The Weather Channel. My father has eight children, all grown, and when we started to leave the nest, I noticed he used a morning perusal of the Weather Channel to connect with us. He doesn't speak to all of his children every day, but he likes knowing what the sky is doing in their part of the world, whether they left the house with an umbrella, or if it is cold, hopefully with their throats covered. (My father is a big fan of scarves and turtlenecks to keep you from getting sick. He has an entire drawer of 'dickies', those fake turtleneck squares that fit under a collar, in every color.)
"Looks like the Louisiana crew is getting some heavy rain," he'll say when we talk. Or, "Did you see the fires in Colorado? Wonder if it's hazy out near Gavin and Lisa today." When my sister lived in the Caribbean, she said Dad was her most reliable early warning system for tropical storms, that he would call her with alerts to low pressure systems long before they were on her radar.
My father also loves wordplay and nicknames. Sometimes he tells me witticisms he has come up with in the night. "What do you think of this one, Boo?" he'll say, and recite a little ditty, like this one bemoaning the challenges of aging:
Can't drink beer
Why am I still here?
10 April 2014
I started the above blog late last year, for my Favorites on Friday section, but then never published it for a variety of reasons. Despite a proclaimed general avoidance of female authors, my father read my blog religiously, and I worried this one might embarass him. It was maybe too intimate or trivial to share. (So her Dad calls her every morning, so what?) I wondered if it would make my other brothers and sisters envious that I got to be Dad's point person every morning, making sure the cats were not snacking. When we lived abroad last year, the Morning Report transferred to my younger sister, who confessed that she missed it when it switched back to me.
Regardless of the why, I'm sorry I never published it, that maybe he never knew how much I cherished this.
Two weeks ago, Friday, March 28, the phone did not ring at 9 am.
There is no blog entry or tribute or whole memoir that can capture the wonder that was my father. This is by no means the last word on him. Impossible to sum up, he was a complicated man, with very simple, elemental loves: big dogs, little children, puppy breath and convertibles with the top down. Click here to view the tribute of words, images and music we created in his honor. Dad, I am beyond grateful to have shared the morning minutiae with you the past few years. You are missed.
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