This piece really hit home with me on this Father’s Day.
I don’t remember the final conversation I had with my father. Toward the end of his life, he was hard to understand on the phone, as years of substance abuse and failing health had garbled his voice. He’d call at inopportune times—from a rehab center or hospital on the Cape, or the home of a friend in Florida he had somehow charmed his way into—and I’d hurry to get off the phone. Sometimes I’d find myself annoyed by his attempts to reconnect and let the call go to voicemail. It had been more than 15 years since we’d had anything resembling a normal relationship, and more than 30 since he and my mother had. Even in my frustration, though, it was hard not to think of his looming existential deadline. I may never get the chance to talk to him again, I’d say to myself. I always did. Until, of course, I didn’t.
I do, however, remember the exact day and time of our final few text exchanges, because they’re still on my phone, where, for at least as long as the cloud exists and I stay current on my bill, they’ll live forever.
We lost my dad in 2011, but I probably have every text message and email we ever exchanged. It’s still hard to look back at them, even the conversations from the better times, before he got sick. Our typical messages about sports or farming became mostly one-sided in the latter part of the year as I encouraged him to keep seeking treatment and continue fighting. He lacked the strength to respond.
I have a text history with my wife, one that extends back to 2008 (the first year of our marriage, and when I got my first iPhone; not that the two are equal in any way, but staying in the iOS ecosystem has allowed me to maintain message continuity through the years.) Our thread contains everything from the past decade — kids, family, photos, reminders, jokes.
Look, they aren’t the romantic letters full of carefully drafted prose that previous generations might have exchanged, but it is an intimate record of our shared experience. They might not be on paper, but they’re still precious.