The Man on the Phone

My dad is not a crier.
Like most men of his generation,
he’s always put his game face on
when things get touchy.
I don’t mean that he can’t
express affection; he can.
We get a hug coming and going,
and he’ll say I love you and mean it,
but he’s rarely lost his composure,
and when he has, it’s usually been in anger,
with a loud voice, harsh words
and maybe a slammed door.
But when his little terrier Willy
got into the rat poison
he wailed like a woman at the Wall.
My mother phoned each of us
in Nashville, Memphis and Tupelo
and had us talk with him.

Afterwards we conferred and expressed
our amazement, because he had sobbed
until he was unintelligible, and
when we could catch a phrase
intact it would be something like,
“He was just my little boy” or
“He was the best friend I ever had” or
“You know how much he loved
to ride in the truck.” Then he’d
break into a howl of grief,
which was surreal to us.
It wasn’t that we didn’t feel for him,
I don’t mean that at all, or that
we didn’t grieve for Willy, because
we all adored Willy. We’d just
never seen our father carry on like that.

After the initial devastation, over
a period of days he gradually returned
to something resembling his normal hard-assed self.
Something resembling it, I say, because I don’t think
he’s ever been quite the same. Or maybe
he is the same; maybe it’s just that I think
of him a little differently—because these days
when he loses his temper, or stalks off
in a huff, I remember the man on the phone,
and it’s a good thing. It’s helpful.

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