Nearly 20 years ago – blows my mind to think of it – my dad was living and working in Grand Prairie. At the time, I remember thinking how far away it seemed. He was with us in Plano, then he was in Carrollton, then North Dallas. Now Grand Prairie. I wasn’t visiting as often anymore. By the time he moved there, I was already finishing high school, starting college and working nearly every weekend. It just didn’t make sense to worry about “joint custody visits” anymore. I’d see him when I’d see him.
But we’d talk on the phone often. The running joke was that my news was never “enough” for him.
“Uh huh. Vut is hap-pen-ing?” (Picture Cheech in Born in East LA)
[insert my news here]
“Uh huh. Vut else?”
And so on. I’d tell him some spectacular piece of news and he’d move on and want to hear about the next thing without ever diving too deep.
One day, he took control of the conversation and mentioned that he was dating someone new. He was a romantic at heart, but he didn’t seem to have the best track record. Let’s just say I met a few ladies who he thought he was going to marry, but they had no idea things had gotten so serious. So I would be as happy as I could be for him but also a little skeptical.
“Oh, that’s great, Dad.”
“She’s Native American.”
Not that it should matter, but okay, I guess. “Okay, cool, Dad.”
“It’s getting serious,” he continued. “I’ve already met her family.”
“I valk in, and her brother says to me, ‘Hi. How are you?'”
“So, they’re nice..?”
“Then the uncle comes to me and says, ‘Hi. How are you?'”
“What’s she like, Dad? Is she a real person?”
“‘Hi. Hello. How. Are. You?’ You don’t get it.”
“What? What the hell don’t I get? You met her family and they all said…”
My eyes rolled so far back into my skull, and I heaved a painful, exasperated sigh.
“Are you trying to tell me a joke?”
Cackling on the other end of the line.
“Okay, you needed to have said ‘Hihawaya’ and it needed to be a few times in a row.”
“That’s vut I said! ‘Hi. How are you?’”
It was honestly the most infuriatingly articulate he had ever been.
Then I tried to explain why the Native American part of the story was so important and why delivery is important and how the joke is a little old-fashioned and a little culturally insensitive anyway.
“You didn’t get it, dat’s fine. Just admit you didn’t get the joke, Son.”
Fast forward to November of that year, and I’m dating Nichole. Having been friends for so long, and then finally dating, things seemed to move fast enough to where we were already meeting families by Thanksgiving. THANKSGIVING. As if meeting a parent or relative or two at one time wasn’t pressure enough.
Thursday – as would become tradition for several years – was split between her family and my mom’s side. Then we would visit my dad on Friday. I thought I had given her ample warning.
We were greeted at the door that Friday by both my brother and my father wearing elementary school-style, construction paper Indian headdresses. The first thing out of his barely-contained giggling mouth to me and my new girlfriend, in pitch perfect delivery based on our phone call, “Hihawaya hihawaya hihawaya.”
“This,” I sighed. “This is my family.”