When my sister, brother and I were growing up - my father was perpetually 39 years old.
Every single birthday we'd ask him or my mom how old he was and the answer was always the same: 39.
Frankly, I didn't even know what year he was born... and my mom couldn't seem to remember (conveniently) so we couldn't figure out how old he was.
I finally found out his real age when he turned 70. My mom let it slip. Something along the lines of:
Mom: Well you dad's not a young chick anymore... he's 70!
Me: Oh my God! He's 70!
She tells me in her threatening voice...
Mom: Now don't you dare tell him I told you. I'll kill you
Don't be alarmed. That kind of talk was standard growing up. Still is. Must be the Arab in us.
When dad turned 70, he was still a professor at South Dakota State University. I surprised him with a huge bouquet of balloons delivered to his office that said: "40! Finally!"
He liked that.
Today he turns 78. I gave him a call first thing this morning. Now, I'm going to start at the beginning, so you have an idea of how phone calls to my mom and dad's house normally go...
Me: Hi mom! Can I talk to dad?
Then she yells - which apparently my dad is supposed to be hear - but I don't know how that is possible since she is clearly yelling directly into the phone...
Mom: HA-SAAAAAAANNNNNN! Yah HA-San!
And why would there be? My dad is upstairs, sitting in a room farthest from the basement office that my mom is sitting in. He is probably watching television which is turned up so high that he wouldn't be able to hear the fire alarm go off... Most likely there are three televisions turned on throughout the upstairs level: One in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, and one in the room that has been officially named the "Chinese Room." Seriously.
Okay - so I'll need to explain the Chinese Room. I think it was originally designed to be a small bedroom just off the kitchen. My mother likes Asian decor. My dad does not. So when they moved to Fargo into this condo... the room became the spot where my mother was allowed to go nuts with her "all things Chinese." Funny - it is the spot where you will almost always find my dad - never my mom.
Which also reminds me of another weird thing. Whenever my dad picks up the phone and then I ask for mom, his response is to say...
Dad: Wait, I'll transfer you.
How can he transfer me? He can't transfer me. It's a home phone line with no transferring.
My mom continues yelling my father's name... but now I can hear that she is slowly moving farther away from the phone. I know she is headed upstairs...
In the meantime...
My father picks up the phone.
Me: Hi DAD! It's Chino! Happy Birthday!
Dad: Oooohhhh. Thank you Chino! Thank you very much.
Now I hear my mother's voice coming through on HIS phone. She is still yelling "HA-SAAAANNN!"
My dad completely ignores her yelling. I can't ignore her yelling because it is so loud... but he manages.
Dad: So how are the kiddos? Is everyone okay? How is Paul?
Me: Everyone is fine dad. How are you feeling!
Dad: Oh... I still feel good.
Now it becomes clear that my mother is within eye-shot of dad... and sees that he is on the phone already and that he ignored her yelling... and he made her come up all the stairs for nothing.
Mom: HA-SAN! You are already on the phone and you didn't answer me!? (she is now yelling an angry yell)
Dad: You could hear me pick up the phone when I said hello! You weren't listening!
Which in fact he knows is a lie. He says stuff like that to make her mad. Believe me, I've seen it firsthand enough times to know.
Mom has now shifted into her bitter yell. It takes a slightly different tone. Kinda... well. Bitter.
Mom: Ohhh! Very good! You are lying! As usual! Gaaaaad! You did not pick up the phone when I called you... you are lying!
Dad: Ohhh! You don't know! (he yells back at her - also in my ear).
Then he talks to me.
Dad: It doesn't matter what I do, I do it wrong.
I now can hear my mother continuing to talk in Arabic - to herself... Probably saying something like she can't believe she has survived living with this man for so many years. Her voice slowly fades away from my dad's phone and soon I know I will hear it again on her phone downstairs.
Me: Okay. So. The big question. How old are you?
Dad: Oh! Well... I am 59.
Me: Oh! We're 59 now!
Dad: Well of course. We continue to get older every year. So now I am 59.
Me: Well - for your 59th we want you to come over for cake.
Dad: No. No cake. No no no no no... no cake.
Me: Dad! You have to!
Dad: No cake. You and the kids eat the cake.
Here's another little tidbit about my dad - he watches his weight meticulously. He goes to the mall every day, three times a day, and walks 2 miles each time. He weighs himself every morning and if his weight moves even a half pound higher, he "diets" by nibbling on cookies he brings home from the bank and Little Debbies that he has hidden in the cupboard over the oven that my mother can't reach.
Cake would just send things over the edge.
Me: Okay then how about this? Let's go tomorrow for breakfast at IHop.
Now I hear my mother's voice again coming closer to her phone. She is still mumbling in Arabic.
Dad: Oh! When do you want to go?
Mom hangs up phone.
Dad: Okay - I'll take you and the kids to IHop.
Me: No. We'll take you.
Dad: No no no no no no no. I take you. Otherwise we don't go.
My dad is from the old country. Dad pays for children's meals... and family of children's meals. Even if children are in their 40s.
Me: Fine whatever. So tomorrow.
Dad: Yah. Call me in the morning.
Me: Okay. So... Happy 59th birthday dad!
Me: Bo-say. (followed by the sound of a kiss)
Bo-say is actually Arabic for "kiss" - we never part without saying bo-say to each other. Phone or in person. It is our "I love you." But Dad and I don't just say Bo-say... it has to be followed by the kissing sound. It's in the rules.
Dad: Bo-say. (kiss sound)
I feel this sense of familiarity and comfort rush through my body. They are both so predictable... the yelling into the phone, the bickering in Arabic, the dad has to pay for meals, the Bo-say...
...and the fact that he is 59 years old today.
I hung up with a big lump in my throat.