My father is a wonderful man. As a tax attorney for almost 40 years, he has dealt with dozens of grieving and often broken families, easing them through burdensome decisions and reconciling the solidarity that brought them into his office in the first place. As a dad, he has had at least one child in the house for 42 years and, surprisingly, still has the patience and wit to put up with all of them. With hungry eyes, hungrier grandchildren, and a raunchiness that pushes ubiquity, they appear at his table for dinner. He greets them with a rib-shaking, forehead-veined laugh every time. Fortunately for both his sanity and his poor, overused forehead vein (it’s an Olson thing), that 42 year streak will come to an end this fall, as I settle in as a college student and my parents try and spread their wings as empty-nesters. As is the case with any time of change, the advent of this new chapter in both of our lives marks the end of the previous one. That chapter – for as far back as my memory will serve me – has been characterized by our Sunday mornings and, more importantly, the silence that inhabits them.
My father is a man of routine. Every Sunday morning, while my mom was working and my friends were sleeping, my dad would wake me up at the same time with the same coo with the same pancakes with the same NPR. Everything was always the same, and the predictability, the seeming constancy of all that went on those mornings, was truly beautiful. Sundays were our time, and as sure as the comics were certain to be colorful and Will Shortz was certain to be puzzling, my father was certain to be silent. We would sit and eat together, occasionally offer another pancake, and smile. Talk was limited to things of true importance: baseball, books I was reading, and, of course, the never-ending imbecility that was our little dog, Maisy. Far more important than things said, however, were the moments of content when nothing was said at all. I don’t mean to paint my dad as a verbal recluse, he is just exceptionally reserved. He could have been more talkative with me, but – in the most sincere and cherished part of our relationship – he did not need to be.
One of my favorite quotes from the movie Pulp Fiction would apply, crudely, here. It comes from when Vincent takes Mia out to dinner and the two of them find they are both equally demure. “That’s when you know you’ve found someone special”, says Mia, “when you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.” I love my father immeasurably, he is perhaps more special to me than anything, and I would agree with Mia completely. This morning was our last Sunday morning before I have to move away for college, and as I sat, predictably, eating pancakes and listening to NPR, I looked at my dad and realized that silence, when underlined by content, is such a powerful thing.
Mastering the art of silence, as my father has, is a difficult thing to do. The time in between involved conversation makes most people immensely ill at ease – it takes a very special relationship for the art to thrive. When casual silence is able to grow, however, it can blossom into an intimate tool to express care, respect, and love. With a kind gesture or a pat on the knee, it has expressed as much and more to me for 18 years.
Silence, underlined by content and with Puzzlemaster in the background, is the most comfortable thing in my world.