My dad is 92 years old. Despite age, Pops is doing well. He drives like a youngster. I believe he drives better than me. I’m old too, by the way. Each morning, he negotiates crossword puzzles and gives them what-for. It’s a rare occasion when he asks for my help. “Whip It band?” He yelled from the front room.
“Devo!” I proudly shouted back.
Dad doesn’t know a thing about this 80’s new-wave rock band that wore flower pots for hats, but he’s a grammar buff and a spelling whiz. When my spelling reaches the outer limits, thus rendering spellcheck impotent, he can spell the word while watching Jeopardy, without missing a beat.
Buy one, get one free. This was the familiar prompt that brought dad’s first smartphone. BOGO is never really true, but it was time and I wanted to do it. The fun began immediately as I witnessed him murder the touchscreen with his fat fingers, poking, and poking harder, switching fingers as if that was the solution. “It doesn’t work. Watch,” he said irritated by the little device, demonstrating how his taps were being ignored. “You may have gotten a lemon. Can you get your money back?”
I rescued the phone. “Dad, you’re punching the phone like a baby gorilla! Let me show you,” I said, assuring him that this Apple was no lemon, sternly warning about his gorilla-tactics, underscoring how delicacy is a friend of the touchscreen. The old man turned and walked away, new toy in hand. This was only the beginning.
Convinced that his smartphone was surely a lemon, “I don’t know if I want this phone,” he said, marching towards me, disgusted. “I missed text messages and two people said they called today. I never heard this thing ring, and I never heard that chirping sound we picked for my messages!” In what would become a regular thing for us, we stood together side-by-side, touching shoulders with a slight forward lean, looking at the screen. A quick inspection revealed the ringtone was toggled to silent mode and the volume was all the way down. With an explanation about sound settings, he was off again. I watched as he slowly walked away, not looking up from his phone. He sat and groaned and scratched his head. He fondled that device like a gorilla sizing-up a twig. Because dad’s fingers are huge and crooked, we postponed the fingerprint security setting, and opted for a pin code instead. 1928. The year dad was born.
Pop’s first ever cell phone picture was sitcom-worthy. He aimed the phone at his freshly cleaned and shiny car, and tapped the camera icon, but his big fat face was staring right back at him. He said the unexpected close-up of his mug not only startled him, but the moving mugshot totally freaked him out. “I mean, what kinda contraption takes a backwards photo?” dad asked. “I want to take a picture of what’s in front of the phone, not what’s behind it.” And again, he asked if it was too late for me to get a refund because this phone was a lemon.
I’m not gonna lie. His tirade prompted a hearty laugh from me that couldn’t help being contagious, and soon he started to laugh as we moved into position. I showed him the tiny icon, rectifying the spooky backwards photo, after which he wandered back to his chair, and I called my brother with an update. (Dad’s indoctrination to the religion of selfies was for a much later date.)
Grasping all the tasks and nuances of a smartphone wasn’t going to be easy for my dad, I knew this going in. Of course there would be a learning curve, but I never expected the curve to resemble the Gateway Arch. I was the smartphone guru in this scenario, and he absorbed what he could. It was like I was the father and he was the son. Problems became lessons when we huddled. I realized that it had been years since me and dad spent this much quality time together. Back in the days when we’d play catch in the street, or any sport. It didn’t matter. He was always there, teaching me (and I became a varsity standout).
Bluetooth may have saved the day because dad loves his music. He questioned how the problematic device could be tamed enough to actually play Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Connie Francis and the rest. He wanted so much to believe that he could hear any song at any time in his car, his bathroom, the porch, or his easy chair. I activated Bluetooth for his car and his Beats by Dre portable speaker. All 92-year-olds should have Beats by Dre. (Hey, it was BOGO.) We bonded like Elmer’s Glue.
The new smartphone brought us together in old ways. It was a thought that threatened to bring a tear to my eye, but just then, came dad’s frustrated march with another issue. “What is this white box on my screen? It’s in my way! I can’t get rid of it, it comes and it goes. It’s there for no reason, what is it? And how do I get rid of it? Is it too late to get your money back? Who needs this white box on their phone?!” he demanded, finally stopping to catch his breath.
We held the phone, shoulder-to-shoulder, a slight lean forward, examining the evil white box on the screen. “Dad,” I said, “that’s Google!”
ROCKY TAORMINA lives in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and is the proud father of an adult son living in Washington state. Taormina crafts relatable stories to bring levity in these strange times – a vaccine, he says, to cure the ho-hum.