June 22, 2003 08:09 PM

I tend not to fixate particularly on Father's or Mother's Day. They're just days. I get presents for my parents, we talk. I visit.

One of the many people I barely know but whose writing holds some fascination is expecting a baby and of course writing about it just so. As are a surprising number of other people I know (expecting, not the writing bit). In hearing from these men who seem to be such considered fathers, I wonder sometimes how much my own father thought and still thinks about his fathering.

I should ask.

I am, after all, known for just asking things that other people would skirt around somehow. Skirting is not my area. Skirts I do, but skirting - no way. But I have this thing with my parents. Thinking of things I'd like to ask them but not asking. I'm afraid of them, or their reactions.

I should get over that.

My father is losing his hearing slightly in one ear. He, like me, has a tendency to get extrainvolved with whatever he's doing, so it's not unreasonable to assume he's ignoring you if you speak and he doesn't answer. He could be. But now there's this added dimension of drifting slightly towards deafness to watch for. I wonder how many times his driftiness in the past was actually about him failing to hear me. Literally. Not in that figurative new-agey way.

I wonder that he's going deaf in only the one ear, considering his lifelong affinity for bands that sound like Soundgarden. And I know how loud the stereo goes in his car. If only it went to 11...

What my dad succeeded at doing in my childhood was something like unschooling. Call it unfathering. It was, consciously or not (because I don't know, because I haven't asked), just sort of being available. Having a life that wasn't completely transparent, but wasn't a black box of things that happened to him outside the house. He just did his thing, and talked about it, and let me do it next to him.

My dad is a geek. He's one of those goofy athletic geeks who manage to go undetected, but he's definitely a geek.

Dad talked about time travel. And cars. And dorky dad stuff. He's responsible for my short-lived softball career, my lifelong fondness for science fiction and horror, my mathematic and musical inclinations and a number of my all time top however many albums. My dad read me Stephen King as bedtime stories when I was five. We rebuilt a Buick engine together when I was sixteen.

I worry that I disappoint him by choosing the life I did. That is, by not being athletic, or changing my own oil, or having kids, or pursuing a career in music. Or - well, anything else that might disappoint the man and his one functioning ear.

But I'm pretty sure he's alright with just sharing the things we share.

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