One of my private, random moments of joy comes from watching people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, standing in the newsroom and, in mid-story, begin scrolling through the photos on their smartphone. It’s behavior that reminds me to enjoy the world I’m in at every age. Watching senior citizens scrolling through their photo app like teenagers – complete with too-fast and too-far scrolling mistakes and accidental button-pushing on “edit” or “album” or “see all” – reaffirms the lifelong similarities we all share.
Our phones, and the pictures we keep on them, are constant and instant memories that connect us to everyone and everything we love.
In recent years I’ve found myself quicker to tears. Not sure how or why this impulsive, emotional response overwhelms me in the moment.
I think the photos on my phone have something to do with it.
On this Father’s Day 2020 I find myself thinking not about dads, but about my kids. My adult children, Ben, 29, and Melissa, 27.
In many aspects, it’s been a tough ride for them from the beginning, crisscrossing the country throughout their youth, from Florida to Alabama to Utah to Texas to Connecticut. Are you really from anywhere at that point?
From the time I joined The Dallas Morning News in 2003 until I left ESPN’s Connecticut campus in 2017, eating our family dinner together at home was as rare as a customer wearing a mask at Cascade Home Center.
Heck, when I grew up dinner was the main event in our household. It was the one time we were all together, no matter what. A Thanksgiving Dinner family battle royale – every night. No phone calls during dinner. Make sure your friends know not to stop by. It was mom’s homemade food with a heapin’ helpin’ cacophony of hot takes and arguments about the crazy political, social, religious world of the 1970s outside. It’s where and when we formed our ideas, learned our values and refined our perspectives.
That experience never really happened for my kids. “The job.” I’m sure everyone understands. Rightfully, there were never any Father of the Year nominations.
I miss those dinners from my youth, and I miss never having that experience with my own children.
And so I’m delighted to find myself today with such a meaningful relationship with them. I’m overwhelmed when I see how much they love their mother. The kids are alright. In fact, they are much better than that.
The other day I went down the photo rabbit hole on my phone, the images reflexively causing tears to swell and spill over. This wasn’t crying; more like a weepy mix of sadness and joy.
There’s Ben, showing off the cast on his arm. A few hours earlier I was schooling the young man on the driveway basketball hoop in a spirited game of “hustle.” He drove hard to the basket and we collided. He hit the ground hard, and got up saying his elbow hurt. I asked if he was quitting. The next three minutes were like a slow-motion movie scene; he took the ball from me and went on to score five straight points to win. His first victory. Ever. We went in the house and he excitedly told mom that he “legit” beat dad; she only cared about the elbow part of the story. Soon, they were off to the doctor, where it was confirmed he had chipped a bone in his elbow. Weirdly, I couldn’t have been prouder of him.
There’s Melissa, silhouetted by the sun, sitting high atop Reunion Tower in downtown Dallas, the city skyline as a backdrop, the restaurant slowly revolving for a panoramic view. That was such a great day; we staged and took all kinds of silly photographs from Plano to Dallas by way of the city’s high-speed train.
Another shot of Melissa, this time at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic held at the Stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas. It was a hot day; in fact one of the hottest on record at the time. She’s sitting in a collapsable chair, strands of her long hair splattered and stuck with sweat to her face, holding up a tooth that had finally come dislodged, and the biggest grin ever. I had dragged Dee Dee and the kids to a “July 4th picnic,” ahem, that was an all-day music concert with Bob Dylan closing the show. I’m pretty sure it was 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity by the time we arrived at 10 a.m., and only got hotter.
Another picture of Ben, as a young man, with his mom and me, as we’re about to vote – him for the first time. It was a cold November morning at Henry James Middle School, Simsbury, Conn. The image warms my heart.
And there are so many more. … Graduation photos, including the one with Melissa clamping down on a celebratory cigar. … There we all are on our trip to visit family in Denmark, passing through The Netherlands. … There are lots of pictures from when we’re out front of the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium; I’d tailgate Thanksgiving dinner with the family before heading up to the press box to work. We’d throw the ball around and watch the players arrive at the lot right next to media parking. And here are a few more of all of us doing the same at Texas Motor Speedway before a NASCAR race. … Scrolling further back, the images zipping past like a slot machine wheel, there we are camping in Utah at Bear Lake and fishing at Strawberry Reservoir.
Hey, it turns out I was there for a lot of it.
Now I’m weeping even harder.
Noel Nash is publisher of The Chronicle.