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When My Dad Started Bird Watching
When My Dad Started Bird Watching
I guess I should preface by saying that my dad was always a great father. Truly. He was always there for my brother and I, and he always took care of my mother and our house. I guess it was just weird to me when he started spending more and more days outside on our lanai. At first it was just an “every once in a while” thing. After a good meal he would sit outside and smoke a cigar. Every time he did I would get ready because every time he did he called me over to tell me some life advice. It was typically about never chasing my dreams and about how fast life moves. One moment your eyebrows are up and the next you look confused. Or at least that’s how he acted that out.
I remember getting those cigars with him too. It was nuts. We would roll into this little store on the corner of wherever. The place reeked of thick cigar smoke, like it was just trapped in the wood and the furniture. Everything was brown and native looking. I felt like when I touched the wood I was touching the bow staff of Runs with Water. I would always run over and mess with the big wooden Indian chief guy that stood in the corner. My brother and I would try to push it over on each other. My dad seemed bigger than life just because he was bigger than that chief. He talked in Spanish sometimes to the clerk, and we followed him out of the store as he held a small wooden box.
Anyway, my dad started spending more and more time outside the closer my brother got to college graduation. It started one year when he asked for a book on Florida birds. I asked my mother why, and she didn’t really have an answer. It was just something he was interested in, she would say. I didn’t feel inclined to probe any further. Besides, getting a gift for my old man was hard enough. Now he’s telling us what to get him? That’s pretty fortunate. It just caught me off guard. I mean, this guy wasn’t much of a reader, and now he’s asking for a tome on the world’s most boring subject. It would’ve been more exciting if I got him a collection of designer napkins, but I got him the book anyway.
I remember coming home from school and seeing the pages dog-eared on the lanai outside right on our striped little out door lounge chairs. I rarely actually saw my dad actively seek birds. I only saw the aftermath; the scribbles of names on a piece of paper, the weak sketches of birds far off, and just plain old doodles covered pieces of scrap paper and book margins. It just confused me kind of.
One March our attic caved in. That day, with a huge hole still in our ceiling, my dad returned home with a pair of binoculars. He knew the hole was there, that’s for sure, and my mother had called him when it happened, but he just ignored it for a little bit. He didn’t even go watch birds because it was late at night. He just ate his food slowly and tried talking to my mom about travelling or something like that. My house had a hole in it, and my dad didn’t care! At one point, when he finally acknowledged it, he walked up to it and just whistled at it. A grin came across his face like it was what he wanted all along or like someone will be very proud of him for not fixing it right away. I remember it so well because I got in a ton of trouble the next day for not doing my homework. How was I supposed to? I had to help my dad clean up s*** at like eleven at night when he decided to get to it.
Nearing the end of May my brother dropped out of college. It was all pretty sudden. He just came home one day and moved back into the nest. My parents talked to him for a long time. There was a ton of yelling and cursing. I just chilled in my room and waited. I was afraid to go outside and get caught up by the tempest. My room was my safe place, my little protective shell of existence. I only left it for the bare essentials. Anyway, my brother was getting reamed that whole weak. You’re a failure this. You’re a disappointment that. It all seemed pretty upsetting, but sure enough, my dad went out and bought a super high tech bird camera. But for what? I’ve literally only seen him use it once and it just kind of bothered me that he did that. It was like, our family is having this tough time, and he preferred to watch a family of meadowlarks or whatever. I don’t even think meadowlarks are indigenous to Florida so don’t hold me to that.
I think what he watched the most were cranes. No. Herons. Egrets? F*** if I know. They were those big white ones that just jam their face into mud. That’s all they did by my lake outside my house. Well, it wasn’t much of a lake. It was a pond with a sewage drain. We used to have a dock that my father and I fished off of. I hated fishing, but I went anyway. We stood there getting eaten up by mosquitoes the size of my fist. I never understood why because when my dad would catch a catfish or something, a really big son of a gun, he would just toss it back. Anytime I protested he just said, “It’ll be happier free,” and then he’d crack open a cold one. It seemed silly to me to just fish and set them free. I didn’t quite get it. So eventually I stopped going, and after one hurricane the dock got destroyed and was flooded out. My dad didn’t even bother repairing it, and I don’t think he went fishing much after that, and if he did I guess I wasn’t invited. Which is probably best because sometimes I feel like I’m just weighing him down, you know? Just holding him back from catching some big fish…even though he’ll let it go anyway.
So anyway, he went out and bought that big camera situation. Like, more expensive than my 18th birthday party. He got it so he can just take a seat from our lanai and snap pictures of whatever. Birds flying? Birds eating? Birds walking around? I remember discussing it with my brother over some pretty sweet frozen yogurt. It was Father’s Day, and my dad always liked being left alone. So we had dipped out. We went to like, Pink Berry or someplace. I remember distinctly because I had some trouble finding his wallet to take the money from. I’m not a thief or anything, but he got so tired of us asking that now he just, like, holds his wallet open. I don’t complain.
“So I guess dad likes watching birds now? That’s his new thing?” I started saying spooning original tart into my mouth.
“Yeah. I guess so. Is he good at it?” Taylor asked me.
“ I mean, I’ve never seen him actually do it. Just a bunch of scribbles after the fact. But how hard could it be?”
“I didn’t even know there were interesting birds around here. We live in Tampa.”
“Dude. Those egrets. He’s all about those.”
“Those dumb white ones that walk around?”
“Well what else is he looking at?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s looking at the Givvens, you know? Maybe he’s creeping on those girls. They’re hot. I would.”
“Lets be serious here, dude.”
“Yeah for sure I’m just messing with you. It’s probably a blue jay… or a woodpecker. Occasionally we get a hawk. Dad loves those hawks.”
“Yeah but… those are lame.”
“Hawks aren’t lame.”
“Why don’t we just get a bird for him ourselves? That way he can just post up in the living room and stare at it.”
“Like a pet?”
“No, a wild one that we’ll chain to the mail box. Yes a pet.”
“Pet Smart, nig. They got all types of birds. C’mon, you remember how dad always talks about the pet cockatoo he had as a kid. He loved that thing. Let’s get him one like it.”
“Dude, those things are expensive. They outlive their owner sometimes.”
“Even better. We won’t have to get him another gift ever.”
I laughed at that, and then we went to PetSmart.
Reader, legit parrots like cockatoos or macaws are expensive as s*** so don’t judge us for buying him a little Peach-fronted Conure. It was only 300 bucks and my mom paid a lot of it. That bird was the meanest and foulest thing around. We came home with it to surprise my dad. He just stared at it. He named it Lucy. I remember a lot of Saturdays where he would walk around with it on his shoulder. It squawked way too loudly and never stopped, but my dad never seemed to mind. They were best friends, which is why it shocked all of us when one day it was just gone. I woke up to get some food and I passed the living room, and the table that held the cage was empty. It was like, two in the morning, and I thought we were robbed by bird-nappers. Maybe that Conure was the last Peach-fronted Conure in the nation, and we accidently got tangled in a big conspiracy. But that wasn’t the case at all. I ran around and saw the front door wide open. I walked out side, and it was super chilly. The night sky was completely black, no stars or nothing. I found my dad, I’ll never forget this, squatting in the middle of our drive way with the bird cage. He was weeping, I think. No, it was just the wind I’m pretty sure… The moon, had it been out for him, would’ve illuminated him like the giant he is, but it was hiding… So I just watched his dark shade hunch over and shiver in the wind. He opened up the birdcage and let the bird go. Lucy hopped out into the drive away. She took a few hops around and straight took off. My dad picked up the cage, walked to the side of the house, and threw it in the trashcan. Coming back I asked him what the hell that was all about. I mean mom paid 300 bucks for that bird! He said he would’ve done it earlier but its wings were clipped. F*** me, right?
That morning my dad just told my brother and mother that it had died in the night and that he woke up extra early to get rid of it. I still think its weird that him saying that it died was better than saying that it’s free now. Right? Or is it just me? Because I heard that, if I ever hear he died… I’m going to think he faked it and actually just ran off. Isn’t that nuts? Just nuts.
One day I actually caught him outside with all his materials. Big binoculars hung around his neck. He was sitting up right in his chair looking intently into the black and white ultra bird camera thingy. F*ing egrets. They were everywhere. I sat beside him and looked out through the screening we have around our pool to our lake. The herons or egrets or whatever they were just walked around eating junk out of the mud.
“You know what’s really neat about those birds?” My dad started.
“They take from the mud. The mud. They take and take because that’s their life… but if danger comes or something they don’t like approaches, or if they grow bored, they can pack up and just go. Just fly away. And then they’ll land somewhere else. And eat more mud. But they can leave and find better mud.”
“Yeah, but it’s mud. They’ll always land in mud. How’s that improvement?”
“Because they could always leave.”
I didn’t really have anything to say to that so I just kind of sat there.
“I’m thinking about turning this lanai into a patio.”
“Why? What’s the difference?”
It took him a while to answer me. He just sat there for a bit, took a big breath and then stood up. He set the binoculars down and walked up to the screen. His big hands gently rested on it before he said: “Patios don’t have fences.”