The Phone Call MAG

December 19, 2007
By Chad Payton, Louisville, KY

I really hate phones. It’s not just that the ringing is loud and obnoxious, although it is. It’s not just that sometimes I can’t understand what the person on the other end is saying, although that’s true. It’s that regardless of who’s calling, it’s always someone I don’t want to talk to. Always. So when the phone rang a few days ago – disturbing my Saturday Ramen ritual – I was more than a little irritated.

I reluctantly set aside my spoon, telling myself that the noodles needed to cool anyway. The phone continued ringing while I hoped the caller might give up. That failing, I lifted the receiver and donned the tone of the polite child. My “Hello?” came out as pleasantly as possible.

“Heya, Chad. It’s Dad,” rasped my father. Years of cigarettes had left him with a voice like sandpaper.

“Hi,” I said. What do you want? I thought.

“How ya doin’?”

“Okay.” The answer I give every time.

“School goin’ all right?”

“Yeah.” Get to the point.

“So, when are ya comin’ over for Christmas?”

There it was. Inwardly, I groaned. My father always jumps the conversation around like this. But in the end I can expect his request for me to visit him. Why he thinks I should, I don’t know. He can’t give me a guilt trip like most parents, because I don’t owe him anything.


At 18 I can count on one hand the times I’ve met my father. My parents divorced before my birth. Technically that makes me born out of wedlock. A bastard. Illegitimacy, that’s all you ever really gave me, Dad. That and broken promises.

Even when we finally did meet, he still never gave me anything. I was six when I saw my father for the first time. I stood awkwardly looking at my feet as a strange man with a scruffy face bent down to kiss my head. I coughed at his unfamiliar smell (a mixture of alcohol and tobacco).

He took me fishing. I sat on the ground with a rod held firmly in my small hands, my father leaning against a tree, dragging on his cigarette. I stared at the lake, he at the ground. For a while we just chatted about the scenery, both of us too uneasy to have a real conversation.

Finally, he broke the quiet. “What’s my boy want?” he asked.


“I said do you want anything? You know, a toy or somethin’.”

A dozen toys and video games spun through my head. But I was reluctant to ask for anything; I was raised to be humble. “I’m fine.”

“Come on. Nothin’? Just tell me what you want, and Daddy’ll get it for you.”

“That’s all right. Really.”

“One thing. Just ask for one thing. I wanna get my boy somethin’. To make it up to you.”

I let the moment draw out, then caved in to my six-year-old desires. “Some roller blades. And a video game.”

I figured that compensated for the six years of being absent from my life.

“That’s it? That’s all you want?”


“Well, all right. I’ll get you roller blades and a game. But I’m gettin’ you somethin’ else.” He thought for a moment. “I know! You wanna go campin’ with me sometime?”

I loved camping. “Sure.”

We talked about how much fun we’d have. But then the conversation switched back to him giving me stuff. He swore he’d buy me a BB gun for my birthday. A train set for Christmas. He wove a blanket of promises and naïvely I let him smother me.

Fortunately, that blanket unraveled over the years. He still tried to visit when he could. He’d pull up in front of my house, always in a different car he was borrowing from someone, and he’d hug me or kiss me or both. Sometimes he’d mess up my hair and tell me how much he loved me.

But he conveniently forgot all those promises. It was always the same line. “Somethin’ came up,” he’d say. My mother got me the roller blades. The video game too. He forgot about the camping trip. I bought my own BB gun. And after 12 Christmases and still no train set, I no longer expect people to keep their promises. Thanks, Dad.


“Don’t know,” I finally answered, twirling the phone cord around my finger. “I’ll have to see what’s going on then. Sometime, though, I’ll stay down there for the weekend or something.” I can just say I forgot about it.

“Well, just give me a call and we can work somethin’ out. I’ll drive up there and get ya, or you can drive down here. Don’t matter to me.”

“Sure.” Do you even have a car?

“We can sit out and look at the stars, have a campfire. Make some s’mores and stuff. It’s great down here. You’d like it.”

“Sounds great.” Hurry up. My soup’s getting cold.

“Love ya. Miss ya.”

“Miss you too,” I lied – my repeated response every time he said that. It’s odd: I can lie about missing him, but saying “I love you” to my father, even as a lie, leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

“All right then,” he said, oblivious to my omission. “See ya later.”

“See you.”

As the line went silent, I played the conversation over in my mind to make sure I hadn’t agreed to anything I couldn’t weasel my way out of. Anyway, all he ever did was lie to me. I’m just returning the favor. I turned back to the kitchen, then stopped. The hypocrisy dawned on me. I snorted at the irony of it. You lied to me, now I lie to you. No wonder I hate you so much. We’re exactly alike; just two lying bastards. Like father, like son, right?

I really hate phones.

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This article has 17 comments.

Heybudd said...
on Oct. 7 2011 at 2:43 pm
Heybudd, Somerset, Massachusetts
0 articles 0 photos 6 comments
Ok...your a REALLYYY good writ

on Nov. 3 2010 at 9:52 am
fashionlover16 SILVER, New Gloucester, Maine
5 articles 0 photos 49 comments

Favorite Quote:
I honestly don't know what my favorite personal quote is. I can tell u what i like, if u want that. I really like the twilight series. whenever my mom suggests that we should go shopping, i light up. I love shopping. well thats about it, byez!!!!! <3

wow, awesome story!!!! luvd it, the whole thing was pretty much a conv. luvd it!!!

on Oct. 11 2010 at 10:27 am
Kresint50401 BRONZE, Erie, Pennsylvania
2 articles 0 photos 17 comments
I REALLLLLY liked your style in this piece and I love how you tied in that you don't get along with him but you're lying to him, just like he lied to you. Greatttttt job!!!

on Aug. 18 2010 at 9:18 pm
Shminkanator5000 SILVER, Rochester, New York
9 articles 0 photos 67 comments

Favorite Quote:
"the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"

wow, that was very well written! I really loved reading it! you're very talented

on Apr. 21 2010 at 8:05 pm
chickadee23 SILVER, Boise, Idaho
6 articles 2 photos 15 comments

Favorite Quote:
Who is wise? He that learns from everyone. Who is powerful? He that governs his passions. Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody.
-Benjamin Franklin

Wow. Even though I have a father that is very much a part of my life and I love him, I can understand what it would be like for you because of this writing. Your technique is very original, and I was totally focused on reading this peice. Nice job!

on Jul. 23 2009 at 12:46 pm
Muh-ree-uh PLATINUM, Springboro, Ohio
24 articles 0 photos 14 comments

Favorite Quote:
"This one's for the girls who have ever had a broken heart, who have wished upon a shooting star, you're beautiful the way you are..."
-Martina McBride

Wow! You r a very strong writer, and you write very well!!! I'm so glad you were put in the magazine :) Keep up the great work!!! I was just in KY last weekend going camping... Cumberland Falls by Corbin.

sunshine said...
on Jan. 15 2009 at 9:31 am
sad ordeal, but i liked this. good writing.

mamabs said...
on Oct. 24 2008 at 3:29 pm
good story i can relate to it

_DP _ said...
on Oct. 24 2008 at 2:46 pm
this is a wonderful piece that i have read. i liked this article because it reminds me of how i feel about my father. i can relate to this very well

on Oct. 24 2008 at 1:57 pm
I really loved this article. I can relate because my dad isn't always there for me, and sometimes he does things that i hate him for. I know how you feel. Take Care!

on Oct. 24 2008 at 1:52 pm
I can really relate to this article. My dad isn't always there for me. It's hard, and I know how you feel.

HannahRose said...
on Oct. 9 2008 at 12:45 am
This is well written. I could feel the disappointment and anger as if I was there. Nice job :)

on Oct. 8 2008 at 2:04 pm
I loved this article! It's definately written through the eyes of a teen. Its sad to know that you can't trust your father's words. I feel for you, Man...

Chad said...
on Oct. 4 2008 at 5:29 pm
Thank you both for the kind words. I doubt either of you will see this message, but here's hoping. -Chad

Pinecone said...
on Oct. 1 2008 at 8:20 pm
I like how you wrote your thoughts. Great job!

on Oct. 1 2008 at 8:16 pm
Well written. But i didn't like it.

Jessica S. said...
on Sep. 12 2008 at 7:24 pm
I know how you feel. Very well written. =]


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