Talking Changes

by Chris Cluff

My dad didn’t openly talk about his job. I knew that he worked for the Bank of Nova Scotia. I knew that his work had something to do with automotive and marine financing. And I knew that he commuted to Toronto to do it. That’s about it.

Every once in a while I could pick up on the good day vs bad day vibe when we picked him up from the GO station. It was in his face as he walked up to the car. He sometimes would have a slight furrow in his brow or another look that could best be described as a small frown with squinted down turned eyes.

But guaranteed, his look would shift the moment he made eye contact with us in the car. All the grey left his face and his smile burst forth as he dropped into the passenger seat with a kiss for my mom and a wink for me.

Anything that I gleaned about what he did while he was away from home during the day was from bits and pieces, clues, and just missed conversations between him and my mom as I walked in the room. I did sense in those silent after moments that something was off. Something connected with his work, irked him.

This didn’t phase me much, I was pretty happy just to tell people that he worked for the bank. Sometimes they asked what bank he worked at. Most times they only gave a thoughtful bobbing head nod. Their satisfaction beguiled me. I wondered what they seemed to understand that I didn’t.

I did have one or two angsty conversations with him when I was a young adult, but those were more like interrogations. Me, pushing attitude, trying to figure out why he was wasting time in his bureaucratic rat race. He, in poised silence, waited for me to exhaust my humblebrags and usually just smiled and returned to reading or writing in his notebook.

One morning a few years back, out of the blue, my son asked my wife and I if we were teachers. His question cracked us up. We kinda stared at one another, then back at him to see him eagerly awaiting an answer. From our point of view we thought it was obvious by our chatter around the house, and the dinner table, and the fact that we shared summers off, and our March Breaks together, that we were teachers.

I asked him what he thought our jobs were. He said that we help kids with their schoolwork and their problems. Astute answer I thought. We told him that we were teachers. Satisfied he returned to his Cheerios. It reminded me so much of my dad. His small nod, then a refocus on the task in front of him.

When I announced to my kids that I would be getting a new job at a new school my son asserted proudly and earnestly. “Still a teacher though right?” And did this slight head tilt and eye squint that stutter-stepped me a bit. So much so that he and I exchanged head nods in silent confirmation back and forth a couple times – confirming that the world was still reliable and stable.

My daughter asked, “Why? Didn’t you just change jobs like a year ago?”

“Two years ago actually.” I clipped back.

But her first question hung in the air. And she was waiting for the answer. She actually came and sat in front of me at the breakfast table, tented her fingers, and repeated,

“Why are you changing jobs … again?”

to be continued.

Chris Cluff can be found on Twitter @chrisjcluff and on his blog

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