It was getting late, and my brother and I had the billiard room to ourselves, an odd place for us to be, since, considering the day, neither of us felt like playing pool.
“You know,” I ventured, “I’d have invited Dad to the club, but I’m not sure he’d have come.”
“He would have,” Jess said, chalking his cue. “At least once, just because you asked him to.”
“You’re probably right,” I agreed after he’d broken. “But you have to admit, this really isn’t his kind of place.”
Jess chuckled as he lined up a shot at the nine-ball. “Yeah. He preferred places where the pool tables have quarter slots, there are no tablecloths in the dining room, there’s a jukebox in the corner, and the dessert cart is a glass case by the cash register.”
“And I’m pretty sure that’s why you and I are partial to those places, too.”
“I guess it just comes natural for us.”
“Environment, in my case. I got his name, but you got his genetics, remember?”
My parents adopted me when I was less than a week old, thinking that they couldn’t have children of their own. Jess proved them wrong 10 years later.
I can’t ever remember not knowing I was adopted, and it’s always been a point of pride with me. I have another adopted brother and a sister who came along after Jess, but Mom and Dad made a point of never using adoption as a distinction. It was simply how our family came to be the way it was.
That isn’t to say I haven’t sometimes wished for a little more than the Roman numeral after my name. My father was one of the most genuinely likeable characters I’ve ever known, a trait Jess inherited. I’ve always come up a little short on personality.
It was still his turn, but my brother seemed in no hurry to take it.
“Genetics doesn’t count for everything. What was the name of that science fiction show he used to watch, the one with Richard Dean Anderson?”
“Stargate, I think.”
“Yeah, that’s it. I’d watch it with him, but I never could get into it like he did.”
“He always tried to get me to like it, too.”
I remembered the last time he did. Dad hadn’t been well, so I was spending more time than usual back home. He’d watch episodes of the space opera at night, having spent the afternoon watching The Food Network. Dad was a good cook, and he always loved experimenting with new recipes and even making up his own. I still insist that his onion dip should be its own food group.
“It’s been nice having you back around so much,” he told me during a commercial one afternoon. “It seems like old times.”
I didn’t say anything. I wanted to. But I couldn’t. Not then.
A few days before the end, Jess and I did have the conversation with him that all fathers and sons need to have. I know my brother and I are glad we did. I hope Dad was, too.
In his memoir, A Pirate Looks at Fifty, Jimmy Buffett dedicated a chapter to his father’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He concluded it with a reference to Desdemona, a character in one of his novels who operated a bakery and rocket launching pad in a Caribbean pirate town:
I wish I’d written that line. Change the pronoun, and you have my dad, too — Gordon E. Roberts Jr.