My Father's First Cell Phone

Written By Ann marie Houghtailing

Author Bio: Ann marie Houghtailing is an expert in business development and storytelling. She speaks all over the world about how to use storytelling as a business tool. She has delivered a TEDx talk entitled, Raising Men and has toured two one woman shows. Her writing has appeared in Washington Post, San Diego Union Tribune, XO Jane, Huffington Post, Thought Catalogue and Daily Worth. - Twitter: @trailsnotpaths - Instagram: @trailsnotpaths - Website: annmariehoughtailing.com - Facebook: @annmariehoughtailing - LinkedIn: @annmariehoughtailing

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I am entering, willingly, the darkest enterprise of my life. I am buying a cell phone for my 73-year-old father and teaching him how to use it. 

No one thinks of getting a phone as a radial act. But try to imagine going back in time and handing a smart phone to someone from 1962 – that’s basically what I’m doing.

My father has always taken great pride in being “unphoned” and has been known to rant about the evils of technology. He likes to tell me that he’s very happy that he’s going to die before he has to experience much more technological advancement. But my world-traveling father is feeling all of his 73 years and is at the point where he might have to reevaluate his relationship with technology. He would argue he feels much older than his age, “it’s not the years, it’s the miles,” he’s been telling me for at least 25 years. His feet are giving him pain and the pain is unpredictable and now his body is starting to limit his freedom. He wants to walk for miles in foreign cities but his body is not cooperating. I tell him he needs a phone so he can take Uber whenever his body betrays him. I’ve been making this case for a year.

Every month when I travel to San Francisco and see my father, he takes BART from Berkeley to see me. When we want to explore beyond the limits of his physical capabilities, I order an Uber. Everything about the experience astonishes my father, who is now in constant fear that my phone might not be adequately charged for one of our outings. 

My father has traveled all over the planet on his own with nothing more than a backpack. Long before anyone was publishing missives about living with less and investing in experiences rather than things, my father was staying in youth hostels in his sixties and taking buses into the far reaches of South American countries without a plan or a map or the language to guide him. My father values nothing more than time and freedom. My wanderlust and ferocious autonomy are gifts from my father who encouraged me to travel and take risks.

On this last visit, his feet were particularly bad. He walked slower and stopped more frequently. At lunch he confessed that he was afraid to plan a trip because he didn’t know what he would do if he couldn’t walk when he got there. 

“There is a solution. I can get you a phone and teach you how to use it.” I make the statement like I’m negotiating with a hostage. My tone is careful and I choose my language with incredible caution lest he jump.

“Oh man.” My father is nervous and shakes his head, but he does not say no. 

“I can go and buy it and set it up. I’ll bring it on my next visit and teach you how to use it. This offer basically makes me eligible for sainthood.”

My father laughs because he doesn’t disagree. His inability to understand and use technology creates an explosion of rage that should be reserved for someone trying to mug you in an alley with a baseball bat. It is extremely unpleasant to witness and has always made me seethe in frustration and embarrassment. I don’t want to be anywhere near my father when he’s trying to access his e-mail from a computer that doesn’t belong to him or try to use the Internet for anything at all. 

My father’s frustration is the embodiment of his limitation, being left behind, and cut off from the world. He cannot learn and adapt at the speed of technology and his body is winding down. I want to elongate his freedom so I’m going to get him a phone. 

Now that I am older, I understand my father’s anger at technology for what it truly is – fear – and find myself confronting these same emotions. 

When my son left for college, he joked that once his younger brother moved out I would never be able to watch television again since operating the remote is akin to launching a rocket for me. I laugh but I know the frustration of not being able to use something so basic, the strange punch of inadequacy that reminds me I can’t solve a problem that my sons can fix in half a minute. When this happens I feel very ordinary things like stupid and helpless and in my worse moments – angry. 

When I deliver the phone to my father we walk through basic usage. There is a lot of deep breathing and a few nervous jokes as we gingerly proceed. I feel like I am climbing some massive mountain, throwing a rope down to my father hoping he will catch it and attach it properly. We inch our way up the mountain a little further and my father says that he thinks it’s a good start and we should take a break and go and get a whiskey while we’re ahead. 

Of course what he really means, is before one of us gets frustrated and gets injured on the mountain. I know that it’s only a matter of time before I am the one that will need to grab the rope and help pull myself up. I hope I have the energy and fortitude. I hope my sons have the necessary patience. It will require all of us.