Thursday, March 25, 2004

Originally published Thursday, December 20, 2001 in The St. Catharines Standard

"I have to reach out and touch someone:But I find it easier to have a chat with strangers than to phone my family" by M.Fogel

With Christmas on the way and so many family gatherings ahead, I've been thinking quite a bit about my telephone--or rather my reluctance to use it.
My mother stayed in touch with all of her relatives. Almost every night after supper, my Mom would spend a couple of hours on the phone getting in touch with her brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. I can still see her now, sitting in the dining room of our old house. She would sit at the dining room table and talk for hours.
I, on the other hand, will go months without picking up the phone at home. I'll answer the phone without hesitation at work, and I've been told by my co-workers that I have excellent telephone manners.
Actually, I developed my "professional" telephone manner during a co-op job placement at an ad agency some years ago. One day the receptionist called in sick, and the owner of the company asked me to answer the phone during lunch. I acted all self-righteous about how my co-op placement had nothing to do with reception, but really, I was just afraid to answer the phone.
After that, I made a point of reading up on telephone soliciting and reception. (Don't laugh--I learn everything from books.) Since then, answering a business line has been easy for me, because I just recite a little script: "Thank you for calling Commercial Photo Copy. Matthew speaking. How may I direct your call?"
I guess that's why I find it easier to talk to strangers than I do my own friends and family. You can't stick to a script with family and friends. You actually have to talk to them.
I have a wonderfull family who love me very much and I've spent most of my adult life pushing them away. I have their phone numbers but I don't call. It's become like this huge albatross on my back. Every day is one more day that I haven't been in touch with my family. Every day is one more day that I can't take back. And I justify this behaviour to myself by saying, "Well, I work 44 hours a week and I just don't have time to use the phone." But I know that it's bunk. It's just an excuse.
I went three years without talking to my father. I didn't call. I didn't write. I saw him twice during that period: Once at my wedding to Sheri and once at my son Drew's christening. But something happened this past summer to change that.
His company transferred him from Sarnia to Ancaster and one day, out of the blue, he drove the 45 minutes to St. Catharines and took my sister and me out to dinner.
Now, every three weeks or so, Dad drives down to have dinner with my sister and me.
At first it was awkward for all of us. No one knew what to say. But then after a few of these visits, we started to open up and really talk about things. Other than the weather, I mean. And it feels pretty good.
Since my mother died, I haven't let anyone get too close and that's probably why I'm so reluctant to pick up the phone. I think about her a lot still, as I've mentioned in a previous column, and with Christmas just a few days away now, the pain of losing her weighs heavily on my mind. I know I have to take the first steps.
I know that I have to be the one to call my family and tell them I still love them. I only pray I can learn to follow in her footsteps and find my place in my family.
Since this is my last column, I would like to thank The Standard staff for making me feel so welcome this year. The chance to write these few letters to my neighbours and friends in Niagara has been wonderful. Thank you.
To my neighbours and friends, I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah and Holy Ramadan. I wish you all peace and happiness in the New Year.


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