In my first book, Sowing My Father's Garden, I have this amazing new ability to simply call up my long deceased Father on a screen and hold conversations with an artificial simulation of him.
I didn't really plan to write this story this way. When I came up with the concept, it simply sounded like a cool little aspect to the story.
But after I wrote the first interaction with my Dad, it took me a long time in the story before I went back to it. It was just too real.
In the story, I find my main character to be in a position where he (he who is me) getting advice from a lot of people. But no matter how much I respected the others feeding me their insight and opinion, I found that I still had to go back in the story and run it past my artificial Dad.
And it felt good to me, writing these conversations, these pretend dialogues with the man I respected more than any other in my life, focusing on my memories of every little nuance about his mannerisms, his speech cadence, his sincerity, and how he always balanced his rational with humor. How thoughtful he was, and how he could dissect the simplest idea to find it's real intention and meaning.
And I realized how much I really truly miss him. I didn't really know this until I delved into trying to resurrect him in this artificial simulation.
Below is that first excerpt from Sowing My Fathers Garden … where I discover inside this amazing network the Planter's Society had built, that my Father – the founder of this society – had been artificially modeled so that other members could "bounce things off him.
Tomorrow is Dad's birthday. He would have turned 81.
Ironically his birthday falls on a day we call Remembrance Day.
Happy Birthday Dad. You are indeed remembered.
14 – A chat with DadI quietly re-entered the bedroom so as not to wake Anne as she was sleeping. I picked up the remote control and went to the front of the room where the video screen stood. I moved a comfortable chair to a location in front of the video screen, and worked my way through the menus back to the Angel flying into view.
"Let me talk to my Dad, please." I said, just – if for nothing else – to see how smart this thing really is.
"Certainly", responded the Angel.
The screen went black.
After a couple of seconds, a little orange glow appeared near the middle of the screen. As I looked closer, I could see the outline – the silhouette of a figure, lying on the couch, the orange dot grew brighter – then dimmed, and a puff of smoke drifted past. The dot then moved in a fashion to a lower position and stopped – as if set down in an ashtray.
Even though the screen was nearly pitch black, I could still make the silhouette out to be my Dad. – laying on the couch in a pair a tennis shorts – a tee shirt on, laying on his side with one arm propping up his head.
"I've been wondering when you would get around to coming to see me", said the silhouette. "How was your flight?"
"Great", I said.
"How are Anne and my two granddaughters, Alex and Rae?"
"They are great too".
"I can't wait to see them". It was indeed my Dad's voice. Same professional speaking voices, a little tired, with a touch of gravel from smoking.
"Dad, you quit smoking, remember?"
"I started back up.", said the voice. The orange dot lifted into the air – grew brighter as it sat in front of the face of the silhouette, then grew dimmer. It landed to a position on the side of the silhouette's hip.
Just like Dad did as he laid on the couch in the dark smoking and thinking.
"So where do we start, then?", I asked the silhouette.
"How about asking how I am?"
"Okay, I'll bite, how are you ... Dad?"
"Dead, pretty much." Said the silhouette, with a dead pan delivery of a joke.
Just like Dad.
"Yes, and I don't really find all this very amusing", I replied. "I'm kind of pissed off that Mom would let you be … well … reverse engineered I guess is the best way to say it."
"Capiche", said the silhouette.
"But I will say this, you sure do look and sound and act like my old man."
"I told you, I hate the term 'old man'."
And Dad did, too. I referred to him as my old man one time, he reached over and cuffed me good in the head.
"At least you can't reach me now", I laughed, "And I'm too old for a whooping."
"You would be surprised at what this thing can do", replied the silhouette. And for a second I considered he might be right.
"I don't think I can let the girls see this … see you … this way. Do you understand?"
"Not only do I understand, but I agree with you a hundred percent!" replied my digital silhouette of a father. "At least not yet … when they are older … that's why your mother agreed to put me in here."
"So you have a pre-recorded message to play for them then?", I asked.
"Not pre-recorded – but a script I guess you could say. Your mother made a collage of video clips for the girls to see, and some instructions for me to … well … show my best side to them. Some day they may want to meet me."
"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it", I replied. "Do you have anything scripted to say to me? This is a lot of … shit … to grasp. I could use some guidance."
I swore on purpose. I was never allowed to swear around my Mom or Dad. Not even as a young adult.
"You mean 'Stuff', a lot of stuff to grasp."
"Sorry, just testing you".
"I know." The orange dot again drifted from the silhouette's hip to his face, grew brighter then dimmer, and another puff of smoke drifted across the screen.
"The only advice that I have for you is to use your best judgment. These are very good people. They sincerely are trying to do the right things. They are trying to carry forward on a mission I left them with over twenty years ago."
"I think I need a history lesson, Dad. How did all this come to be? Where did you get all the money to fund all of this? "
"Tonight is not the night for a history lesson, kid. The Angel can tell you the history. She can probably play it back for you like a movie." .. there was a pause … then the silhouette continued .. "Yes, I just checked, and the Angel has the order and sequence of this to unveil to you all queued up, but not tonight, it's still too new to you, all this … shit."
I laughed. That was my dad.
"But this I must tell you. I am not the one who brought the wealth to this group. That was Abercrombie. John is a genius. He built all of this. I just provided … well … the inspiration I guess. That's why they wanted Mom to let them put me into this thing. So they could remember what they are here for."
"You are an invited member. This is not some family legacy left to you. This is serious stuff and you better treat it as such. What John has asked you to join is his – the Society's. What they expect of you is … well, a little bit of me. Got it?"
"I got it."
"Remember …." Said the silhouette.
"The old man's always right", I said, beating him to the punch.
"I miss you Dad."
The orange dot floated over to the silhouette's face, again grew brighter, then dimmer, then floated to the ashtray, the hand of the silhouette putting out the orange glowing dot as a puff of smoke again floated across the screen.
"That's enough for tonight … we'll talk again tomorrow. G'night". And the silhouette got up from the couch and walked out of the picture.