Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chasing Chuck Andersen

The Internet broke my heart tonight.

It was nobody's fault. A simple algorithm on a popular professional social networking site, LinkedIn, made a calculated mistake by trying to connect me to my dad. 

There I was, mindlessly clicking around and only half paying attention. LinkedIn sent me some updates that I automatically clicked on and then suddenly, there it was. 

A page full of "People You Might Know" and at the very top there was a Chuck Andersen with my dad's old hotmail email address that has sat unmanned for four long years.

My heart just broke.

But instead of shutting my computer and walking away, I leaned into the false lure of social media, hoping that if I chased down my dad on LinkedIn, I might feel closer to him. I scrolled through pages and pages of Chuck Andersens in an attempt to fully confirm that what I saw was indeed my dad's profile. 

I would be the one to know it. I was the one who helped him set it up.

It was sometime in 2009 and my dad was ready to go online. He was interested in all of it – Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube – so we sat down at the kitchen table and I started to teach him about social media. We worked on his Facebook profile, discussing which photos might be the best to make him look "cool" (my word, not his).

The thing is, my dad looks cool in all photos. This is because he is a cool guy. If you look at my dad's Facebook page, there are photos of him driving fast boats and playing electric guitars. There are pictures of him laughing (he is hilarious) and there are pictures of him with my beautiful mom.

The thing about his LinkedIn profile, though, was that it was not finished. When we set it up we had not yet decided which photo to use for his profile and we had not yet put in his job history. So, tonight what I found was a half-finished online profile; an artifact of the interrupted life affected by complications from cancer.

I remember how eager my dad was to learn social media. He made me feel smart with all of his thoughtful, patient questions. He valued my opinions on small details like the best photos to use for a profile picture. He was interested in the Internet with a sort of childlike glee. He read lots of interesting articles, sent lots of encouraging emails, found lots of snarky jokes and looked at pictures of his family and friends. My dad was a delightful user of the Internet.

My dad. Dammit, I miss him so much right now. And even worse, he is still here but cannot reach out and talk to me. Would this hurt less if my dad were just gone? I don't know.

The other night I got pulled out of an evening client call because my dad was rushed to the hospital with internal bleeding. It killed me that I could not be there to chat him through the ordeal. On the times when my dad goes to the hospital, I get clear-headed and focused. I talk to him, I tell him jokes – I nearly become a one-woman stage act just to get his mind off whatever trauma is buzzing around his motionless, silent body. And the thing about my dad is that when he goes to the hospital, he also gets clear-headed and focused. It is like the two of us get into this zone and we make our way through the terror together.

But now I live 500 miles away and I cannot always be there for my dad. The thing about loving a quadriplegic father who cannot breathe or eat or speak on his own? The thing about that is you need to be right there beside him to show him your love. 

Tonight as I chased Chuck Andersen on the Internet, I wished that he were really out there manning that LinkedIn page. I wished that the page was not a ghost town, a reminder of an interrupted past, an artifact of who he once was.

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