Tim Elhajj was a divorced dad who was desperate to connect with his son -- and went about it in an unconventional way. His essay is read by John C. Reilly (The Sisters Brothers).
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Modern love the pod cast supported by produced by the island at W B. You are faster. From the New York Times and W B You Boston. This is modern. The stories of love loss and redemption. I'm your host Meghna Chakrabarti, here's a scene that might be familiar to a lot of divorced parents, you're on the phone with your child, desperate to connect and one way or another. It feels like you keep missing each other TIM S. Harsh writes about that feeling in his peace as a father, I was hardly a
fit fit. It read by John C Riley who stars in the new film the sisters brothers during our weekly telephone call. My ten year old Son told me he was a yankee cap, not just any Yankees cap and had to be fitted cap fitted caps. Don't have the plastic adjuster on the back. He told me all the pro players wear them, although fitted caps cost only about thirty years, five dollars. I didn't think I could afford one. I lived alone in a small apartment in the Bronx, nearly two hundred miles from, son of my Ex wife, who remained in the pencil In your town, where I had spent most of my life, I was we're getting by in a variety of part, time jobs while putting myself through school. Besides, we just been through the financial double whammy of Christmas and his birthday was about to is much but then I heard his mother in the background and she sounded irritated, don't ask him for that. Her voice was more
Well then, I knew my son was holding the phone to his chest. The way she stressed the word him irritated me. Why not ask me your head still growing, I heard her say what a waste I realized she probably couldn't afford the cap either. This awareness brought me to my feet as the product of a roman catholic upbringing. I couldn't help but feel guilty about worse, even though I wasn't the one who had asked for it. I feelings of shame and inadequacy were manifested in both a tacit and an overt way for me to work, Wasn't just the end of the marriage was the start of a great competition. The fact that my
wanted something that his mother was either unwilling or unable to provide only steeled my resolve to get it for him. What size is your head? I asked, he didn't know: go to the mall. I told him triumph fitted caps until you find the right size. He sounded delighted. I was to I both upstaged his mother and found a parental task only I could perform considering my circumstance. This was huge with work and school. I managed to visit my son just a few times a year. Otherwise our relationship consisted entirely of those weekly phone calls during which he often had little to say, and we had increasingly less to talk about. Some subjects were off limits, money issues.
anything vaguely critical of his parents or their decisions. I especially knew not to comment on the eagerness with which he called his stepfather dad. When I call the following weekend, he still didn't know his hat size. He hadn't been able to get to the mall his mother wouldn't take him. I used to walk to the mall from their neighborhood as a child can't walk his mother, wouldn't let him walk and route four forty one. I sighed or cut through Grasshopper Hill. He had no idea what I meant. I asked him about the streets and his routes and such and eventually I realized the housing development had been built where Grasshopper Hill used to be he didn't know Grasshopper Hill, neither did any of his friends the small town where I grew up seem to exist only in my memory. Now, though, I was just thirty one, I was out of touch demoted by my absence. I suggested he use his stepfather.
Measure to determine the size of his head. He said it was a metal tape and he would get in trouble if you were to break it. If it's metal, I said you can't break it. What if the sharp edge cuss my head rolled my eyes and desperation, I told him the first thing that came in My mind: okay, unwind, a wire hanger and wrap it around your head then use the tape to measure the section of the hangar As soon as I said it, I knew how absurd it was. That sounds even dangerous than just using the metal tape you said, and anyway I can't be unwise.
Mom's hangers are trying to get me in trouble. Every week I came to dread asking in the size of his head, but I couldn't let it go. After so many years of Miss birthday parties and unattended literally games, the struggle to determine the size of his head seemed, like my one slim shot at redemption. Invariably, every conversation came down to the same simple question: how big is your head this Adan incredibly for more than six months for the end of summer, he finally offered an answer: seven and seven hundred and eighty seven seven slash eight. I can hardly believe in Peter yep. He said with Custo Real authority. You sure I am dad. I am. I took the train to Madison Square Garden. Eighth avenue had dozens of little souvenir shops with Yankees caps in the window.
search for a fitted cap. That was a seven and seven slash. There were none they that plenty of seven one eighth, seven and one quarter. Even if you seven five days but not a single seven and seven eighths cap was to be found. I went to four more stores and it was the same story. Macy's was my last hope when I finally found a cap that was seven and seven eighths. I was taken aback by its girth. It looked as if it would fit a jack o lantern. How can a ten year old have a head this big at Macy's? The cap was forty dollars, almost twenty percent, more than the little store by the garden, but the poor child had already been cheated by circumstances beyond his control. All he needed to be happy was a size, seven and seven aids. Yankees cap, I laid my money down back in my apartment. I carefully packaged it.
To the post office, because his name is the same as mine? He used to complain that the mail carrier often delivered his mail to my mother's house and not across the street on a stretch of houses known as the zoo. I wanted this deliberately to perfect perfect. So I wrote a note in big letters across the package. Dear Mr Postman, please deliver across the street in the zoo. Thank you. A few days later I called his answered answered did had arrived. It did, he said said, does fit he paused and then he said, yeah yeah it to me get on the phone in an irritated voice. He told me never to write a note on a package again, the only thing worse than living in a little house on a block. Everyone calls the zoo is having a. I had arrived with a note blazed across it asking the post office to please deliver in a
the street, to the zoo I bluster and an apology, but does the hat fits and I ask how does it look yeah? He said it fits. Although he's still sounded salon, he thanked me. We talked a little more and then the phone was passed to his mother. She asked if I had sent the child support, and I said: oh yes, the check is in the mail and it was. I asked her if the hatch and she laughed yep it fits after hanging up. I couldn't figure out why I didn't feel more heroic months. Past years, the cap was long forgotten, at least by me. Eventually, my little apartment in the Bronx gave way to a little house in the suburbs, a new wife and two small children before I knew it. Timmy was twenty, and over
Fourth of July weekend, the five of us got together for a trip to Manhattan. Despite all my years in New York, this was Timmy's first time in the big city in Times square. He wanted to buy himself a Yankees cap with a playful look in his eye. He asked me if I remember the time I sent him that fitted cap, of course. Well, there's more to the story, he said, but I'm not sure I should even tell you. I urged him to tell me how bad could it be. He said he had guessed the size of his head that day and his estimate had come in a little high, seven and seven it wasn't his hat size when he was ten. In fact, he pointed out. His head still had not achieved that colossal glory. When he put on the cap I had sent it sank. Were both his ears, his mother and stepfather, had a good laugh at first. I wasn't sure how to take this news
I didn't like the thought of anyone laughing at my efforts, especially my ex wife and her husband, and then the frustration of that summer came flooding back. All those phone calls my trip to the souvenir shops, the clerks looking at me, incredulous each time I mentioned the size, I was seeking seven and seven eighty men, some mighty big head for a boy how hard it was to be close when he was growing up, especially once it Is the fact that he and I would never have a conventional father son relationship how I long to be present for him, despite my circumstances, yet I was
determined to overcome all these obstacles and be a hero that I had ignored the obvious. Even if the cap had fed it, wouldn't mattered much. It would have made up for my absence or brought us closer, but the wonder is that those years of weekly phone calls as difficult as they were and as an insignificant as they felt at the time did manage to hold us together as it turned out. They were just enough now watching my son mugging in the stores mirror as he tried on a cap. I couldn't help but smile myself. After ten long years was time for us to have our own little.
that's John C Reilly, reading TIM Oh huh, just peace as a father, I was hardly a perfect fit we'll catch, with TIM and his son after the break the.
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and who I will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words. Then I was getting nervous. I sent it to my parents or something me and my dad. We liked the first together and I wish her out. I it J, C K, P, o g jackpot panic, yeah. Nice, I'm same as earth's sky. The digital puzzles editor for the New York Times. You can try, spelling bee and all our games at N Y Times dot com, slash games with a pop, hey, how's it going there nothing. This is this is awesome man, that's TIM L, Hodge and his son also named TIM talking to each other from opposite coasts. Tim senior lives in Seattle these days and his son lives on a military base. In Massachusetts, TIM Junior says that
he was at a law enforcement training center when his dad called to tell him that this piece had been published in modern love and he went to a Starbucks to read the essay for the first time. I remember it taking me like twenty minutes to find that section and then, when I read it, I was blown away by it and I actually Cried. You know men, men of federal law enforcement, training centre on this big, tough guy. Here I am too under forty. And I'm crying and weeping in the in the star books. I was just telling people that I had an inner allergies were pretty bad down here for me. So well, I remember exactly where I was and I was blown away by them TIM Senior says that he wrote this piece about the time he was trying to figure out how to be present in his son's life even from a distance they just wanted to connect and nearly really felt like
I was doing a really great job of it and just one be there, and just like so feeling, like an outsider. I just really trying to figure out like how to be the best sire. I can be as just really hard just like a lot of longing there can. I think, that's what really withdrawal like just like wanting to make this thing been an avenger skiing. Getting like fixated on in this, I clearly crazy, These are you way. We asked him to him. hear what he remembers about those phone calls when his dad kept asking about the size of his head he's calling me in the months of the summertime- and I grew up with so many kids- and I was a very active kid. You know I keep my mom yelling at me, your dad's on the phone come in the house and in and I get in there and just to remember that I didn't get the hat size again and I know he's gonna.
You know I just remember that build up for that summer and I'm sure it was uncomfortable for him and and that's what eventually lead to seventy seven, eight for a hat size, which really should have been seven in one eighth with the fitted hats that I have now these dull per year on year. Yet I was so crazy. I remembered just tell me it's about the hare donates about air, just not being able to resist it's more about me, sort of, like torturing my son, to This thing done. Tim Junior says that on that trip to New York years later, the family ended up in a store where he found a seven and seven slash. There was like on the very top shelf, and I put it down and I put it on and I you know I went down to my nose that's how big it was, and that was me isn't. As a twenty year old, you know he got me that when I was ten,
and we had a laugh. You know we had. We had a laugh, but when TIM Jr talks about what this as a means to him, he gets a little more serious. You know I, I love him and You know I've been up and down with my emotions towards my father and there's one thing that he always offers me he's always been consistent. Since I was young, you know I can not talk to him for six seven months and pick up the phone and call him, and it's like we didn't didn't
been you know. It speaks to that and TIM Sr says that, although he's had to work through the guilt of being away for much of his son's life, he takes a huge amount of pride in the man. His son has become started. This really beautiful, gorgeous family. I go to him for his perspective, he's just a heck of a father and a heck of a man, I'm just so so proud of him. I just admire you so much, and just thank you so much for coming in and showing up for me and- and I really really appreciate it-. love. You a ton man. I really appreciate you always being there for me when I need you. So thank you. That's EL hush, Junior and TIM L, hush senior TIM seniors twins are college age.
and TIM Junior is also a father. He says that's the most fulfilling role he's ever had more after the break and the. I love spelling bee my boyfriend and I often play spelling bee together by together I mean sitting next to each other playing individual We am not cheating. Sometimes, when I open up spelling bee- and I see that you have completed a few words on your own- I feel a little betrayed. It may have happened again. I have one friend, who I will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words. Then I was getting nervous. I sent it to my parents are some
me and my dad. We like this time you together and I wish out the it J C K, P, o t Jack yeah yeah. Nice I'm same as earth's sky. The digital puzzles editor for the New York Times. You can try spelling bee and all our games at N Y Times dot com, slash games, here's Daniel Jones,
editor of the modern love column for the New York Times being a father of a sudden myself. This piece really hit me. You know his desperation to connect with his son that desperation in itself is a measure of love that idea that the threat of panicky feeling of time slipping away and a bond unraveling, simply because you aren't with that person and how you try to make up for that. It is just an indication of how much you care and how much you want to care in a way that will matter and funny anecdote about the hat being whatever twenty size is too big. Something that comes out and become sort of a sweet bonding moment. At the end, I thought was just such a nice touch. The
John C Reilly says he chose this piece because it resonates with the themes of his new movie. The sisters brothers lot of it is about recognizing the frailty in men despite their kind of macho appearance or whatever it's a movie about recognizing the fact that all human beings are sensitive. So this way definitely soon in line with the modern love is a reduction of the New York Times and W B you are Boston, NPR station, its produced directed at edited by Jessica Airport, Caitlin, O Keefe engine parity. Original scoring and sound design by Matt read the idea for the modern love. Podcast was conceived by LISA Tobin. I was Adler or executive producer. Daniel Jones is the It or of modern love for the New York Times an adviser to the show use it for the past courtesy of appeal. I make the trapper birdie
see you next week.
Transcript generated on 2022-04-16.