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Connections

Smartphone bonding with Dad

Though we always had trouble making small talk on the phone, technology opened up whole new vistas for my dad and me.

Illustration by Gracia Lam

A FEW MONTHS AGO, MY DAD DID THE UNTHINKABLE: He bought an iPhone. Why unthinkable? Well, he’s a voracious reader who favors dusty library books over a Kindle, a man who once referred to the iPhone 4S as the “iPhone 45.” But, always open-minded, he’s trying.

In fact, his new gadget has brought us closer. Typically, when I call my parents on their land line, my mom answers on the first ring. She’s always been the primary poser of questions, fielder of news, coordinator of plans, and repository of information both important and mundane. My dad’s a different story. Friends and I have often discussed how unsettling it is to make small talk with our fathers on the telephone. Usually there are some pleasantries exchanged, a few jolly questions volleyed, and then the inevitable: “Soooo  .  .  .  do you want me to put Mom on?” Whenever my dad says this, I’m a bit relieved — and maybe he is, too.

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It’s strange to navigate icebreaker conversations with a man who shares my DNA and who used to read me bedtime stories and let me win at Memory every night after dinner. There is a certain intuitive fluency among many mothers and daughters, years of accumulated context and inflection and conversational patterns and instinct; to this day, I can tell within seconds if Mom and I need to clear the air just by the tone of her voice. Calls with Dad aren’t quite the same. He’s fantastic with big-picture questions, he’s an empathetic sounding board for job guidance or relationship advice, and he’s always reassuring if I call him in tears (which, I must admit, I’ve done a few times as an adult). But the day-to-day catching up? The what-did-Andrew-have-for-dinner-do-you-need-new-shirts-how’s-Brian’s-cold? Thoroughly Mom territory.

Now, though, my dad and I communicate daily. We don’t talk, necessarily — we text. Thanks to our iPhones, he’s often the first one to intercept cute photos of Andrew (his grandson) or to learn about my latest article or to confirm plans with my husband, Brian, for poker night. While I’d never pick up the phone to call him about my horrible laryngitis (“Dad, I sound like a transvestite!”), I have zero qualms about texting him such information, now that new lines of communication are wide open. Meanwhile, my father, rarely one to badger me about my health in real life, has availed himself of texting to remind me — repeatedly — to get a flu shot. I pretend to be annoyed, but if he stopped, I think I’d miss it.

Why is it easier to communicate with our iPhones? I don’t know; maybe it’s something that just the two of us share (my mom is a smartphone holdout). Maybe it’s the fact that we’re both big readers and that typing comes more naturally than talking. Regardless, for all the worries about smartphone technology driving people further apart, the opposite is true in our case. With our iPhones, my dad and I are in touch more than ever.

His iPhone also brought about another happy consequence: He discovered the pleasures of Scramble, essentially a smartphone version of Boggle. Now, each night after Andrew goes to sleep and Brian sinks into Adult Swim, I retire to the bedroom, duck under the covers, and challenge my dad to a few games. In a classic case of the child turning into the parent, I get a bit antsy if he misses a night and doesn’t play me back. But he usually does. It’s a comforting way to reconnect with the guy who once read me bedtime stories and played Memory with me. Really, it’s just like old times. Except that on our phones, I never let him win.

Kara Baskin blogs at boston.com/community/moms/blogs/24_hour_workday. Send comments to connections@globe.com.

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