As tulips start peaking through the dirt and the hills green up it’s time for a little father-daughter bonding in my world. It happens this time every year. My dad and I start calling each other in January to talk possibilities. By March these phone calls have become more frequent with details of research, news stories and changes we’ve heard about. By early April, with the big day a mere two weeks away, I’ll surly call him to ask yet another question. It’s tax season and my dad is a numbers man. Our conversation always goes a little something like this: “Yo, Russ,” I’ll say when he answers the phone.
“Gebe!” It’s a name he’s called me since I can remember.
“Oh, I’ve just got a column of numbers,” he’ll say from his house in South Carolina.
“Got a question. How do I count the mortgage interest for our house in Arlee?”
“You can’t count it on the Schedule E and then itemize it. Do it all on the Schedule E. Keep the rental separate."
“Can I count utilities in the business use of home and itemize?”
“Yeah, just keep the rental house separate. Are you getting the homebuyer’s credit this year?”
“Yeah, $6,500, I think and maybe and EIC or two.”
“Oh, good. Those are always nice.”
Seth bonds with his dad by talking about kayaking trips. I bond with mine by talking about depreciation. Every year on April 15 there’s no place I’d rather be than holed up cradling the phone, shuffling through last year’s return, talking itemized versus standard deductions with my dad. I like to think he’s a little proud that I’m the one in our family who writes the checks, refinances the house and files the taxes. I call it the money train and when it feels as though I’m about to drive it off a cliff, my dad is there to help me manage the twists and curves.
You see, Russ and I, we’ve been through a thing a two. We lived just the two of us for a while after he and my mom got divorced. We figured it all out, one Manwich at a time, with the help of a cast of unsuspecting characters including a poodle named Spam. Then, he was my dad and I was his kid. That’s all we had and all we could count on.
Today, I’m all grown up with kids of my own. He’s still my dad tapping away at the columns and rows of his spreadsheets. Now, he has two other kids, an MBA and a penchant for voting for Republicans. I have a bleeding heart and a master’s degree in literary nonfiction. I think, how can such a smart, caring man be a Republican? He probably thinks, how can a girl with a head for numbers vote for those tax-and-spend Democrats? We don’t try to answer these questions. Instead, every spring we meet somewhere on the 1040.
Our conversations don’t stop at schedules and forms. We talk IRAs, interest rates and sub-prime mortgages. When Seth and I bought our car a few years ago, I ducked away from the salesman to call my dad and run the deal past him. When we were trying to buy our house in Missoula, a process that took seven months, talking to my dad was like a weekly therapy session.
Stick with it, he told me. It’s gonna happen. Be patient.
I took an accounting class in college only to be able to answer yes when my dad would ask, have you found your way over to the business school yet? I got an A and I think it broke my dad’s heart just little when I decided to finish my journalism degree. I wasn’t one of those people who went into journalism because I couldn’t do math. I’ve always been good at numbers. And that accounting class opened up a new world for me. One that was black, white, logical and beautiful. On a balance sheet, everything has a place. There is a lovely order to it all. In the end I chose words and what they sound like next to each other. Another kind of order, another kind of beauty.
But still, I’m a closeted numbers dork. And the one person in my life who understands is my dad. He’s one too. You have to be to read, for fun, the article I read a few weeks ago about Ben Bernanke. About halfway through, I called my dad.
“He seems like he knows what he’s doing,” I said. “This article is great. It has all kinds of graphics about the Fed, how it works, how it started. It’s fascinating. And he’s from South Carolina!”
“Oh, you’re finally pulling for one of the good guys,” he said.
“What?” I said, knowing “good guy” meant Republican. “He’s one of your kind?”
“Oh, yeah, a Bush appointee,” he said. I could hear him laughing.
“Well, Time left that part out,” I told him.
We lob political insults and over the years have learned not to stab too deep because sometimes realize we are closer to the same ideology than we might think. I think Ben Bernanke is an ok guy. He once said (and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t dreaming) that he’d consider voting for Hillary Clinton.
Political allegiances aside, he’s still my dad, I’m still his kid. We still count on that just as we can count on other things we know to be constant like the sun will rise tomorrow and the IRS filing deadline for individual tax returns is April 15 at midnight.