It's possible that Dad will stop gardening because he's addicted to the BBC Sport app, but I think he'll be OKby Cathy Rentzenbrink / January 30, 2019 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2019 issue of Prospect Magazine
My dad comes round with his first ever phone. He’s 69 and before now he and my mother have shared one, though she’s the person who actually uses it, as she is in charge of banking, paperwork and communicating with the outside world.
“It’s smart, isn’t it?” Dad says, meaning that it is attractive and neat, and I wonder how many people become the owner of a smartphone without knowing what it is called. We set him up with an Apple ID. It takes a long time to find a variation of his name that isn’t already being used by someone else and we go through all the security questions, puzzling over how to spell the name of his first pet and who to put down as his best friend at school. The magic moment arrives and I send him his first ever email: “I didn’t know your first car was a Mini.”
He laughs. None of this come easily to him. He hardly went to school, ran away to sea when he was 15, eventually became a miner and then a publican. He is gifted with anything practical or that involves machinery but his big fingers struggle to grip the shiny black rectangle that he now needs to navigate modern life.
What my parents are doing is training each other up for solo living. They will celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary in June and they are a good partnership, each contributing to the relationship according to their own talents. But now they’ve heard too many horror stories of a surviving spouse failing to thrive because they don’t know how to check the boiler pressure, or use the banking app or get into the safe that holds the family documentation. They want to be able to cope when one of them loses functionality so they are making sure they can both do everything.
Dad programmes in my husband’s mobile number and prepares to send his first text.
“What shall I say?”
“Try, ‘This is my new phone. From Kevin.’”
It takes him a long time and he presses send with a great air of triumph.
There’s a near immediate beep.
Dad peers at the screen, “It says, ‘Who is this, please?’”
He looks hurt, “Why doesn’t he know who I am?”
“Well,” I explain, “I don’t think I’ve told him you’re getting a phone. He’ll know other Kevins out in the wide world. He’ll think it’s one of them.”
My son, Matt, is delighted by it all. He is nine and can’t wait for his own device. In the meantime, another fond adult in his life with a phone means another potential source of Minecraft videos and Pokémon Go. He shows his grandad how to download YouTube. Soon the Dubliners are singing in my kitchen.
“What a wonderful thing,” says Dad, smiling at Ronnie Drew’s face on the screen.
“You know not to reply if anyone offers to share large amounts of money with you?” I check, “Or wants to meet you for sexy fun times?”
“Yes, Grandad,” chips in Matt, “don’t talk to strangers online. I can always help you. FaceTime me if you don’t know how to do something.”
It is refreshing, watching my Dad learn to use his phone. I am inclined to terrify myself over technology, to catastrophise about porn and online gambling, and kids being pressured into sending nude selfies to untrustworthy paramours. All that exists, of course, as do sad stories of older people getting into pickles when they attempt to enter the digital world.
But Dad is applying his customary good sense to this project and while he may be slow at learning how much pressure he needs to apply to set his thumbprint access, he instinctively knows how to make the phone into a good servant rather than a bad master. He is streetwise and this quality will serve him well.
“Will Grandad need rules about tech time?” Matt asks, when they’ve gone. He himself is rationed to an hour a day and if I permitted a free-for-all he’d never read another book or willingly engage in any non-digital activity.
“I don’t think so,” I say. I suppose it’s possible that my Dad will stop gardening and walking because he gets addicted to the BBC Sport app, or develop insomnia because he stays up too late binge-watching Dubliners videos, but, really, I think he’s going to be OK.