We had been talking about it for at least 10 years. I would say, "Dad, you really should buy a computer. Nobody uses typewriters anymore."
He would answer, "I know it, old man, I really should."
"Then do it, Dad!"
"I really should," he'd say again. And that would be the end of it.
Four years ago, my brother bought Dad a computer, planted it on his desk at work, and hired a young man to give him four hours of instruction. Dad woke at 3 the next morning and left a message on my brother's answering machine, begging him to get rid of the machine by the time he got to the office the next morning. The computer was removed. Dad was clearly a hard case.
I never thought it would be easy to persuade my father to change. He loves to sit at his wood desk and pound so hard on his old Underwood that it regularly requires new ribbons. He has written more than two dozen books on a typewriter and countless articles. He even wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times about why he would always keep his trusted Model S, vintage 1941.
Dad had fostered my discovery process, never forced what he felt was the right choice upon me. When he bought me my first bicycle, he waited patiently as I waffled between the red and the blue Schwinn. "Which do you like better?" I had asked. He left it to me; I was the one who had to ride it.
Why, all these years later, did I want to foist the technological progress of my generation on him? If Dad chose to ignore the world of computers, DSL high-speed Internet access and Wi-Fi hot spots, shouldn't I just let him?
But one day Dad retired and found himself with time on his hands. He phoned and asked, "What would one of those machines cost?"
"Those machines that get me on the worldwide thing?"
"What changed your mind?"
"I think it's time," he said, resignation in his voice.
A week later we coordinated a visit to an Apple store. A salesman named Noah -- lean, no more than 20 years old -- asks Dad about his RAM needs, screen size preference and how fast a chip he wants. It's surreal to see my Dad in this environment. I want to protect him from it, to be his guardian.
Hadn't he once taught me Wordsworth's line, "The child is father to the man . . . "?
Noah shows us a row of G4s -- one with a 12-inch screen, the next 14 inches, the next the Yao Ming size, 17 inches. At the time, they were the top of the line. He explains that each computer has a minimum of 40 gigabytes, a CD burner, a DVD player. He drones on about RAM upgrades and how the G4 is now the standard and how much better the titanium G4 is than anything else -- especially the G3, which after all is outdated technology. I think about the day Dad fell on the stairs and my brother took him to the hospital, where he had his hip replaced with a titanium stud.
I think about his aging and my own as I stare at the stubble of a goatee on Noah's face.
I can feel Dad's mind wandering, too. Maybe he'd prefer to be casting flies on a river in Montana or reading Balzac or watching a boxing match.
Maybe he'd like to be in his still office, listening to one of his typewriters hit the notes in his head, like a jazz musician on a keyboard, ad-libbing as he goes. One thing's for sure: In this computer shop, he doesn't understand a word. To him, Noah is a perfectly nice man from another planet.
"What do you think, old man?" Dad asks me.
"It's up to you, Dad. You're the one who's going to use it."
For the first time in my life, I see my Dad completely unsure. I know it's not the prices he's scared of. It's the machines. Dad lays his hands on one of the computer keyboards and begins to type. He shakes his head.
"I'm afraid this is not going to do," he says. "I spent years on a manual and . . . "
I fear the whole thing is blown.
Noah quickly hands Dad a larger keyboard. "Closest thing you'll get to a manual on the market," Noah says. "Attaches right on like this."
"That's terrific," Dad says, fingering the larger keys.
"Do you need some more time, Mr. Lyons?" Noah asks, eyeing other customers.
"No, no . . . I think we're ready," Dad says.
He hands Noah a credit card.
"Great," Noah says. "Which one did you decide on?"
"I think we'll take the medium," Dad says.
"You mean the 14-incher?" Noah asks.
"Yes, I think so. Not the small one and not the large one."
Noah and I lock eyes for a moment and smile. Does my father think he's ordering a pair of pants?
"With the large type board," Dad says.
Noah crunches numbers on a calculator.
"Any software with that?"
"I'm sorry, soft . . . ?" Dad begins.
"No, thank you," I say. "AppleWorks will be fine."
"Yes, we're fine with the basic level," Dad says. "Now, this size machine . . . Does it carry the worldwide thing?"
"Dad, they all have Internet access," I say. "The size of the computer doesn't matter."
"That's great," Dad says. "I just wanted to be sure."
Noah hands the bill to my father before charging Dad's credit card.
"There are no other attachment things or battery things I may need?" Dad asks.
"Are you going to be downloading much music?" Noah asks.
"I wouldn't think so. I have a record player at home."
Dad turns to me. "Are you sure I don't need any softwares?"
"I think this is a good start, Dad," I say, still nervous he may change his mind and rush out of the place.
Two weeks later, the phone rings. It's Dad.
"I haven't touched it yet," he says softly.
"Excuse me?" I ask.
"The machine. I'm too nervous."
"Dad -- we went over how to boot up, how to get onto the Web, how to check e-mail, how to surf," I say. "I saw you take notes. You understood."
"I know it, old man," he says. "You're absolutely right."
Before I go to sleep that night, I check my e-mail. I am flabbergasted to find a note from my father. "Testing, testing, testing."
I hit "reply."
"Bravo, Dad! I hear you loud and clear! Welcome to cyberspace!"
These days, Dad checks his e-mail at least eight times a day.
"People hardly send my machine any e-mail," Dad says over dinner one day.
"That's because no one has your e-mail address, Dad," I say.
"I know it, old man," he says, a long smile stretching across his face.
"That's precisely the way I like it."