When I was a kid, my dad and I didn’t spend much time together. He was always taking my brother on weekend trips to go fishing, or waking him up when it was still dark to go deer-hunting, but I never wanted to go.
No one plays Pokémon Go anymore. I know this because when I pull out my phone and open the app as I wait for the bus, or sit at a bar, or walk with my friends to go to class or get dinner, someone always asks me, Wait, you still play that? I stopped months ago. And they’re right: with the one-year anniversary release date fast approaching in July, Pokémon Go appears to have dissolved before its first birthday.
Gone are the stuffy summer days when people clustered on street corners, congregating around obscure-statues-turned-pokéstops in their hometowns, walking their dogs — and even other people’s dogs — for hours a day to get the steps necessary to hatch eggs. And while I’m part of a Facebook group that suggests otherwise, amongst those I know it does appear that there is no one left who still plays.
Except for me. Oh, and my dad.
Here’s why this is significant: When I was a kid, my dad and I didn’t spend much time together. He was always taking my brother on weekend trips to go fishing, or waking him up when it was still dark to go deer-hunting, but I never wanted to go. As a teenager, my brother would often go to work with him, laying carpet, doing various construction jobs. Most recently, my dad and brother got licensed to officiate sports games, so they fell into the habit of spending every weekend and weeknight together: referees for basketball in the winter, umpires for baseball in the summer. They got to know a lot of the same folks that way. They never have a shortage of things — or people — to talk about.
In contrast, when I found myself alone with my dad as a girl — which in itself was almost never — we’d find ourselves at a loss for common areas of interest or even subjects about which we both had something to say. If he had to drive me anywhere because my mom couldn’t, we’d turn on the radio but not sing along, letting it fill our silence as we both watched the road.
I should say here that the space between my dad and I did not come about for lack of love or effort on his part. My dad was interested in spending time with me—he was always asking me to go hunting with him, or encouraging me to get my officiating license, too, so we could referee together. He would have loved to teach me how to shoot a bow and arrow or scale a fish. But I liked books, arts and crafts, staying indoors, and animals that were still alive. I always said no.
In adulthood, that distance manifested itself as the misconception that because my dad and I didn’t talk to each other, we just couldn’t. I was always calling my mother if I had something to say to my dad. My car is running really jumpy when I brake, like a horse that doesn’t want to stop, I told her last winter, though she knew nothing about cars. Will you ask Dad what I should do?
Sure, she said, let me get a hold of him. And she called him, repeated my question, received his answer, hung up, then called me back. Neither my dad nor I ever thought to cut out the middle-mother, so to speak, and ring each other. Once, I inadvertently hurt my dad’s feelings, and he told my mother, who called me. I apologized to her, not my dad.
I’m not sure why this is. My dad can text — he had a smartphone before I did, in fact. But before July 2016, there are only three text conversations in our chat history, two of which were about my car (I guess Mom couldn’t be reached), and none of which lasted longer than four collective texts.
Then Pokémon Go was released in July 2016, and both Dad and I became independently obsessed. I was never into Pokémon as a kid; before the game, my only memories of Pokémon are blurry images of Ash on the TV show and cheating at the trading card game on my grandmother’s green-carpeted porch until the neighbor kids yelled at me and went home. I only bothered with Pokémon Go because my friends were playing it, and I had only just got an Iphone and joined the group chat. I didn’t want to be left out of the loop again so quickly, so I downloaded it.
I’m not sure how my dad got into it — through a friend of his, I imagine. It wasn’t long before we were each playing it more than anyone else we knew.
And suddenly, we had something to talk about — 149 somethings, to be exact.
When he caught his first Dragonite, a rare and prestigious Pokémon, he called me. He called again three or four times that week with even more amazing catches: Snorlax, Lapras — Pokémon I wouldn’t have myself for months. You’re cheating! I said, but I was laughing. A few days later when I caught a Lickitung, a pink bipedal Pokémon whose tongue was the full length of its body, I took a screenshot and sent it to him: Me as a Pokémon.
The next several weeks brought on a barrage of similar texts: he gloated about catching an Omanyte, a Pokémon rare but not very strong; the next day I countered with an Ivysaur, which he didn’t have yet (omg, he texted back, catch me one).
"For the first time in my life, my dad and I were talking without a mediator."
The game started between us a friendly competition, not unlike the way he had always interacted with my brother on hunting or fishing trips—he used to say to my brother, I’m going to catch all the fish in the lake and not leave any for you, and now, to me, he was saying, I caught all the pokies, you might as well quit. I responded, Stop catching my Pokémon! But every day brought on new reasons for him to text me: My man is going to eat your man, he said after sending a picture of a Vaporeon, which he had weeks before I did.
He was better at the game than I was (he still is). He played more often and was more mobile within his hunting territory. When I told him that I caught a Mantine, he wrote back, Yeah, I think I caught four or five of them today. I didn’t mind—for the first time in my life, my dad and I were talking without a mediator. He called around Thanksgiving to tell me that a new Pokémon had been added. He checked in again during a special water event in the game and said, Are you catching the fire out of these water Pokémon?
In March, he drove me to the follow-up oral surgery I needed after getting my wisdom teeth removed; when, upon arrival, the surgery turned out to be unnecessary, my dad and I found ourselves with an entire afternoon free. In the past, I would have asked him to take me home so I could do some work or see my boyfriend, and he would’ve gladly done it, eager to finish one of his many construction jobs. This time, however, he told me he had a secret Pokémon hunting place to show me, so we got an ice cream at McDonald’s and cruised the neighborhood.
I spent the entire unseasonably warm afternoon in the shotgun seat of his van, no air conditioner, sticky vinyl scratching under my thighs, catching Pokémon. No mothers allowed, no brothers invited: it is the only thing in our lives my father and I have ever shared just us.
A few days later, he sent me a text. He asked how my mouth was feeling. Just checking on you. Did you catch any more crazy pokies today? And when I responded affirmatively, he wrote back: You’re killing me girl, get them get them get them! Before Pokémon Go, he would have never thought to ask me directly how I was feeling. That was information he could’ve gotten later, should he want it, from my mother.
In April 2017, the father of a girl I had went to church with as a kid died unexpectedly in a work-related accident. She was close to him in all the ways that I am not with my father: she went to work with him often, helped him with jobs in the backyard that required power tools, chainsaws. They went, especially, deer-hunting and fishing together. In her Facebook profile picture, they are wearing matching camouflage and bright orange hunting gear. She wrote, He was, still is, and always will be my very best friend. I cannot imagine her loss, because I have never and will never call my father my best friend.
I called my dad when I heard the news. We both said we couldn’t believe it, ran out of words within minutes, hung up. A few days later, when my dad returned home from a trip to Florida I had not even known he’d been on, I went to my parents’ house to get the tomatoes he’d brought back for me. I wanted to say something about it then. To make sense of — or make up for — the fact that I still had my father and the other woman did not, despite that she cherished hers more. But a lifetime of silence is a hard habit to break.
Which is why I was grateful when he pulled out his phone and said, Hey Sissy, come here and look at this. I started complaining, because I knew what he was going to show me, knew that in the part of Florida where he had just been were two regional Pokémon exclusive to that area, Pokémon I had no hope of getting without a plane ticket. I was groaning but grinning, No! No! I don’t want to see this, I won’t even look, now you’re just trying to make me mad, and I was shouting but relieved to know that even then, in that space between us where words could not be, the Pokémon were there, would always be there, their own kind of language.