I made a special playlist on iTunes before going to see my dad for the first time as a free man. I sat up in my hotel room in Indianapolis, having arrived from Brooklyn at nearly 1 a.m. The room was dirty and badly designed, but I’d booked it last minute using an app. Now, I was back in my favorite Midwestern city, preoccupied with the phone in my hands, trying to answer the question, “What songs will I want to listen to on the way to see my father for the first time outside of prison?” I didn’t want to hear anything too loud or too fast. I wanted familiar and soothing; 60 tracks later, the list was lousy with Anita Baker, Lauryn Hill, and ‘90s-era Kenny Loggins.
Sleep did not show up that night. As scared as I was of the bedbugs I assumed surrounded me in that atrocious hotel, I was more afraid what would happen when I saw my father. Would the man who showed up be anything like the one I’d been imagining, and would I be anything like the daughter he thought he had? Would he be proud of me? How were we going to make this relationship — the real one — work? I lived in Brooklyn, and he would be staying with his sister in Indiana. More importantly, he had been in prison for 30 years and had no contact with modern technology.