Father of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley reaches into backpack
Family & Friends

An Imperfect Parent

The thing about living in DC is that you’re going to get called for jury duty every other year, no matter what.

Even if you’re dead.

I have proof! The other day, I came home from school, said hello to my kids, and started opening the mail that my dad had brought inside. Right there on top was a summons for jury duty for Shawn.

“Dear God, what the Hell is this?” I said, exasperated, to my dad.

Without missing a beat, he replied, “I took care of it.”

“What?” I said, confused.

“Well, I figured you didn’t need to deal with this so I called the number on the summons and talked to the clerk,” he said. “I told her, ‘I live with my daughter. She got this jury summons for her husband. He cannot come because he’s DEAD.'”

He made sure to emphasize that last word. “What did she say to that?” I asked.

“Not much,” he said. “Then I asked her to take Shawn out of the system. I told her, ‘if you don’t take his name out, we’re just going to get another summons, and we’ll have to call back next year and tell you that he’s still dead.”

I laughed. I loved imagining my dad on the phone with the court clerk, not sugar coating anything. “She was very nice after that,” he said.

“Well, I appreciate you taking care of it,” I replied.

“You didn’t need to be upset by something like this,” he said.

I smiled, and went to clean out my backpack. My dad and I talked about the kids as he cooked dinner. It was Monday, which is his night to cook fried chicken and rice with gravy – my favorite dish from childhood. I made some broccoli and we listened to Bryan Adams and I felt a whiff of nostalgia, thinking about doing the same thing 30 years prior with my dad.

We fed the kids early, as Austin had basketball practice that night, and I went upstairs to do something. After a minute, I heard loud voices downstairs, so I went to investigate. “I’m just not hungry anymore!” Austin was saying, his voice raised.

“You said you’d eat dinner, even if you had a cookie after school!” my dad said, frustrated.

“I was hungry before, but not now!” Austin insisted.

“Well then next time, you don’t get a cookie!” my dad declared, a scowl on his face.

Austin pouted, and my dad kept scowling. “Okay, okay,” I said, and I tried to feel out what had happened. Quickly, it became apparent that Austin had ruined his appetite with a cookie just an hour prior. He looked at me for sympathy.

“Okay,” I said again, “clearly you shouldn’t have had a cookie after school. Now we know you can’t do that on nights when you have basketball and have to eat early. Grandpa Tom worked hard on this meal, so he’s understandably frustrated that you won’t eat it now.”

“Sorry, Grandpa Tom,” Austin said after a few moments of sulking.

“Thank you for saying that,” my dad said. But they were both still scowling a bit.

Bryan Adams kept playing in the background, and eventually, Austin got ready and waited on the porch for his ride to basketball practice.

As we cleaned up, my dad turned to me. “I was too hard on Austin just then,” he said. “I just got frustrated that he wouldn’t eat the food I made!”

“Of course you were frustrated,” I said.

“I should have been calmer,” he said.

“Dad, I constantly mess up,” I said. “We both do. You know that.”

“I know,” he said.

“Plus,” I pointed out, “you were a pretty damn good parent to me today, calling the clerk about the jury summons!”

He laughed. “You win some, you lose some!” he said, a smile back on his face.

That night, I thought about my dad as a parent. I’m sure he thought he was done with parenting, at least mostly, when my sister and I both went to college, found good jobs and got married. I’m sure when he first retired he thought, “now’s my time to relax.”

And yet he’s chosen a different path. He’s not just helping me raise my kids, he’s also still acting as my helper too. Yes, we can function without him. I could have called the courthouse about the jury summons, I could have cooked dinner, and I could have dealt with Austin’s ridiculous complaints myself.

But it’s so much better with him around – even when he’s imperfect. Because, of course, we’re all imperfect, and parenting makes those imperfections even more obvious. And yet, here he is, still parenting at 72 in all its messy glory.

Thank God he is. It makes my kids’ lives so much better even when they butt heads or don’t like something he does. And it makes my life so much better.

It’s not that I couldn’t call the courthouse myself. It’s that when he does it, and when he does a million other acts of service, he shows me one thing: that he loves me, and that he loves us.

And isn’t that what family is about anyway?

I think Shawn would agree. Wherever he is now, I think that he’s glad we’ve all got my dad. I bet it brings a smile to his face.

Shawn is probably also smiling because – for once – he’s got a legitimate excuse for skipping out on jury duty.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.


  • Marcia

    Your father is my hero; I would like to think that should our children/grandchildren need us in a similar way we will be there for them. And a pox on jury summons.

  • Melissa

    When my mother was 91 she got a jury duty summons that sent her into a tizzy. I checked the box that said she was exempt from serving because she was over 70 and mailed it back. (They only give you a few days to reply.) Six months later, she got another one! This time I wrote a note that I enclosed with the summons. I told them she was still 91, essentially blind in one eye, hard of hearing and I didn’t think she would be a good choice for a jury so please take her off the list. She didn’t get another one. But I did. Three months before I turned 70. 🙂

    • Marjorie

      I mean, it’s insane. I remember that Shawn became a citizen and less than a week later, he got a jury duty summons! We laughed about it at the time. I wonder if he will get another one?