My father remains a mystery to me, having divorced my mother soon after she put him into alcohol rehab. It was a last-ditch attempt to save their troubled marriage and our equally troubled family. I am told he had a good sense of humor and a distaste for pomp, that he dressed well for his means and cared about his appearance. He liked radios, perhaps more than anything else I know. Having grown up in the woods of Maine, I suspect the radio was a glimpse into a larger world, a world which he himself did not care to visit. Or maybe it was the magic of simple electronics that captured his intelligence.

I don't know.

All that I know is that I did not share his interest, and would deliberately ignore his attempts to get me to build Radio Shack kits which made bird whistles or tuned in local stations with a few pennies worth of metal and sand.

Instead, I read a lot. And in a way, it was my escape from the little town where I grew up, a way to visit other places, to leave the here and now. My father had his radios, I had my books. Realizing this, years later, brought me a little closer to him.

But we never really hit it off. And when I was ten years old, he left.

It's not that I don't know where he is – we get together for Christmas, and send the occasional email back and forth – it's just been hard to grow up with a vision of a father who I didn't understand and who didn't understand me. He's a lot smaller now. The Christmas get-togethers tend to be tense, somewhat banal affairs, as my brother and I try to pretend that we're not all grown up now, and he tries to pretend that he plays an important part in our lives. Sometimes, I feel like he's just waiting for one of us to say something, to open a channel.

To connect.

This year I went home as always, with the same electric feeling in my gut. The visit to my father's house, though, brought me a shock. Usually, we get presents which reflect, in no small way, the gulf which separates us, the void across which one or both of us must travel in order to reach the other.

This year, he got me an AM/FM radio kit from Radio Shack.

It should be easy for me, I thought, with 27 years of life under my belt, recent experience with computers and logic and electronics, to assemble the kit and be done with it. It's an AM/FM radio. The signals it picks up travel across great distances, and it's the signal that's important, not its quality, right?

But to think that the signal it would receive could rival the signal it sent would be foolish. To think that a half hour of poring over circuit diagrams, connecting this wire to that contact, could make up for seventeen years of miscommunication and silence ... to think that the completion of the kit could complete a larger circuit....

I built the radio tonight. The directions were clear enough. I followed them, one step at a time, making each connection carefully, double-checking when I felt sure I'd made a mistake, and found that I had done everything right. I snapped the batteries into the holder, connected the earphone, and listened for a signal, however distant.

How do you connect?