I love to share this photo every father’s day. It’s one of the only pictures I have of me and my Dad, and it’s on the day of his second wedding. Decades later, I would help my father sing at his own funeral.
Let me give that some context:
About 30 years after this picture was taken, my father finally met and married his true life’s ally and the love of his life: his 3rd wife, Harriet, and my Dad’s dedication to connection – no matter how awkwardly – is one of the things I most deeply admire about him.
I spent very little time with my father after I was a year or so old – maybe a month total, in the rest of my life – maybe 25 or 30 conversations. Such a small amount of time. So much distance and disconnect. And yet…
And yet my father has – and still has a huge impact on me. He lives inside my fundamental weaknesses and my deepest strengths – our relationship keeps deepening each year after his death — and his voice is one of my greatest life’s treasures.
He sang songs I loved as a child: Oh Susanna, Camptown Races, Oh, What a Beautiful Morning -and he kept singing them my whole life – and it’s one of my life’s heartaches that we didn’t really sing together, like I did with my Mom.
About five years before my Dad died, I asked him if he’d make a recording for me of the songs I heard him sing when I was a kid.
But … he didn’t just make a recording of some of the songs. He sat down and filled two sides of a cassette with the story of his life, the songs he sang, when he sang them and how the songs and his life connected.
Did I mention how dedicated my Dad was to communication?
I didn’t realize what a huge gift it was at the time. (How typical is that of kids and the present their parents give them?) I wish I’d thanked him profusely. I wish I’d let him know what a wonderful present it was. I wish I’d danced around the room with that cassette. Though now that I say that, he probably would have been embarrassed by that.
It was a gift of love. And the moment I received it was more like the moment you put a seed in the ground, than like the moment when a tree bears fruit. He shared his voice. And his commitment to making me that cassette, to giving himself to me after a lifetime of separation, was the moment we began to reconnect.
I think it may have been the first thing I ever asked him for. He waited a lifetime for that request. And when it finally came, he poured his heart into it.
At the end of the tape he talked about his struggle with depression, and the Charismatic Christian movement that helped him start healing that depression – a part of his life I knew nothing about. He did not talk about A.A. but I know now that that was also a huge part of how he saved his own life.
What I did hear, loud and clear, was his dedication to living, to reaching out, to getting help — and that dedication — in a man I spent very little time with while he was alive — supports me more and more every day of my life.
The cassette my Dad gave me was done all ‘a capella’ – just him talking and singing, just his voice and a cassette recorder. After he died, I took the last 6 minutes of the cassette and added accompaniment to it: piano, strings – and here is us together, my Dad and me:
And at his funeral, I played this new recording. My Dad … and me making stories with music together.
Us. Music. Together.
And THAT is how my father sang at his own funeral.
Happy Father’s Day to everyone whose ever gone by the name of ‘Dad’…
(Here’s a 2017 blogpost inspired by this same photo HERE.)