I share this photo and rewrite this blogpost 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 accompany my father as he sang at his own funeral – and you can hear what he sang.
But let me go back a few decades …
About 30 years after this picture was taken, my father finally met and married his life’s true ally: 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.
He did that for me. And not just a few songs. He filled two sides of a cassette with the story of his life, the songs he sang with stories of when he sang them and how the songs and his life connected.
I didn’t realize how much we shared the fundamental language of stories with music until then. And at the time I didn’t realize what a huge gift that cassette was. (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 I’d listen to it over and over. I wish I’d danced around the room with that cassette – though if I had, no doubt he’d have told me to tone it down – like he did when he saw me perform on stage.
That cassette was a gift of love – and more importantly, a gift of himself – a gift of his voice to me.
The moment I received it was like the moment you put a seed in the ground, for a tree that will bear fruit many years later – and more fruit each year. He shared his voice. His commitment to making me that recording, to giving himself to me after a lifetime of separation, was the moment we began to reconnect.
It was 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 recording 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 suspect 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 recording my Dad gave me was all off-the cuff – just him talking and singing, no instrument and rehearsal — just his voice and a cassette recorder. After he died, I took the last 6 minutes of the recording and added accompaniment to it: piano, strings – and here is us together, my Dad and me:
At his funeral I shared the recording for the first time: My Dad … and me making stories with music together.
That’s how my father sang at his own funeral. Sometimes it takes a whole lifetime to find a way to share the words of love with those we most want to say them to – in a way they can hear.
It’s never too late.
Happy Father’s Day to everyone who’s ever gone by the name of ‘Dad’…
(Here’s a 2017 blogpost inspired by this same photo HERE.)