About five years before he died, I asked my Dad if he’d make a recording for me of the songs I heard him sing when I was a kid.
Did he just make a recording? No. He sat down and filled two sides of a cassette with the story of his life and all the songs in it.
It only just now occurred to me that it was an opportunity to give himself to me in a way I never got to have him when I was a child. The picture above is the only picture I have of us together when I was little. It’s at his 2nd wedding. Looks like I might have been the flower-girl.
Even though I rarely saw him, my life was always filled with my Dad’s voice – and that cassette was one of the greatest gifts I ever got. Not just the recording – but his total commitment to giving himself to me, after a lifetime of separation.
This is a clip from that cassette, where he sang songs from the Gay 90’s and talked about about his experience of the 1970’s, the hippie movement and how he turned to the charismatic Christian movement to lead him out of a deep depression.
That cassette was one of the greatest presents I ever got.
My Dad and I never lived together. I saw him sometimes in the summers for a couple of weeks. We were completely disconnected and still, somehow, completely connected inasmuchas we drove each other crazy.
And I loved his voice.
The story goes that my parents courted by singing to each other. But once they started speaking in their own words, they had nothing good to say. Before I remember, my mother ran off with me one day and left a note.
All they’d had in common was how much they loved to sing.
And their singing was probably the first sound I ever heard.
Once, many years later, my Dad told me that the day he found that note was the worst day of his life. That’s when I began to suspect he loved me.
When my father died, I pulled out the tape he’d made me and listened again. I pulled the last section into my studio and overdubbed accompaniment – (which is what you hear in the embedded clip above) – which was when I discovered my father almost always sings in the key of D.
We played this section – the one I embedded above, at his funeral – which is how my dad got to sing at his own funeral.
Two things happened at the funeral that surprised me.
A man appeared at the graveside with an American flag folded into a fat triangle. Everyone turned to him, he said something I don’t remember about World War II and then walked up and handed me the flag.
As his firstborn, it was mine.
I think it was the first time I was ever officially acknowledged as my father’s child.
Just before we all left the cemetery someone handed us each a helium balloon on a long string, and all together, we let them go into the sky.
As I watched them fly away into the distance, wriggling like sperms I thought “This is exactly like the first time I ever saw my father – only this time he’s headed in the other direction.”
My father was a Swede. He was stubborn and strong, and he gave that to me. He pulled himself out of a deeply abusive childhood. He struggled to leave it behind. And he never stopped trying.
He never stopped trying.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
Thank you for sharing this touching and story about your Dad and his dog you never knew. I think it is so awesome that you came to know the more important things about his life that will keep you close….always. Your singing talent certainly comes from both your parents, it seems. How blessed you have been!
Thank you, Lorna! My Dad’s dog, Duke, was one of my first close friends, and a hard-working farm-dog! Thanks for your comment. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. – DHC
What a treasure your dad left for you! He had a lovely voice and the overdubbed accompaniment is perfect. Thank you for sharing these personal thoughts with the world.
When my Dad was dying of cancer I took him for treatments 5 days a week. I started to put my mp3 player in the cupholder of my car and I have a recording of him singing “Daddy’s Little Girl” to me. It makes me cry everytime I hear it.
Thank you Deborah for recalling your father and his impact on you and your music. Happy Father’s Day❤️
Happy Father’s Day to you, Connie – and thanks so much for your note!
Oh, I love how you have honored your father here. Thank you for sharing. Love and Blessings to you!
Thank you so much, Linda. It definitely felt like an honor to get to do it — and that he gave me the chance to do it. Thanks for your note!
Oh I love how you have honored your father here. What a gift. Thank you for sharing. Love and blessing to you.
How priceless! what an absolute joy! how blessed you are to have the talent and ability to put the background music to your dad’s beautiful voice and make it a treasure forever! It was a privilege and pleasant to listen to this, thank you so much for sharing the gift.
Thank you so much for your note, Joyce. It really did feel like a gift to be able to add that richness to the what he gave me. I’m so glad it touched you.
Very sweet. Thank you for sharing, Deborah. It made me think about my dad, who’s been gone 30-plus years.
Thank you so much for your comment Jane. I hope this day feels like it brings some of that long-ago connection back. Happy Father’s Day!
What a lovely tribute to your father. My father also had a very bizarre childhood and in his zeal to avoid having his four children repeat his experience, he went overboard, alienating all of us in the process. Time and maturity helped me to see that he did the best he could. I got my love of music from him as there was always music in the house. And it could not have been easy to buy me a beautiful pedal harp when I was 11 with three other kids to support. This Father’s Day as I look at his veteran’s flag, I will remember him with a great debt of gratitude. Thank you for reminding me to find the good in our relationships.
Ha – I so know what you mean – about time giving us that connection. Thanks so much for your note, Jan. And you just reminded me that I can look at my own Dad’s veteran’s flag tomorrow and reconnect again. I know my Dad’s military service was important to him. In the years before he did, when we’d get together, we’d go on long walks and I’d ask him about the war, and history.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful Father’s Day tribute to your dad.
You’re so welcome, Ann – I share it every year, and rewrite the blogpost a little bit and listen to the recording again and every year I feel closer to him. Thanks so much for your note.
Our parents stories certainly shape us Deborah! Sometimes we do not know all the reasons why certain things happen that lead to misconceptions in life. Wondering if we are loved is one. Knowing that one has loved from a distance is precious. Thank you for sharing your story! See you in Hong Kong!
Oh boy, I hear you Tina about wondering if we’re loved – and how we can know! Really looking forward to seeing you in Hong Kong! Let’s definitely connect at some point, sit down and talk.
What a beautiful story dear Deborah, bittersweet. A beautiful tribute to your Dad. I too loved my dad greatly, but he was in & out of my life when I was a little girl. I can still hear his voice as I recall memories of him singing old songs & playing his guitar in the living room. But any tapes he made were lost. My Mom left my dad when I was 11 but they never divorced. That was the last time I saw him although we kept in contact via cards & letters until his death in December of 1983. I’d love to hear his voice again. What a lovely gift he gave you. Be blessed. Lisa
Thanks so much Lisa – I agree. This was an incredible gift to give your child. I’m so glad I asked him for it. And that he not only did it, but went so far above and beyond.
Hi DHC – what a precious tape to have. He has a wonderful voice and great pitch. It’s lucky he sang, even un-accompanied, in a real key…made your lovely accompaniment a little easier! Thanks so much for sharing this very personal part of your life and have a great trip to the Far East!!
Thanks Larry!! Coming from you that’s a big compliment. And yes, it was amazing when I listened to the tape, he sang it all acapella and either in D major or I think Bminor — or Dmin — I can’t remember. It occurred to me that he did that because he used to play the banjo. No idea if “D” is a great banjo key – but one thing I learned from both my parents was that you can start with 3 chords and spend a lifetime exploring from there.
Love this! And I hear your voice in his. What a wonderful gift he gave you in both his voice and in this recording for you to hold.
Thank you Linda!!! I love that you can hear his voice in mine! I always loved his voice.
Boy, he was a good looker, and I see the resemblance – I’m sorry he was not more in your life. I was raised among Scandinavian people. Good people, but yes, lots of depression…..I think too close to the N. Pole, short days, long nights, harsh living. You can hear the sadness in Amazing Grace. – but he easily hits all the right pitches. Neat – what a treasure. Thanks for the reminder of Dads in our lives.
Haha! Yes, Daisy, he was a looker – and a very sincere man despite everything.
Thank you so much for sharing this. It is such a tender story with its loss, separation and closure, and it touched me deeply. He made himself vulnerable to share this with you and now you do the same in sharing with us. It is such a treasure and even though you went through so many years without feeling his love, what a gift it is to have this tangible reminder of his love now, to keep with you throughout the rest of your life. Perhaps that was an answered prayer for him…..
Oh, Allison – what a beautiful description of the experience, of how even this way of playing music together over time and distance and disconnect and longing reconnects us. Thank you!
Oh Cheryl – that’s so, so sweet. Thank you!
Thank you, I was very moved by your courage and openess to share something so meaningful with us. May his memory always be an inspiration and example to you. His warm voice and story really touched me.
You are so welcome, Shoshana. I feel I have more and more of him as the years go on (I admit it: I raided his dresser drawers after he died and now I still wear his running pants and old T-Shirts –and I LOVE that my Dad’s old clothes are still my go-to comfort clothes). Thanks so much for your comment.
Oh, Deborah, I was so moved by your story and your Dad’s singing. I love your awareness that you were disconnected yet completely connected. Love connects.
What a beautiful way to honor you father today.
Thank you so much Clarice. Every time I hear from you I have a flood of wonderful memories of you — in a clown suit, in “In the Wings,” sitting in your house talking, watching your homework videos, knowing you were in the audience for that infamous moment in Seattle — it’s always great to see you in my mind’s eye.
A living remembrance of your father and what you had and have in common; music and the art for story telling! Thank you
You’re so welcome Michael. I was so hoping I’d see you when I was in LA last month. I had a wonderful day with Sylvia and kept waiting for you to walk in the door and for Boobie and (eeeeek! forgot Boobie’s pal’s name!) to come wagging down the stairs. Giving you a big hug.
such a moving tribute and story of the relationship that was so complicated with the father you loved so much, but didnt get enough of and the space in your life that you used music to complete, and to reconnect with him and finish the story. I too missed my father as I grew up with a single mother, and his absence, except for the summers when we spent time with him, was a palpable ache. I loved hearing your father sing and thank you for sharing your personal reflections
You are so welcome Janette. I love the description of “the space in your life that music completed … to reconnect and finish the story” – what a beautiful way to describe what this project, that he and I each took part of over time, did to connect us. I find as I visit this post each year and re-read and edit it, that connection and sense of completion becomes richer and richer. Thank you for giving me a new way to think about it.
Thank you for trusting us enough to share something so personal.
Even though both your lives were lived apart, one can see the love he had for you in his eyes as he held you in his arms. He might not have known what to say over the years but he built a bridge through song just for you.
What a beautiful way to describe this, Valerie: a bridge through song. I love that. I will be thinking a lot about that idea. Thank you so much.
How I wish my dad had left us something with his voice. He didn’t sing much, but he did have a deep baritone, and while his stories tended to meander and drag on, with long periods of silence (Mom thought he did that just to be annoying), there was something about them…at least for me.
Your recording brought tears to my eyes, but a smile nonetheless.
Thanks Donna. My Dad would have been pleased to know that his voice reached so many people. Thanks so much for letting me know
Thank you for bringing a little bit of my own father to me today. My first remembrance of anything musical is the sound of my father’s beautiful bass voice reverberating throughout the house singing harmony lines with Sinatra on the stereo. The 1910 Sohmer upright filled the den with sound when he taught me how to play duets with him. Standing on his feet and dancing with dips and fast turns to waltzes felt like flying. Harmony, duets, syncopation, and meter were the foundations I learned by his side. Our mutual love of music kept us close until his final day. Here’s to Burt and Stanley.
Yes, Julie — here’s to Burt and Stanley. What a beautiful story in your comment. I feel like I just met him, swept up in the dance and song, the marvelous flight of dancing on your father’s feet. Thank you so much for sharing this. So beautiful.
Thank you for sharing such a lovely gift that was left to you.
Even though you didn’t spend much time together seems you received his knack for telling stories through music and song.
I’m sure he is looking down at you with much pride and love.
Thank you so much for sharing this tribute to your father. It brought tears to my eyes and happy remembrances of my own father. Dad was a singer too, and had a rich baritone voice. He sang to my mother on their first date, throughout their 57 years together, and as she lay dying. He was a Barbershopper for over 50 years and a soloist at First Christian Church in Colorado Springs. Several congregants specified in their wills that they wanted him to sing at their funeral. Dad and I used to sing duets around the piano. Sadly, I don’t have any recordings of his voice. The one time we tried to make a recording, the video camera didn’t work. But I will always remember how he loved to sing. Happy Father’s Day, Dad
Oh Celeste – what a beautiful, rich, multifaceted story in your brief paragraph. Thank you so much for writing.
Hi Deborah! wow. I love what you wrote here. I have never seen that particular picture of you and him….what a sweet picture! it makes me smile because it captures an expression that was there inside of him, but he never let out….except in this picture. thank you so much for sharing. I love hearing him sing, and it was an amzazing gift to hear at his funeral! love, Alisa
Thank you so much, Alisa – I was thinking about you and Julie when I was editing this. I remember him singing “Julie Jordan” to Julie — and didn’t he sing something like “Lisa Lori” to you? I don’t think he had a song for my name – but I do remember he called me “Debber.” I know it was probably a whole other world of a different kind of disconnect actually living with him! I had fun colorizing this picture and being able to see the contrast much better as I did – before I colorized it I had never realized that I was holding flowers in my hand (or rather, mashing them) that were just like the one in his lapel. Thanks so much for writing, little sister. Love, Deborah.
You are your father’s daughter. I can picture him in one of your videos. His singing and talking style are just like you when you perform. I had no idea you overdubbed but you knew exactly what he wanted for accompaniment. His cassette tape expressed his deep feelings for you. Cherish the good thoughts.