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.
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