After my musical father died, we cherished everything he ever gave us. From his prizes or trophies to his sweaters and handwriting on greeting cards, it’s all as fresh and real to me as yesterday. Every greeting card he ever gave me is still safe inside the wee hope chest he built for me with his own hands the Christmas I was fourteen.
None of us knew much about the inner workings of this man we called Daddy. This man who bought us a home in the country where he could only be on weekends due to work distance, weather, travel etc during the week. He often stayed with an auntie, his sister in the city. This man who, while having a wife and children, searched for his dreams, his identity in an impossible crossfire of adult responsibilities and musical performance dreams. This man who found a middle ground not long before he passed, a place that let him be the family provider during the week and the music maker on weekends with friends and family, in impromptu kitchen parties or living room interludes. This man mom always made a huge fuss over until cancer stole him from all of us and to her own dying day claimed was the only man she ever really loved. I believe her. I feel the same about Dad some days.
Really, we were all just children when he passed with me being the eldest still in my teens myself. All six of us. What little we knew ourselves, our memories and shared moments, combined with what others told us is sacred. It is all we have.
Dad’s guitar became a monument to his being, his charismatic presence in the world, a silenced symbol of his love of life and art. Lost for a time in an outdoor storage garage, missing some strings and tuning keys, someone restored it for me. Even in removing the grime and dirt built up from over the years, I cried and said, “Don’t clean it so well! You are taking away the last of my father’s DNA!”
I was wrong.
The guitar rests by my bed now where I see it first thing when I awaken and every night before sleep.
Things may just be “things” and I know this all too well. Yet, in the contrary way that life teaches us that what we once believed may no longer hold true, some things are not just things. I know this as surely as I know Dad loved us. Before he passed, he made a collection of songs for us. As hard as it must have been to find the strength and courage to do this for us, he did it. Already weakened by the illness, his voice presses on and we will never know if the cracking in his voice is due to being frail or emotional. If I know anything about my father, I say it was emotional.
So does a sister who, upon hearing the song I’ll share here. Dad’s rendition of songs brought people to tears and left them saying he sounds like Hank Williams, Arlo Guthrie or even dubbing him Hank Snow the Second. The truth is, when I close my eyes, I can’t tell the difference between Dad’s voice and Hank Snow’s.
When people leave, of their own choosing or not, there is a sense of them not loving you that lingers, especially if you are a child who cannot grasp the cruelties of life. For my littlest sister, closure arrived in the form of listening to Dad’s songs with me when we were both in our thirties and I finally got them transferred to a format we could listen to. Every song spoke to us, especially the song I will share here today that moved my sister to weeping. My sister’s tears and tightly hugging me are as clear in my mind as yesterday, too. What I can still here her saying is this, “You know, I always wondered if Dad really loved us. Oh Sweet Jesus, did he ever love us. These songs are his message to us. He’s telling us how much he loves us. Oh My God, now I know. He really did love us.“
Our father’s DNA lives on in us. His legacy of love in music lives on. Love lives on through music; proof of the power and legacy of art lives here.