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For Dads, It’s About Love — Mistakes And All

A Musical Reflection On Father’s Day

Man and boy walking
Barney Moss (CC-BY)

Twenty-seven years ago this month, my dad passed away. He was around for just 51 years, less time than I’ve been on this Earth, which seems strange to me. At his funeral, I gave the eulogy, and I talked about how he was my only hero growing up.

He didn’t do anything particularly special, other than be there for me. And it wasn’t as though he was perfect. He had his moments when he could be angry or impatient with us. But love was what came through clearly, and love is what I remember the most.

I didn’t really know his dad, my grandfather, very well. He died when I was seven, and my memories of him are all good ones, like the times he would give me a ride on his lawn tractor. From what I understand, however, living with him was not easy at times. While he provided his family with what they needed materially, I got the sense that he and my dad’s relationship was complicated.

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If I look in the other direction, I see my own now-adult kids. I wonder sometimes what they will remember about me when I’m gone. I’ve had my own bouts of anger and impatience, and I’ve made my own fatherhood mistakes. Still, my kids seem like a pretty forgiving lot, and I think they know that I love them very much and would do anything for them.

On this Father’s Day, it’s good to take a moment to reflect on our experience of being a dad or having a dad, even if that father isn’t around or the relationship is complicated. Music helps us do that in powerful ways.

Loudon Wainwright III’s song, “A Father and a Son,” makes me think of my dad and grandfather, and what my grandpa probably would have liked to have said, if he could have. I think that goes for a lot of dads:

Now you and me are me and you,
And it’s a different ballgame though not brand-new.
I don’t know what all of this fighting is for;
But we’re having us a teenage/middle-age war…

Maybe it’s power and push and shove,
Maybe it’s hate but probably it’s love.

Children often long to do something with their parents, some special activity that they can share together. Sometimes it’s what the child wants to do, and sometimes it’s the parent having the child tag along.

With me and my dad, it was fishing — the day we had our boat towed for 20 minutes by something we hooked but never saw; the first time I cussed in front of my dad because a fish got away, just waiting to be reprimanded but only to be met by a belly-laugh; or the time we skipped out on picking blueberries like we promised my mom, just so we’d have an extra hour of fishing. (Don’t worry… we bought a couple pre-picked quarts instead!).

Carrie Newcomer’s song, “My Father’s Only Son,” captures a child’s wish for more time:

You never talk much in a fishin’ boat
‘Cause it just scares the fish away
You just give it time and watch your line

As for what my children will remember of me when I’m gone, I guess that’s not for me to say. I can only hope their memories are good ones, but not all good ones. None of us do this life perfectly, and it helps to know that the ones who came before us made mistakes. It takes the pressure off us a little bit, I think.

In the end, as Brandi Carlile sings on “Most of All,” it only matters that we loved the best we could, mistakes and all.

But most of all
He taught me to forgive
How to keep a cool head
How to love the one you’re with
And when I’m far into the distance
And the pushing comes to shove
To remember what comes back
When you give away your love