We all live in the shadow of our fathers. For sons in particular, dads are the yardsticks we measure ourselves against.
It’s a tricky path for a son to walk. Some do it better than others. I fear I didn’t do as well as my father would have liked.
This is just another father and son story in the billions that have played out since time began. I’m writing it to all the dads who may be despairing a bit over your sons. Trust me, better days are ahead.
My own dad grew up in the big band era — Count Basie, Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, those kinds of guys. He’d studied piano as a kid, and played it well. We had a piano in our home and occasionally he would just sit and play for an hour or so. Not classical, all big band stuff.
Years later I learned that his dream in life was to have his own big band.
Instead, he went into advertising, which became his career. It was a stable life, a steady paycheck, and he and Mom raised their family on it.
But, as it turns out, I inherited a lot of his music talent. He could see it. He wanted me to take piano lessons as a child. I wanted none of it. I was in sixth grade in 1964 when the Beatles detonated, and my musical direction was set.
I got a guitar and taught myself to play it. My dad was surprised how quickly I was picking it up and asked again if I wanted lessons. Naw, I’m good.
Occasionally I’d hear him play his big band piano stuff. It was sort of okay, but it didn’t rock the way I was rocking.
I was Hendrix, Dylan, Zeppelin, and the Stones. As for my dad, our musical twain never met. The times they were a changin’, and all that.
My father died when I was in my mid-20’s. Through the years I have fiercely kept my appreciation for the great rock of the ‘60s. But my musical horizons have widened considerably. Check my CD collection and you’ll see the Beatles and Beethoven, Brubeck and Streisand. I even own a Hank Williams collection.
But now we finally come to the point. On a recommendation from a friend I bought a Duke Ellington jazz trio CD. And driving around town one day the epiphany hit me solidly between the eyes.
It wasn’t Ellington I was hearing on the CD. It was my Dad.
The rhythms, the punchy but lyrical style, the way he stutter-stepped the octaves, I’d heard it all before. It was the way my Dad played. Here I am driving around town 40 years after the fact, and I’m suddenly back in the old family living room hearing my dad reliving his old dream.
So, Dad, I thought, there you are. All those years growing up, and all you wanted was to play like the Duke. Well that’s okay. All my life I wanted to play like Jimi.
I felt bad and good at the same time. Bad that I’d missed the chance to share it with him while he was alive. But glad at how half a lifetime later we’d finally connected.
I’m writing this for all you Dads who look at your kids and despair a little bit. Stay true to yourself, regardless of whether they understand you or not. Someday they will. And when the time comes and they finally figure you out, they’ll call you up and share it with you if you’re still alive. If not, the conversation will just have to wait awhile longer.
As for me, when I see my dad again the first thing I’m going to say to him is “It was Duke, wasn’t it?” And he’ll say yes, and we’ll laugh and hug and walk off together talking about how that cat could really rattle the windows when he was feeling it. Just like Jimi.