Compiling an Honor Roll seemed like a fine way to celebrate Fathers on their nationally designated day. But then I started to consider ASCAP, modesty and the fact that Fathers are mostly not chosen by their offspring. (I confess that last point is contested by a gifted actor, playwright and director to whom I have the gift of being related by blood. She makes a beguiling case for the scenario of child as casting director. Seeing the ideal actor. the soon-to-be-newborn makes his or her decision and only then elects to join the cast already in performance.)
So, with a nod to those three principles I set out to compile a list of memorable achievers and over-achievers from the paternal ranks. Some will be named; others will be described by what they did for their children; and then honor will be paid to Fathers who would prefer to be anonymous (even sometimes to their own children.)
Let’s start with the ASCAP Factor that describes, but does not quote. Better music connoisseurs than I have put together lists of Best Songs by and about Fathers and Fatherhood from the points of view of both parent and child. From ionic songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein to Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash George Strait and Judy Collins, I could instantly recognize the reasons songs by these men and women made the lists.
Who could fail to relate to Billy Bigelow seeing himself reborn at his bravura best in “My Boy Bill,” then the change of tone as he faces the fact that “he” might arrive instead as “My little girl.” No such list would be credible if it did not include Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” (with special laurels for the version he composed for England’s Queen to celebrate her 60th Jubilee.) Verdi’s O Mio Babbino Caro and “The Old Man” by Ireland’s most recorded musician Phil Coulter get my nod for poignant comments about their Fathers. by a daughter and a son.
I nominate the lovely Judy Collins composition, My Father in her early Who Knows Where The Time Goes album. It is all the more touching for the fact that the man whose vision she honored was in fact blind. Carly Simon’s Love of my Life took on a whole new richness when associated with Julie Kavner’s discovery of her daughters’ importance as she worked to establish her career as a stand-up comic in the film This is My Life. And now, from left field: Sondheim’s Nothing’s Gonna Harm You. In Sweeney Todd, the protective promise is not delivered by a Father to his child. But I think it could be. In the mouth of a parent, it is the very sort of promise any child would cherish.
In my own life, the unlikely soundtrack of memory delivers the lyrics of “School Days,” and “My Wild Irish Rose.” In the remembered baritone of my Father these have all the warmth of the most consoling lullaby. After all, it is the singer as much as the song that says, “Don’t worry dearie darling, all will be well.”
Now, to the “modesty” factor. Heroes of Fatherhood will here be honored as anonymous workers of very real and specific miracles. For example: the man whose livelihood as an entrepreneur was threatened in rapid succession by an epic Depression and a suspension of automobile manufacturing for all the years that the war effort took precedence. All this occurred while he and his wife were devoting themselves to securing the best of costly private education they saw as their lifetime endowment and empowerment of their children. Obviously a miracle. But the even more amazing feat was that no hint of fear or anxiety was ever communicated to either of the two age brackets of their children.
Another amazement is the single Father who manages to navigate the hair-raising 21st Century tightrope of special needs and baffling choices with a singular blend of simple faith with a gallows sense of humor. (Note that a wise psychotherapist friend hearing details of his story judged that this Dad would be just fine, because his brave blend of unquestioning belief and unpredictable laughter is “the perfect combination.”
But what about Dimes? Who even uses them these days? Humor me, if you will. As a believer in the unending nature of life I find it to be expected that lives continue to intersect forever. Having passed from life lived on a specific timeline to one liberated from the constraints of the clock and the calendar, Fathers will be given creative ways of saying “I’m here for you.” No spelled out agendas will be delivered. But the message will be as clear as it is demanding of the son or daughter’s own initiative.
For me, the message takes the form of ten-cent coins. Connect the dots from a community leader who was an early champion of the March of Dimes and the evidence of reassurance is clear. Dimes appearing on floors, city sidewalks, previously unoccupied church benches have stimulated realizations and laughter, offered silent applause and sensible cautions. “Get it in writing.” “Don’t sign that new business agreement.” “Take a second look at that person.” “Remember the advice of the man whose face is on the dime that the only thing to fear is fear itself.” Perhaps today there will be a new dime and the message. “Thanks for catching on, Sugar and Happy Fathers Day.”