Happy Father's Day
But today is a Sunday, mid-June, and somehow I've reminded myself. It must be Father's Day.
That's my father, in the tux.
Yes, I was the lucky child whose musician father picked her up after school events in a tuxedo. A perfectly pressed, perfectly fitted black tux, tie loose and tux shirt open, usually, by the time he came round for me. I was invariably mortified.
My father was a pianist. When I told him I wanted to study piano with the septegenarian nun at my grade school, he refused, then convinced the best professional teacher in the state to take on a 5 year old with hands too small to reach 5 notes apart.
My father invented play-by-plays to symphonic music as he drove me to my Saturday piano lessons: Ah, the villagers are all dancing happily in the meadow, and look, (enter a chorus of clarinets) now the sheep have joined them. But wait (bassoon) who is that dark masked stranger waiting in the woods?
Do it yourself Peter and the Wolf, every Saturday drive.
My father pointed out the obvious like the old man I met in Cabezuela. He made both the worst and the best puns I've ever heard.
He and his musician cronies had an infinite collection of "if this one married that one" jokes:
If Ella Fitzgerald married Darth Vader she's be Ella Vader. And of course if she married, Allen Funt, she'd be Ella Funt.
You get the idea.
My father wrote me a clever, rhyming poem for every occasion in my life. Every birthday, every graduation, all the holidays I couldn't travel home to celebrate once I'd moved away to college. He gave me the most beautiful letter I've ever received, sealed tight in an envelope, and told me to read it on the solo plane ride to college. Then he talked the stewardess into letting my high school friends onto the plane for a last goodbye.
My father visited me everywhere I ever lived, West Lafayette, IN, State College, PA, and later Saint Louis, often under the pretense of having a gig nearby, even if the job was several hundred miles away.
He was most proud of having played at the Inaugural Ball for George H W Bush, the first George Bush. He invited me along as his date, and savored every minute of my liberal discomfort.
My father tried an office job once, before my brother and I were born. He worked in insurance and dreamed of getting a business degree on the GI bill, until the day the boss ordered him to choose between his respectable insurance job and playing piano in bars. He spent the rest of his life playing the piano.
He made toast by putting bread right on the burner and letting it blacken.
He could watch any episode of World at War a hundred times and then watch it again, til I begged, begged, to watch a movie.
He took me to every Father Daughter dance in high school, and broke every promise he ever made not to go wild on the dance floor.
He lamented he was too busy playing piano to practice. In his last few years, he left a friend running his music contracting business while he wandered the Caribbean playing cocktail piano on cruise ships, finally savoring his time to practice and to play what he wanted.
Never, that I remember, did my father call me by my given name.
My father was the most "human" being I've ever known. He was gloriously human.
Human in the fling that ended my parents' marriage and human in his need to own up to it, despite knowing what that would mean. Human as he showed up for the aftermath of his confession, including the daughter who for a long time couldn't forgive him.
Human in his lifelong need to act 9 years old, often, and in his boylike fascination with boats and ships and everything nautical.
Human as he pondered a thousand what if's in the journals he wrote during the last years of his life.
And he was human, gloriously human, as he died. When my father wouldn't, his doctor finally let my mother, brother and aunts know that the cancer had already won the war, a week after his diagnosis. He died a few hours before my flight landed, never having admitted he was seriously ill.
I aim only to be as gloriously human as my father.
He'd like where I am today. No doubt he'd book a gig in Madrid, and stop by.