Two summers ago, I struggled with a huge question – one that had plagued me for the ten years it took me to write a memoir – should I let my dad read my book? As the decade dragged on I probably thought somehow, maybe mercifully, my dad would die of old age before the question could be answered.
Now the question is moot. But my dad is still alive.
And two years feels like a luxurious lifetime ago. Imagine, when such a thing was even a possibility; an option!
There was nothing terrible in the book. Writing it actually helped me that see my dad had always been on my side, in his way, which maybe hadn’t been the way I’d wanted. But two years ago, he was ninety-one and I was sixty. Maybe if he’d been seventy-one, me forty; or even eighty-one to fifty – I could’ve shared my struggles and discoveries with my dad, and we could’ve gone on to have a new, deeper relationship, instead of the fumes of the one we’d always had.
Now my father can’t or won’t bother to read anymore. To be honest, he doesn’t really care about anything but why he is still on this earth, and how to keep living without his wife. My book – anything about my life, or my daughter, my brothers – anyone or anything – is an also-ran in the race to the end, a place he hopes to arrive as soon as possible. Yet he still walks a mile or two a day. My dad is still a puzzle.
Life is not fair, life makes no sense and Catholicism – my father’s balm and major organizing factor for most of his life – offers absolutely no solace to him now. The Catholic Church is in disgrace, with the archdiocese of Pittsburgh (my dad’s home his entire life) one of the main offenders. Whatever plan he thought God had for him has expired, passed its sell-by date.
My dad, the authority, sits and asks me “what should I do?” He says simply “I don’t know what to do.” No amount of positivity – look Dad, you have five kids, four grandchildren and a great-grandchild – we’re all healthy, almost sane and solvent – nobody’s in jail; it’s cause for celebration, gratitude. You still have all your own teeth for god’s sake!” None of it really works.
Maybe that’s why I found myself crying to the car radio, yes having one of those damned NPR driveway moments, the other day.
They were revisiting the story of a father who loved Warren Zevon’s hit Werewolves of London, and the guy’s daughter who absolutely hated the song – they often discussed it, he what a kick he got out of the record, she how its nonsensical lyrics were everything that was wrong with rock music. For her wedding dance with her father, she’d chosen What A Wonderful World but as the day approached, she knew that wouldn’t work, there was only one song she and her father could dance to. They hit the floor and waited for the music – she knew what was coming, he expected What a Wonderful World – when he heard the familiar piano/bass riff of Werewolves he stood in disbelief, then broke down sobbing. And then…they danced.
Another father and daughter duo heard the story and she’d sometimes toy with her Dad via Spotify, pushing Werewolves through whatever he was listening to. It became their signal for when she wanted to talk to him.
I listened to the story that begat a story on NPR and thought how much has changed – that my generation grew up too far apart culturally from our parents to ever have these kind of discussions about pop music. I think the closest my father and I ever got tastewise was a shared appreciation of Barbra Streisand.
But it isn’t just a question of musical taste. In the world I grew up in, Dad was the authority, that was indisputable. You disagreed with him at your peril.
BUT he came and saw me open for Warren Zevon in Pittsburgh in 1999. I’d been opening Zevon dates in the midwest and rust belt and Northeast. Warren saw my dad and mother waiting around during soundcheck and asked to MEET MY PARENTS. He wanted me to bring them backstage. It was a classy gesture, far from what his wildman reputation suggested, but it wasn’t even a gesture, it was sweet and sincere and meant the world to me. Of course he played Werewolves of London that night and the place went wild. I’d love to say my parents and I sat at a table rocking and grinning but they’d left for home right after my set.
I just drove the seven hours to Pittsburgh see my dad. We’re all trying to figure out what his next step is. I listened to an audiobook and yes, a little NPR here and there. Somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania, I said “play Werewolves of London” into my phone and for a few minutes I danced with my dad on an imaginary dance floor, one where he knew all about me and was okay with it. I felt Warren smiling down on us, and maybe my mom was too.
You can listen to the post here