There aren't many posts on my old blog that suit the topics I'm covering here. But the very last post I wrote there does. This post was originally posted there June 3, 2016.
I had a complicated relationship with my father at different phases of my life. I think most people do. But, in the past five years, it was much less complicated and he put a lot of energy into being there for me when I needed him. He wanted to make sure my life was in order. My dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. If you don’t know anything about it, the prognosis is not good. Typically, someone with pancreatic cancer lives 3-6 months. My dad took the whole thing quite seriously and was determined he was going to be the miracle case that beat it. Ed called him the Clint Eastwood of cancer fighters, because he was so tough. Rounds and rounds of treatment too numerous to count.
It was getting to a point where I think I started to believe he’d beat it too, because that was easier to believe, and also, he was so determined, and stubborn, and matter of fact about it.
When Ed and I got engaged October before last, we decided to plan our wedding for the following summer, because waiting until this summer seemed like it might be too far in the future for my dad to be there. I wasn’t someone who grew up dreaming of a wedding or planning what it might look like, but boy am I glad I did some of the traditional things. I got my cynicism from my father, and always thought a lot of rituals were a waste of energy and money. When we planned our wedding, we left out a lot of the rituals, but we kept in the first dance, the father-daughter dance, and the mother-son dance.
Ed and I had a wedding dance song (the Ramone’s version of “Baby I Love You”), and Ed had the Beatles picked for his mother-son dance. I figured my dad and I wouldn’t do some sappy slow song, it didn’t feel right for us, and wouldn’t fit in with the other songs. Besides, my dad liked rock and roll and wasn’t too much into ballads anyhow.
I wrote an email to my dad July 13 of last year, a day after my bachelorette:
I don't really want to work today...I have such a happy hangover from the weekend.
What do you think of Travelling Willburys End of the Line as a father daughter dance song?
I was trying to think of a song by the Cars but they all seem either too fast or too slow!
I read some song lists online and some suggested a song by Jimmy Buffet, but I don't know it! Plus I figure you'd be better to pick a Jimmy Buffet song than me if we were to choose one.
My dad replied in his usual concise manner:
Yep I'd thought of jimmy but I'm thinking more of johnny reed or allan Jackson or maybe Carl Perkins will give you a list by end of week Ok?
Later, we spoke on the phone. He suggested an Alan Jackson song he liked, and said, “I know you don’t like country music, but I wish I’d picked this for your sister’s wedding. Listen to the lyrics, and let me know.”
I listened to the song and wasn’t very thrilled. I’m not much of a country fan, and the song didn’t remind me of my dad. Meanwhile, my mom messaged me and said it was important to him to pick it, and I should let him. So I came to terms to dancing to an Alan Jackson song at my wedding.
I’m not sure what happened, but later he emailed me to say he’d picked “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. It is a lovely song, but it surprised me. It seemed very sentimental, and not much like my Dad. I think my Dad sensed I wasn’t thrilled by the country choice and wanted to pick something that would make me happy. Honestly I was still just annoyed he wouldn’t let me choose Travelling Wilburys.
If you were at my wedding, you’ll know the rest of this story.
We got up to do the dance, and my Dad walked up to the DJ, and said, “Forget the song we told you. Play some Bob Seger.” The DJ was confused. Hadn’t we requested “Wonderful World”? “No, I want Bob Seger.” My Dad was so sure the DJ would have it (and also, I guess, that there’s only one Bob Seger song he could possibly be referring to) that he returned to the middle of the dancefloor to wait for the music to start. I explained to the DJ he was making a change in the request, and wanted to hear “Old Time Rock and Roll”. And with a stroke of luck (and because I’m sure most DJs have the song) DJ Law fired it up, and we did a fast dance.
“….today’s music ain’t got the same soul, I like that old time Rock and Roll”
It’s funny because that song has always reminded me of my Dad. He used to blast it on his stereo in the living room and we’d dance together. He’d say “I love this song, it’s real rock n’ roll.”
Sentimentality was never my Dad’s strong suit but he was passionate about music and making sure his kids were too. Some of my earliest memories were being sat down in a big rocking chair in the living room, with a huge set of headphones placed on my head and being played records. He got into classical for a while. He loved Pachelbel’s Canon. He had weird selections, like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. He loved the Beatles, the Eurythmics, Paul Revere and the Raiders. Paul Simon’s Graceland. Huey Lewis’ Sports. Everything by The Cars.
He played mixed tapes in the car of his favourite songs. He got into CD’s for a while, but in the last few years he loved to go to Goodwill and started collecting vinyl again. He added some great records recently; Pat Benetar, John Lee Hooker, Bruce Springsteen. In recent years I’ve bought him lots of Jimmy Buffet records.
Yesterday morning I got the news my dad had passed on the phone. Five years of preparing but you can’t really be prepared for news like that. Ed and I left and on the drive, The Travelling Wilburys’ “End of the Line” came on the radio. I’d forgotten I’d suggested it as a wedding song but the whole series of conversations came flooding back. It’s been stuck in my head ever since.
I’m not sure why he didn’t let me pick it for the dance, because he loved that song too. I’m happy he went with his gut at the wedding and chose Bob Seger, because I’d rather think of my Dad when I hear feel-good rock n’ roll songs than sentimental slow songs. It just suits who he was better.
Last weekend we got to have a good chat about all of the ways my life is in order now. I told him more than he needed to know about my finances and my plans for my life, because I know he worried and I know it would put his mind at ease to know I have things sorted out.
He was so stubborn that he beat his cancer prognosis by five years. He not only made it to my wedding, but he stole the show--with both his speech (which brought down the house with his signature sarcasm) and his dance moves.
Miss you dad, I’ll play some rock and roll for you today.