It’s my Dad’s birthday this week. He was born in 1943, which officially makes him ‘old as f–k’.
Now I kid around with my Dad a lot, but the truth is that he’s one person that I’ve always looked up to, and will continue to for the rest of my days. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most significant ones is that he brought the gift of music to our family.
From a young age, I remember my Dad playing the guitar – often around a campfire – leading us in songs like “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”. He’d then play a parody rendition of “I Walk the Line” in which he informs the audience that he keeps his pants up with a piece of twine…and the last line is “…because you’re mine, please pull the twine…”
His set would usually culminate with songs that you could tell made my Mom swoon – like the Everly Brothers “Dream”.
Not surprisingly, we were usually then immediately shuffled off to bed so that Mom and Dad could have “grown up time”. I remember not wanting to go to bed at that time, both because I wanted to hear Dad play more guitar, and because it was only 2:30 in the afternoon.
All horny parent stories and eventual trips to my counselor aside, the experience of having music created for us was inspiring enough to make me want to play. So, Christmas of grade 2, I received a present that I thought was the greatest gift of all…a brand new guitar of my very own! All I had to do is play it, then I’d be cool like my Dad.
Well…as I’ve previously confessed, I was a lousy guitar student. After mastering (or massacring) C,D,and G, the F chord became the bane of my existence. So I put the guitar down, determined that I would never learn how to play, and resigned myself to being a famous air guitarist, or perhaps a famous ninja fighter. (I was only 8).
Now here’s what my Dad did – which is kind of the point of this story…
Many parents harp on their kids to play. They turn it into a chore. They make it “Work”, which, ironically enough, doesn’t make it work at all for the kids.
But my Dad did nothing. He didn’t ask. He didn’t preach. He didn’t threaten to get rid of the guitar. Come to think of it, he didn’t swerve out of the way when I was playing on the street either. But that’s a different story – and yes, another summer home for my counselor.
Here’s what Dad DID do though. He played. He kept playing the guitar, and he kept his love for playing the guitar. He showed my Mom how to play, and the two of them would play guitar together from time to time. Together, they made the decision to keep my guitar around the house, along with song books and chord books. Eventually, I got up the curiosity to start plucking around again (all by myself) and eventually I learned some chords, and how to put them together to make some songs.
So now I go around professing to be ‘entirely self taught’ when it comes to the guitar. But the truth of the matter is that my Dad taught me the most important lesson of being a guitar player: love the process of playing – celebrate the successes along the way – and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Just play. And enjoy.
Now that I have kids of my own, I have a guitar room downstairs that they are welcome to play in. One day, Paul, the oldest was sitting in the guitar room in front of the tv. He was feverishly playing Guitar Hero. I found it ironic, and a touch sad.
I tried to be wise and patient like my Dad, and not say anything, but sadly I didn’t have the restraint that Dad does. What I came out with was not nearly as subtle.
I said “Hey Paul, one day you’ll be sitting around a campfire with a bunch of hotties. Are you going to tell them about your high score, or melt them with a song you wrote?”
Paul now plays guitar.
I suppose that the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how we share the love of music, we just need to share it, and keep it going. We need to pass it along through support, encouragement, and genuine love.
Perhaps this love is what Whitney Houston meant when she sang in ‘the Greatest Love of All’: “I believe that children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way”.
Or, she may have been talking about the love of crack. I don’t know.
Kids, say no to drugs.
Play guitar instead.
Happy Birthday, Dad.
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