first posted on Facebook July 5, 2020
My dad’s 98th birthday would have been today. For a conservative, military man he was amazingly open, as my friends could tell you. He was against my music until he wasn’t, and then he supported me wholeheartedly. The Vietnam years were rough on us, but we still had the Orioles and the Redskins to talk about until the world settled down again. He didn’t tell me until he was in his sixties that he used to play the last set on drums with a jazz band in Memphis, hitchhiking from the base during wartime. Or that he was engaged to my Mom, hadn’t seen her in months, called her from New York to tell her he’d be a few days late coming home to North Carolina because “Basie’s at the Village Vanguard for the week”. He was a good guy, and I miss him.
My dad was a fine baseball player, played against major leaguers during the war. He washed out of flight school because he broke his nose illegally playing baseball on the weekends for $5 a game. The way I finally reached him about music was like this: “Would you have played minor league baseball if it wasn’t for the war?” “Yes, I’d already been scouted by the Pirates.” “Would you have made the majors?” “Probably not, I could field, but I was small and never would have been more than a banjo hitter.” “But you would have played anyway?” He looked at me for a long time and then said: “Yes, I would have.” He never bugged me about music again.
He was an engineer, and well, I’m not. We did not see things the same way. In addition I was undiagnosed ADD and I remember “Son, pay attention!” as a mantra of my childhood. But eventually he figured it out. We were working on my car one day, something I’m completely inept at, and I was struggling with something and he reached over and flipped a switch or something and it was working. I said: “How come I didn’t inherit that from you?” and he said: “I don’t know, son. How come I can’t write a damn song!”