Tuesday Tunes 134: For Dad

In my most recent post, Songs For New Year’s Day, I mentioned that my father had been placed into end of life care a couple of days previously. I haven’t felt like posting since then, as my heart and brain have been a bit scrambled. Several of you have commented on that part of the post, and some have got in touch through my Contact Me page, so you will know how that has been affecting me. I’m grateful for your support. Sadly, Dad passed on Sunday 15th peacefully in his sleep, three months after his 95th birthday. I have mentioned to some that I intended to return to my blog with a tribute post for him, and I couldn’t think of a better way of doing it than a Tuesday Tunes piece – a very special one. I did actually do a themed post for Father’s Day back in 2020, but that was in the days when I only gave you two or three songs, and there are many more I could have included, so this is an expanded and reworked version of that. I’m also including two of Dad’s favourite pieces of music.

An early childhood memory for me was waiting for Dad to come home from work. Our house had a bay window in the lounge, which was an ideal place to keep watch. We didn’t have a car – back in the 1950s few did – but Dad rode his bike to work every day in whatever the British weather threw at him. Although the song is about a car, and what it meant to a small boy, this video always reminds me of my own vigils:

A little boy having fun with his Dad – you can see why that one means a lot to me, can’t you? Marc Cohn released Silver Thunderbird on his eponymous debut album, and it has always felt special for me. The closest I ever got to that was being in the little pannier seat on the back of Dad’s push bike, and then an occasional ride when he brought the office motor scooter when he came home for lunch, but the hosing does bring back memories of being soaked when he turned the water on us while filling up our paddling pool on hot summer days.

Dad on the R, next to me.
Dad on the right, next to me. 1962-ish.

As we grow up we develop our own views on life. I can recall some discussions with Dad as I was becoming a teenager and exploring the boundaries of our father/son relationship. There have been many songs about the different ways parents and children see their world, but I don’t think anyone has done it better than this. It has been covered many times but none, for me, has got even remotely close to the sensitivity of the original. This live performance from 1971 is heartbreakingly beautiful, especially when you know that Cat Stevens has said that the song is autobiographical:

Luckily Dad and I never had that kind of breakdown in communication or in our relationship, but the song does remind me of a couple of conversations we had when it was clear that he had found someone else and wanted to leave Mum: I recognised the signs, and knew this was coming before Mum did. But it was the right decision for him and, therefore, for the rest of the family: he was with the lady who became my Stepmum for fifty three years, right up to his passing, and they enjoyed the most wonderful relationship.

A phrase which people often use is something that has been said to me on many occasions. I can recall my Grandad saying it to me, as have others. The phrase is “I can see you in your father’s eyes.” There are a couple of songs about that, both beautiful in their own way, one of which you may know and one which you probably won’t. This is the better known one:

There are several versions of Eric Clapton playing My Father’s Eyes, but this one, from the set he recorded for the MTV Unplugged series, is the one that speaks most to me: stripped down it really brings out the soulfulness of both the music and the lyrics, which are about how we need our parents’ love and support as we grow. It is an especially hard song for me to listen to just now.

This is the second song which uses that metaphor:

The Webb Sisters released In Your Father’s Eyes on their 2011 album, Savages. It is such a lovely song, beautifully textured and with gorgeous harmonies – the sort that siblings often excel at. It is actually a break up song, about how the singer sees her about to be ex-lover in his father’s eyes, and it seems that his father wasn’t a good man. I’d like to think that people didn’t mean that about my Dad and me when they said it to us, but it does get to the heart of a family relationship and that’s why it is an important song for me.

Dad on the right, next to Mum. Mid 60s, I think.

This next song is another that you may well know – Harry Chapin’s Cat’s In The Cradle:

This song is all about how busy fathers can be, to the detriment of their relationships with their children. I can remember having a conversation on these lines with Dad. When I was young he was a local councillor and did a fair bit of charity work, which meant that he was often out in the evenings and sometimes at weekends. He tried to involve us when he could, but that wasn’t always easy and he later said to me that he regretted what he might have missed of the years we were growing up. I can empathise with this, as my job involved long hours and a long commute, and I often went several days at a time leaving for work before my girls were awake, and getting home after at least one of them was in bed. Thankfully both Dad and I managed to work things out better than the character Harry Chapin describes: I never felt deprived of his love or support, and I hope my daughters would say that about me, too.

I said at the beginning that I would be including a couple of Dad’s favourite pieces of music, and this seems as good a place as any for that. One of his most played albums was a rather odd one, of Russian folk songs performed (I think) by the Red Army Choir to an accompaniment of balalaikas. I did enjoy it, to be fair, and maybe he was sowing the seeds which came to fruition in my love of the Russian folk band Otava Yo, who have featured here several times. This, which he also loved, is mainstream classical though:

As the video shows, that is the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata. The whole piece runs to about twenty minutes, but Dad was especially fond of this part: woe betide anyone who spoke while he was listening to it!

The second of the songs I know Dad liked came about much more recently. When I was staying with them one time a few years ago Dad suggested one evening after dinner that he could play a DVD he thought I might like. It turned out that the DVD in question was the first season of the wonderful Transatlantic Sessions (which I also have), and when this one came on it prompted some education by his son on the delights of English folk music, of Sandy Denny, who wrote this song, and of the fantastic Fairport Convention album Liege And Lief, on which it first appeared:

You may know from previous posts that I love Sandy Denny’s voice, and I never thought anyone could get close to her when covering one of her songs, but Mary Black did a remarkably good job with this. It is rather fitting in context, too.

2013 or thereabouts.

One of the things I used to enjoy with Dad, and which I have done with both of my daughters, is that funny kind of dancing where you have the little one standing on your feet while you take them round the floor. This next song isn’t one that I would normally play – not my usual style – but it reminds me of those moments with Dad, which usually ended up with us in a heap on the floor amidst much laughter:

Right now, Luther Vandross’ Dance With My Father speaks volumes to me, and judging from its 124m views I think others share in that feeling.

I’m closing this piece with another song which says a lot to me. I didn’t have the fall outs and disagreements with Dad that are described in this song, but I do wish I’d been able to tell him better how much I loved him and was grateful for all he had done for me, both as a child and through my adult years, when his support was also very welcome:

Thank you for everything, Dad. I love you. Rest in Peace 💔

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