My Father's Music


My bedroom sat on top of his den, making me feel held in the nest of his big heart when I slept-in weekend mornings. I knew when he was down there because he would turn on his beloved stereo system and sounds of jazz, swing, or big band music would float up underneath me like a fluffy cloud, infusing my dreams with warmth, safety and music.

Content, I would roll over and wrap myself up in the notes as if they were a blanket, until many hours later my growling belly would propel me out this nest, normal breakfast hours long past.

I’d wander down the stairs and look in: my father sitting at his large at his wrap-around desk concentrating on the papers there on the surface, his music thrumming him into willing contemplation of these things that would put food on the table, but didn’t feed his own soul.

What happens to a Soul when it’s about to incarnate? Does It know ahead of time It’s life will be cut too short, but then forgets it as soon as It drops into the body? Or is it simply the luck of the draw, a slight of hand trick, where It doesn’t know until that moment that sometimes this “living thing” is really, really complicated, and possibly not that fair?


My father loved music. He loved playing piano – “tickling the ivories” – with his large, masculine Daddy-hands prancing up and down the piano keys like they were stones skipping on water. He took full liberty to vamp the hell out of any piece of sheet music, embellishing it with a gusto and freedom he rarely let out of the gates in daily life. Something simply came alive in him when he played.

This gentle-giant of a man – six-foot-six when all stretched out, capable of palming a basketball, his voice low and smooth, his laugh when it came always including a snorting guffaw and happy tears – would sit at the piano and crack his knuckles with a big showy flare that would force the impulsive response out of my mother, “Oh, don’t do that! That’s not good for your knuckles!” I would stand proudly next to him – his official page turner – and silently encourage him to ignore her.

Each finger he placed on keys took up the entire width of each key. His hands were more like mitts and, I don’t really know how he did it but, he would start to effortlessly play. And sing, with his booming baritone voice – inviting me to join him in singing these old show tunes, like “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered.”

His body swayed, rocking the music out of his deep, cellular memory and onto the black and white keys. His foot ever-pumping on the pedals beneath, holding out the notes at just the right moments. It was clear, he and the piano were in a secret conversation, and we were listening in on it, delighting in it.

This was a family thing: my mother, brother, sister and I, all focusing on the easy, creative, brilliance of a man who hardly made time to play – tucked as he was into the traditional role of care-taker, family man, bread-winner. The melodies saturated us as they suffused the air, so potent it was as if one could pull each note down out of his now galloping herd of keys one-by-one, and discover them anew – these wild, powerful sounds – transfixed with the innocent fascination of a child petting an animal for the first time.

He was my Daddy, capital D. And I loved him. The one who got me – unspoken understandings and deep communications were our language.

Even when he was dying I treated him like my Daddy, rather than a dying man. I would rest my head on his chest, kneeling next to him as he lay in bed ready for sleep, wrap my arms across his shoulders, and feel his heart-beat reverberate through my ears, my skull, spreading through my whole body, his lungs carrying my head on another rhythmic lullaby in harmony with his massive, tender heart. And we would cry, silent hot tears of longing and love and things unnamable.

He was my Daddy. 

And his music lives forever in my soul.