Sunday, June 17, 2007

Blue Rondo a la Turk (Dave Brubeck)

One of my earliest memories is being with my father, listening to Harry Belafonte’s Matilda, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade and anything by Johnny Cash (I *still* know all the words to his songs) – I was born in 1954 and we had a hi-fi back then. I will never forget the momentous occasion when my dad brought home a *stereo*… took great delight in setting it up… and then had me sit down on the couch, at the apex where the speakers joined to make “the sweet spot”... and played Dave Brubeck’s Take Five – magic!

The song Unsquare Dance, on the same album, was one of Dad’s favorites – he explained to me it was in 7/8 time, quite a tricky tempo as the piano, bass and various percussion instruments weave around the chorus of clapping hands. Every time he played the album, which was quite frequently, he encouraged me to attempt to clap along, which was quite fun and challenging for a seven-year-old child – even though the tune was only two minutes, I never could keep the rhythm all the way through… but he always did.

I was raised to believe there were only three ways to do anything in life: the right way, the wrong way and the Marine Corps way - that's a really catchy saying, but the reality is that "right" and "Marine Corps" are actually one and the same, leaving recruits with only two options. They can do what they're told or they can suffer the consequences - we learned not to question authority.

I believed I had a perfect childhood… up until the year I turned 27 – my parents divorced after 29 years of marriage, mainly because of my father’s alcoholism. His prestigious jobs were a thing of the past – he found himself working as a clerk at Radio Shack, making minimum wage. His self-worth plummeted – a few times the police had to be called to intervene in domestic situations. At that point, I was living an hour away, with a husband and a small child – my visits home decreased as the situation worsened.

My father died on my 19th wedding anniversary – I had not spoken to him in the 3 years before his death because he had chosen to take his life in a direction I did not wish to follow. I felt no guilt about our diverging paths, only regret that there was a finality to whatever possibilities I may have envisioned for our future. On the day after his memorial service, as my mother, brother, sister and I drove up to Anna Ruby Falls in North Georgia to scatter my father’s ashes, we took turns telling stories of our interactions with him over the years – it was like putting together the pieces of a puzzle, as we all had such different, and sometimes conflicting, memories to share.

My father is so much in me: my love of music, my affinity for the written word and my appreciation of humor, especially a good pun - on the dark side, I have also inherited his qualities of perfectionism which leads to procrastination which leads to paralysis.

There is a relatively happy ending to this story – when my father died he was living in my grandmother’s house, which was subsequently sold. There were 8 grandchildren, and, after all the debts and estate costs were settled, each received $3,000.00 – my husband and I discussed how to spend the money, and there were certainly bills that needed to be paid. Ultimately, frivolous as it seemed, we decided on a Jacuzzi for the backyard – I joked that my father had caused so much stress in my life it was the least he could to do relieve it through his legacy. I must confess I am in the hot tub almost every evening… and not a night goes by when I don’t think about my father… in a peaceful, calm and loving manner – the last 12 years have given me the closure I needed… and I hope that somewhere, some way, he feels it too…

For my fortysomething birthday (one or two?), I called a few of my close friends and asked them to join me to see the movie Smoke Signals, mainly because Dar Williams' song Road Buddy was included in the soundtrack - the film was a winner of the Sundance Film Festival in 1998, the first feature made by a Native American crew and creative team… and is about a young man, accompanied by his friend, who travels from his home on an Idaho reservation to Phoenix to pick up the ashes of his father, whom he hasn’t seen in 10 years. The movie is based on the book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist-Fight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie - the poem I've chosen for today's blog post is read during the last scene.

SONG: Blue Rondo a la Turk (music by Dave Brubeck, 1960; lyrics by Al Jarreau 1981)

BOOK: The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

POEM: by Dick Lourie

How do we forgive our fathers?
Maybe in a dream.
Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often,
or forever,
when we were little?
Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage,
or for making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all?
Do we forgive our fathers for marrying,
or not marrying,
our mothers?
Or divorcing,
or not divorcing,
our mothers?
And shall we forgive them for their excesses
of warmth
or coldness?
Shall we forgive them
for pushing
or leaning?
For shutting doors?
For speaking through walls?
Or never speaking?
Or never being silent?
Do we forgive our fathers in our age or in theirs?
Or in their deaths,
saying it to them,
or not saying it?
If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

QUOTE: "I am reminded of the old show business adage. Showing up is eighty percent of the work. The rest is about concentration and focus, about being specific, all of which - just being there, just being - are deeply spiritual values. And that's what a father has to do, too. Not 'to be' or 'not to be.' Just be. Be, be, be." ~ M. G. Stephens


  1. What a beautiful, heartwrenching yet heartwarming post! I found myself nodding in recognition at some of your stories, surprised by others. I do so remember the Smoke Signals birthday party, what a wonderful day that was, filled with laughter and tears as we shared our collective "father issues." It was an honor to share those moments, to listen to that poem with those who understood exactly how I was feeling.

    I'm going to pull out my copy of Smoke Signals and watch it tomorrow, remembering a sacred moment with dear friends. Thank you for that, Susan.

  2. Thanks, M, for your kind words - I'm actually facilitating the Father's Day service at our UU church today, and will be sharing what I wrote... so please light your purple candles I can keep it together... <3

    I also have such fond memories of that birthday gathering, especially the four of us almost getting thrown out of the movie theater for laughing loudly during a particular scene!