Why Every Day For Me Is Father’s Day

Last Sunday got me thinking, and if I can find the words, I’d like to tell you a little bit about what I have learned from my dad. Image

I can still hear the notes leap from my father’s fingers on the strings.  Like prisoners presented with an open gate, melodies spun out of his hands and skipped across the evenings.  On those childhood nights, his songs stood sentinel over my dreams, ushering me out of wakefulness and into sleep.  I loved this music, and I assumed it would always be mine.   

The concept of transience, however, caught me in a stranglehold one Wednesday evening when my father began to play.  All of a sudden, as my eight-year-old brain lilted its way from lullaby to lullaby, I realized that he wouldn’t be able to sing to me forever.  How do we handle this kind of collision with mortality?  Even now, especially then, I wasn’t big enough to deal with such a loss.  I could not comprehend a life empty of the singer and his song. 

There is no real solution when pain so stealthily encroaches on the pristine certainty of childhood.  For the next three years, nightmares painted themselves garish and immutable across the ceiling of sleep. Visions of violence stalked the dark corners of daydreams and I imagined my dad injured or killed countless times.  Sometimes in my dreams we’d be driving and I would look over to find him abruptly disappeared from his seat, seat belt still buckled, gas pedal still depressed.  He left me, helpless and alone, speeding down a highway through the nowhere land of loss.  

These dreams disappeared of their own accord.  Mostly I think I just stuck them in the back of my mental file cabinet, neatly sorted alongside all those other things that I understand only insofar as I don’t understand them at all (see “Passing Away” and “Pantyhose”).   With these profundities safely tucked in storage, I survived middle school, graduated high school, and left for college. 

Going to a university halfway across the country finalized my acceptance of distance from my dad—or so I thought.  I missed him a lot, to be sure, yet purely as one of the most important pieces of my life all the way back in Kansas.  We would keep in touch over text or through phone conversations every few days.  But I turned 19 two years ago.  On my birthday, I received the following email from him:

 “Well…here’s the story.  It doesn’t take long to tell, and perhaps I’ve told it to you before, but after our very nice phone conversation on Saturday afternoon, I had a flashback. I was driving home and Eric Clapton’s song “Tears in Heaven” came on the radio.  You know the history; he wrote it in 1991 for his 4-yr old son after the little boy died in a tragic accident.  A couple of months or so before it came out, your mom was only a couple of months into her pregnancy with you.  One day she sat down by me and said she might have had a miscarriage.  She wasn’t sure, but it was possible that you had gone away.  I wept so hard…I was so afraid…so broken even by the thought.  I have never felt a loss like that, before or since.  Praise God, it turned out not to be the case, and you were still with us.  The song, when it came out a few weeks later, hit me right in the heart.  I had felt some part of what he was singing about.  And every time I’ve heard it since, I get that same feeling.  God helped me understand, by holding me in limbo for a time, how precious you were and are to me.   I’d not heard the song on the radio for years, but God played it again for me after your call to us that afternoon…just His gentle reminder of what a precious gift you are, and of how I know.”

Everything ends. Only love in its many forms manages to outlive the transience of our time on this planet. For there is permanence in loving and being loved that deeply. It changes a human spirit forever, and cannot be stopped by something so empirical as the distinction between this world and the next.

I acknowledge the fear that on occasion still dances around my dreams. I nod to the vast uncertainty that stretches behind my birth and beyond my last breath. But I am not afraid. Here and now, there and then, I am my father’s daughter. I know that when I see him on the other side, he’ll be singing.

The Night Walk

There are a few things you learn during a walk in the nighttime. You learn that living among the clouds isn’t a fairytale, and you’re not a princess, and there isn’t a castle. It’s actually just fog. And it swirls around and curls your hair with the humid disappointment of just-missed desire.

Orange, usually, as the steam thwarts streetlights with thick vapor determined to undo identity. Even a known name as basic as color is too much, too nice, too today…it belongs to the sun world where shadow people sleep and bide awhile, waiting, for the fog that removes both why you walked and where you are going.

It might be different if you didn’t walk alone. But you’ll never know, because if you had a companion you wouldn’t be seeking the night walk in the first place. You wouldn’t be trying to find the point, the corner, the exact number of steps at which your missed ship becomes just another droplet in the hanging vapor, where the ship that never came in blends into the millions of molecules sent to earth for the night as punishment. Solitary confinement for clouds.

You learn to keep company with the misbehaved cumulonimbus forced to listen to gravity in the same way that you’ll never free your feet from the ground. You may fly for awhile, in a plane, or in a man’s arms, if you’re lucky, but eventually you’ll realize you won’t find the way to stay afloat. At least not now, and especially not on the night walk.

When you return, which you will have to do, you may face any number of things.  Sorrow, or someone saying sorry. And all of a sudden your resolution will be gone. You will feel the moment of resistance tantalize you for a heartbeat, maybe two, before it passes you by, on the way to rejoin its stronger-willed brothers in the march toward dawn.

An apology is like a paycheck. A dividend, a refund for wrongs, even if the crime wasn’t financial and the damage is actually a deep, deep crevice in the rock face where your spirit hides when it stops trying to climb. Sorry tumbles down the side of a cliff.

Maybe it’s the human condition, maybe it’s money. But you are conditioned to accept cash or check and you will. Even if it’s trading love for a line of bad credit, apologetic.

A walk in the nighttime doesn’t bring you what you want or what you needed. And yet some small part of your pain gets stolen by the fog.

It dissipates, just like rain.

Spoken Word Salvation

His name is Propaganda.

His mission is simple: Take the message of Jesus Christ to the streets.

A far cry from the “frozen chosen” stereotype of the Protestant church, Propaganda (real name Jason Petty) spits spiritual rhymes worthy of the spoken word elite. In Petty’s mixtapes, theology and musical theory combine to produce songs at once jammable and profound.

White-collar denizens of the conservative religious hierarchy may well balk at this unconventional method of proclaiming the gospel. Truth be told, however, Petty’s music is reaching an audience too long excluded from the love of God.

Who did Jesus himself hang out with?

Page after page of the Bible reveals Him spending time with sinners, with tax collectors, beggars and prostitutes. With the very people who, in today’s society, would be least likely to listen to the mediocre white-bread soft rock clogging Christian radio’s airwaves.

Petty’s raps put the language of Jesus Christ into the language of the people who need Him most.

Culture clash? Yes. Does it work?

You bet.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: 

TALK to the people in your community and your church

VOLUNTEER at a local shelter or soup kitchen

LISTEN to Propaganda’s music and follow his blog at http://www.myspace.com/propaganda