I know this isn’t the topic of the day, but it’s what’s on my mind right now. Haunted by this clip more than I imagined. I’ve tracked this movie, wondering if–no…knowing it was going to be a difficult watch for me.
My dad was a disciple of Hank Williams. And he was a first-rate country crooner in his own right. When I hear my dad singing in my head (and I do more often than I ever thought I would), I hear this song. And Cold, Cold Heart and You’re Cheatin’ Heart. And, of course, I Saw the Light. But of all Williams’ songs…this one…he sang this song the most.
I’ve lost track of how many times people have said I should tell the story of my family, of my relationship with my dad, of my parents’ near-miss with country greatness, of it all. I’ve felt guilty because, you know…I’m the writer. It’s what I’m supposed to do. Yet, I haven’t been able to wrap my heart around it, much less my head. Too many loose emotional threads still dangling. Too many questions still unanswered.
Not questions about the external history, though plenty of those swirl in the air, too, some titillating and tantalizing, some ludicrous and laughable, and some almost too scary to ponder. It’s my own questions…how I feel about it all. I’ve yet to land on that, and without that critical perspective it’s unfathomable to contemplate diving into the deep end of my own past and my history, much less forging it into story form.
I loved my dad. I love him still. Five years after his death, I can finally say there is no question about that. I’m sure it’s as strange to read as it is to say I had to take time to figure that out upon his passing, but there you have it. Five years out from my father’s exiting this world, however, I’m also still more mad at him than I am at just about anyone in this or any world. But that was my dad…the most lovable and infuriating person you’d ever meet. And I’m using euphemism here.
All that falls away when I hear him singing in my head. Tears come to my eyes in those moments, as I am swept up, awed at the beauty and the honesty as I remember him immersed in song. When my dad would sing (and play guitar) he didn’t merely perform. He became the song. You’d be hard-pressed to delineate between where the music ended and my dad began. He was truly at one with it. Fully and completely invested, and unabashedly so. This is one of the positive lessons my dad taught me in life, I realize now. Not through words, but by example…the way a parent should teach a child, I guess. Throw yourself into something. Your whole self. Forget embarrassment. Forget the existence of anything called “embarrassment.” Allow yourself to carried away by your art, and speak the truth when you do it.
My dad threw up a lot of walls to his true heart, but they all just melted away when he was singing. The real and vulnerable and honorable and good person at his core would, if only briefly, cut through. Shine through. In spite of all the negative things, the hurtful things, I could say about my dad, I know this also to be the case…that his heart was true. I know this as much as I know anything, if only because I bore witness to it through his music.
I know my dad’s ghost haunts me not because he has unfinished business with me. He was done with this world before he left, finally contented to be reunited with his own father, who was his absolute best friend. I was there, near the end, at my dad’s side when his father’s spirit came to him, hovering at the edge of my dad’s consciousness, but visible to my dad’s mind’s eye. He beckoned my dad, his arms outstretched. I’d never seen my dad so much at peace before the moment when he felt the presence of his dad welcoming to the other side. So why does my dad haunt me? Because I have unfinished business with him. He hangs around because I keep him here.
So I suppose I should thank him for that. Thank you, Dad, for sticking around and for giving me time and space to get it all figured out. For listening to me rant about and curse you, for holding steady as I compare our relationship unfavorably to the ones other people have or had with their parents, for being present when, in spite of all my anger and animosity, I still weep because I miss you so damn much.
I suppose when(?)…if(?)…I ever get it all resolved, I’ll finally see the light. Then I’ll be ready to tell my family’s story.