Paddle faster boys, I hear banjos, or, September’s song

I’m fifty-seven years old. My birthday is September.

When I was a kid, my dad was a shining star in a small solar system of David Lipscomb and local church of Christ planets. He was thoughtful, witty, handsome, and could make the kids who HAD TO BE IN ART APPRECIATION CLASS TO GRADUATE, suddenly realize they were being educated.

He was well-loved, respected and philosophically quite conservative. His foibles were known to me and a few friends, but they seemed trivial. He was a ‘pleaser’ and he struggled inwardly with not being good enough, but his public composure and speech belied any self-pity or obsession.

Living in that world was both stimulating and daunting. A young woman in chapel who I didn’t know proclaimed ‘WHAT HAPPENED to YOU?’ after seeing my dad walk out on the stage to participate in the chapel service, after I told her ‘that man’ was my dad. I never saw her again, because she realized she had blurted out something that most people would edit, and was most likely quite embarrassed. Her reaction did echo a question that has haunted me over the years.

I quit worrying about the gossipy neighbors who told me that I certainly wasn’t like my dad after I moved back to Nashville. They mixed resentment with their tea, and I understood their drink of choice. But, no, I wasn’t like my dad.

I don’t obsess over this short-coming. I love and respect many of the people in that world, but I can’t live in a place where I’m not my dad. We parted company well, and, other than some really hum-dinger, drawn-out, wall-shaking political arguments, we got along just fine. I just wasn’t him.

This is not intended to be a diatribe of failure..my dad loved me unconditionally, and I knew that every minute of his life that intersected with mine. I live my life ..my struggle is to stay centered..not to be him. I’m not eliciting ‘you are OKs!’..

These thoughts emerged again, because last night I was eating with my mom and we were talking about my dad. He died at what seems like a very young age now. He packed in a lot in his too-brief span.

He was only 58. Until last night my mom did not realize this September I will be the same age as my dad was when he died. It was hard for her to say out loud..she covered her face and began to tremor. She loves me despite the fact of who I am not.

I’m not hearing those banjos back there yet, even if I am about to turn 58.   I certainly don’t make those kind of predictions. Stuff, and my stomach, happens. I plan to live, until I don’t, and I will keep on laughing about ‘what HAPPENED to <me>”…I’m still figuring that out.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Paddle faster boys, I hear banjos, or, September’s song

  1. I don’t know what it would be like to live with a father who wasn’t always setting an example of excellence in some way or other that the son couldn’t live up to. My dad was a chemist. Before he turned 30 he’d invented a way to treat cotton so it wouldn’t rot and a means for commercially manufacturing corn oil. (Both while working for the government so there are no royalties, naturally.) Later in life he went on to make milk safe to drink in this country.

    But he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up and I just sorta became what I am – maybe even without growing up. It took a while for me to get used to this and learn that it was OK to just be myself. Some times I even think I’m beyond it and it doesn’t matter if I never end some horrible whatever through one of my discoveries or inventions or write that great novel.

    Being different really is OK. I’m not limited by him or less in some way, just different. So I just keep on being myself.

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