[Update: Because we received so many outstanding submissions, Roth is generously offering a discount on the speakers to everyone that entered. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org, copying your submission into the body of the email.]
First off, a big thanks to everyone who took the time to share their personal stories for our Father's Day contest. The submissions were superb, so it has been extremely hard to pick a winner.
We found that the best stories shared some common features: The song was linked to a specific moment (rather than a general sentiment); the song itself spoke to a shared connection, rather than a one-sided memory; and the music itself allowed something to happen, which otherwise might not have. Here are some of the entries that rose to the top, after reading them all. Each one, I think, throws light on the different ways music can craft our memory, and make our world bigger.
For example, here's Vladimir P writing about how a Western song from his childhood seemed to represent the aspirations of his entire family:
"Go West" by the Pet Shop Boys was a very popular song in the mid 90's in Ukraine. My father always pushed me (sometimes physically) to learn English in the hopes that some day we will make it to the West and find a better life. During those difficult times, he somehow managed to find a few British magazines for me to translate and lyrics to "Go West" were one of the first articles I translated to Russian.
When I was twelve my father had a job offer in the United States and I remember that song playing on the radio as he was leaving home. I did not see him for a year, but because that song was always on the radio, I did not feel like he was ever away. To this day that song reminds me of the sacrifices he has made to give his kids a chance at a better life.
Most stories were about father's sharing music with their kids, but sometimes, they were about kids sharing music with the fathers. And for a couple people, that proved to be a transformative moment in the entire relationship. Here's Ben Jones:
The most memorable song I can think of that opened me up to my father was Yellowcard’s "Father." I knew even then that the song then was cliche but it made it much easier to tell my dad how I felt as a teen getting ready to head out of the door for college. For a while I had been telling myself to just sit down and listen to the song with him. I felt maybe this was too in-your-face because sometimes it’s hard for a son to sit down with his father and tell him how he felt about their relationship. I loved my father then as much as I do now even though we were never really that open with each other, but playing this song over and over in my car while I drove alone had a deep overwhelming feeling that I needed to get something off my chest.
No matter how adolescent Yellowcard’s genre and targeted crowd was, it definitely struck home with me and hopefully with my father. Finally I decided to listen to the song with dad and boy, did it ever pay off. There weren’t too many words said afterward but I remembering him smiling and the burning in the eyes. When I woke up the next morning there was a note saying "Thanks sharing that song with me." In the end I can say it actually brought us closer and to this day that song from the silly teen pop-punk band, Yellowcard, reminds me of my Dad.
Pop and I went for a drive to get a beer a couple of years back. We were driving back along a winding road between Paso Robles and the coast and listening to some of my music. I tried to choose music that I thought Pops would like and that would augment a relaxed and lightly beery attitude (nowhere near the legal limit!) and beautiful California countryside. Neko Case's Blacklisted rotated into the changer and it fell perfectly into the mood. About the time "Look for Me (I'll Be Around)" came on, Pops casually remarked that if he ever happened to end up in a coma, he would want me to make the music selections to play at bedside. That was just about the most sentimental thing he's ever said, and I took it as a heartfelt compliment, since from my earliest memories music of his choosing was a constant background to my entire upbringing.
Laura DeNuccio shared a story of how music allows her to remember her best moments with her father, even after his passing:
...Those were his glory days, and we were reminded of by all the stories he would tell us. He even went so far as to karaoke "Soul Man" at the company picnics, and embarrass us with impromptu performances when we had parties at our house. It was impossible to restrain him during the singing or storytelling. He was so happy, his whole face would just light up. You were drawn to that happiness.
For his 50th birthday my family bought him a light blue ‘69 GTO convertible. A near-likeness of the first car he ever owned. We drove it into the back yard blaring "Soul Man," bobbing our heads in black fedoras and sunglasses. His response was, "Holy Shit! Holy Shit! Who let you drive this car?!?
December, over four years ago, something happened to my dad. I visited him for Christmas, and he was not my dad. His face was gray, he had no energy, he had no appetite, he would talk to us but it was as if he wasn’t there. He had no light in his eyes. He hadn’t slept in over 3 months. The doctors attributed this to anxiety and sleep issues; he was never diagnosed with depression.
As I said goodbye to him to return home after the holidays, I gave him a hug and I told him I loved him and to take care of himself. He told me he loved me and started to cry, and in that moment he felt so weak and small it felt as if I was cradling him. The big strong gregarious football player, being held up by his daughter.
A week after I returned home, my mom called me panicked. My father had killed himself.
The brain is a funny thing. One minute working perfectly, the next failing you. I don’t know if it was some freak brain chemistry, the anxiety or sleep drugs, or if it was all the hits he took as an offensive lineman, but something in his brain just snapped and he was gone. It is so incredibly painful to remember my father in so much pain and doubt. He was scared and exhausted, and he took his life. This was one blink of time with in his life, and it is not how any of his friends and family want to remember him.
Instead I think of him singing "Soul Man," driving in his GTO, big smile on his face. That is why on July 17th for my wedding, instead of a traditional father daughter dance, I will be out in the middle of the dance floor with my mom and sister. Doing Dad’s moves to "Soul Man"—the raise roof, the shoveling coal, and probably the walking the dog. I think he would like that.
Chris Hutchinson's story has a visceral appeal, thanks to the physical memory of what it was like to listen to with his father:
...lurking beneath my father’s conventional exterior was a spirit that would not be tamed. My dad hand-built some huge speakers and bought the best stereo and turntable we could afford. About once a week—usually Friday or Saturday night and much to the chagrin of our next-door neighbors—he would put on "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida."
As loud as possible.
The walls of our old house would pulse and rattle to the song and I can remember I couldn’t even hear myself yell. The song seemed to emanate from inside my chest, and eventually I could channel the famous drum solo on just about anything—my bunk bed, school desks, whatever could thump.
.As my brother and sister and I danced around like small Tasmanian Devils, I would glance at my dad. He always had this subtle smile. I think he knew he was imprinting on me a spirit that would not be tamed.
"Dontcha know that I love you, Dad?"
And sometimes, music opens up a side of your father that you might never have known. A. Nevels:
When I was about twelve, I got bored one summer day and snuck my dad's old guitar out of the closet. I'd had some lessons in the past, but had gotten burned out somewhere in between learning "Wipe Out" and "Buffalo Gals." I found an old chord book and got cracking on the basics. When my dad came home, I wasn't sure what he'd think of me making such a ruckus on his baby (I had a Sears Special lying around somewhere), but he was proud and elated. I remember him sitting down, picking up the guitar, and mesmerizing me with a soulful rendition of James Taylor’s "Fire and Rain." He played it just like the record which I’d heard so often, and man, was I jealous. My mom later divulged, blushing, that he played it for her over a picnic just before he proposed. Turns out it’s his bread and butter.
I’ve never stopped playing guitar since that day and have always thought about him every time I’ve heard good ol’ "Fire and Rain."
Amy Brearly told us a story about how music allowed her father to recollect a moment that might have remained sealed up forever, if not for song:
After punching in my CSNY tape into the car radio in high school, my dad listened for a moment and said "this song always reminds me of being in Vietnam." I stopped whatever I was doing because, up to that point, I'd never heard him mention being in the war. "When that happened in Kent State, I wondered why I'd want to go home to a country that could do that. I remember listening to this song and thinking that, when my tour was up, I'd ask your mother to meet me in Australia so I didn't have to go back."
He's a great dad, but that was the most open he'd ever been, and I still remember that feeling 20 years later.
Mary Beth Ayvazian writes about how music reminds her of how her father was rescued from the brink of PTSD, thanks to her mother:
"When I come home at night she will be waiting; She'll be the truest doll in all this world..." and so go the lyrics of "Paper Doll" by the Mills Brothers, my father's favorite song. After flying 60 successful missions in a B-26 Marauder —commonly referred to as "the Widow Maker"—my father returned stateside in 1943. Post-traumatic stress syndrome would not be recognized for decades, but in retrospect, he fit its classic symptoms: intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, tremors, loss of interest and life in general. Binge drinking and a downward spiral seemed to be in his future until a fortuitous blind date arranged by his best friend. My mother walked into his life and love for this truest "doll in all this world" turned his life around, and saved it.
Here's a stunningly awkward story from Margaret Fish:
As a typical 16-year-old girl, I was running around the house trying to get ready for school when I remembered that I had left my favorite lipstick in my parents' bathroom. My dad had been taking a couple days off work to work on building a shed in the back yard for all his tools, golf clubs and other man-hobby materials, so it was unusual that he was home at the time.
I ran into the bathroom to grab my lipstick when I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by the sight of my dad, naked, wet and singing "You're So Vain" at the top of his lungs in the shower. Hearing that song now both cracks me up and makes me shudder from the memory I just can't shake.
And a story of connection across the generations, that might reverberate through the years, from Janet Jones:
My father is 67, a David Letterman look-a-like with the sense of humor to match. He is in late stage 4 cancer. We have been luckier than most as we have had him around for almost 4 years longer than expected. People just don't live this long with brain, bone, lung, liver, spine and kidney cancer. Well, ordinary people don't anyway. My father is far from ordinary.
Dad has always loved Johnny Cash, so my 13 year son learned 'I Walk The Line' on his electric guitar to play for 'Grampie'. The first time he heard his grandson play it, he cried...with pride and I think a bit of surprise. Since I was a kid growing up in East Coast Canada, Johnny Cash was a staple in our house. It is wonderful to hear my son now, play this song and know that it is for his Grandfather—a man that continues to amaze us with his strong will.
But in the end, we had to choose a winner, and that's Jonathan Good, who told a story about how music enabled a turn in his relationship with this father:
"The Living years" by Mike and the Mechanics. Back in the day, I was driving cross country with my dad and this song came on the radio. I think we were both hyper aware that there were some as-yet-unresolved issues between us that needed to be communicated and I could sense the discomfort rise as the lyrics played: "I wasn't there that morning, when my father passed away, I didn't get to tell him all the things I had to say."
And as I drove, he put his hand on my shoulder as if to say, "It alright." We drove into the night and conversation seemed to begin to flow and we talked through the night, probably for the first time ever as if we were protected by the cocoon of our journey and sparked by that song. Years later, whenever I hear the song, it reminds me of that special night which ended like a new beginning for us and I have been so thankful that I won't end up missing having told him that I love him before it's too late.
We'll be sending one pair of Joey Roth's Ceramic speakers to Mr. Good's dad, and we hope they'll be a nice memento of that moment shared by father and son.
A happy Father's Day to everyone that entered! Thanks again.