Happy Birthday, Dads.
Father’s Day is officially 100 years old. It was first celebrated in the State of Washington in June of 1908, and then in Fairmont, West Virginia. Mother’s Day was already celebrated one month earlier, also in West Virginia. While President Calvin Coolidge recommended it as a national holiday, it wasn’t until 1972 that President Nixon signed the order.
Having been a father several times since 1960, and now grandfather of their kids, I have always enjoyed the recognition and love they have bestowed on me, even if it only meant a thoughtful card in the mail or a long distance call. It’s that one time of year when we are reminded how important our dads, (and moms) have been to us.
Unfortunately I never had that privilege. I never sent my father a card on fathers day, nor gave him a hug, nor took him to dinner, nor made eye contact. But he lives in my heart because his creative blood runs through my veins, though he died in 1941. I guess that makes Father’s Day even more significant.
I have come to understand the fathers in our country much more in the last two years, since Dr. Jay Barnhart and I have been entertaining at senior centers, assisted and independent living facilities, day care churches and libraries in general. We bill ourselves as the Dick-Doc Duo because Jay is a retired Medical Examiner, and me a former Homicide Detective, now joined at the musical hip. With him as a fantastic pianist, and me a journeyman violinist, we hit the stage with Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific, Gypsy, Italian, Classical, sing-alongs, and much more. The satisfaction is indescribable. The old farts love us, and we love them. Folks clap, move, dance, sing, like they’ve come alive again, repeating the lyrics to songs from 60 years ago. Sometimes, I play directly into a pair of distant eyes, knowing he or she is in another world somewhere, until the fingers start moving, or the feet start tapping. But it’s not until we start playing hard core Americana that we realize we struck the big chord.
Often, men wear caps depicting the service they gave their country, impaled with pins and signia about their campaigns in Iwo Jima, Corregidor, Korea and South Vietnam. From The Halls Of Montezuma, To The Shores Of Tripoli…. Anchors Aweigh My Boys, Anchors Aweigh… Over Hill Over Dale, We Will Hit The Country Trail…Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory Of … As we play, we watch their eyes roll, their lips move, and their arms sway, a signal that they are in love with their country.
But nothing is as profound…toward the end of our program…when we start “America The Beautiful.” As the notes flow from our instruments, Ohhhh Beautiful, For Spacious Skies, For Amber Waves Of Grain….one by one, these elderly folks in all four corners of the room, who lived, worked and fought to strengthen our nation throughout the 20th century begin standing, women, men, some struggling from their wheelchairs and their walkers, but they stand nonetheless, some even start marching, singing from their soul and with their hands over their hearts…eyes in a far away place, giving us a feeling for love of country I have rarely experienced before. These are the people who lived through the real depression, bread lines, apple carts, then a war where pots and pans were donated to the government to make weapons, cars were not manufactured, and rations were in effect. And I wonder what’s missing in today’s generation? For Jay and I, it inspires our sense of patriotism.
I try to maintain a dry eye as my bow flows across the stings, and my hand quivers with vibrato. I think about each one of their lives, and their history, the individual tragedies they endured, and the sacrifices they made. And now, relegated to a final living place before the final resting place. I often think about the men — the fathers — who fought in battle, or served their country in some manner, or struggled with jobs and family, and wonder if they have anyone who will be there to give them a hug on Father’s Day, to tell them they are loved and appreciated, especially when their own children cannot, for one reason or another. Some don’t even know the holiday is here.
Folks will say it’s depressing. Far from it, it’s an exhilarating experience. Those of you who have no agenda this upcoming Sunday, for whatever reason, why not find a senior center, or an assisted living facility and visit the folks. Bring your poems, your voice, your instruments, pictures, or your love, and show these wonderful human beings they are not forgotten. It’s worth it, I can assure you.
You won’t be sorry.
Sure, I think about the next 20 years, how that may be me, and you, in that wheelchair, appreciating a little offering of music, laughter and attention.