Saturday, June 4, 2016


I guess many of us tired old bloggers are at the time of life where we are beginning to evaluate/re-evaluate our fathers, as so touchingly displayed in J. David's piece below. I lost my own pa nearly 30 years ago, his memory now more benign presence than black hole, but this is neither about me nor him, being more an opportunity to, possibly, introduce, a name less well known than I would like, one Martin Simpson.
For me, as a UK based folkie, his name has always been bubbling under my surface tensions, a perennial on the listings pages over decades, cropping up in good company yet never quite as celebrated as the company kept: he has appeared with June Tabor and been a member of the Albion (Country/Dance) Band on occasion. His style is an interesting hybrid of an english tradition, albeit with odd tunings, spun with a delta blues bottleneck bravadaccio, honed from years resident in the U.S., styles that are seldom played alongside each other. And devoutly acoustic, no mean hand also on banjo. However, in recent years, into his 4th decade of recordings, he has hit a purple patch of masterful solo records and a slew of collaborations within which he has seemed the patrician guiding focus. Awards and accolades have tumbled around him in swathes, his admirers including one Richard Thompson, who has said:  “I am a big fan of Martin's playing. Perhaps the highest praise I could give is to say that he never stops getting better!” Here they are playing together.

But what has this to do with fatherhood? Time for the song:

I just love the apparent disparagement of the lyric, the way the narrative catalogues the shortcomings, perhaps being the voices of criticism the boy Martin heard of his father in childhood, the sums thereof unwittingly combining to produce an adorable image of a wonderful father, hang the husband, breadwinner stuff, just a lovely and loved man who adored his son. OK, perhaps a rose tinted memoir, but one that effortlessly has me welling up even just thinking about the song. Live in concert it has a particular poignancy, as Simpson describes how he, as the son of an older father, his father being over 50 when he was born, himself became a first time father in his 50s. The hope he can be the same to his son exudes from every pore of his being. And maybe the song is right. Why is it that the workplace statistics of a man are so more highly celebrated than the more ethereal family persona? The list of giants of politics, business and, yes, even the arts are littered with distant figures from their  neglected progeny and worse, cruel and insensitive parenting almost de rigeur for the self-made man.

There are other songs by others that touch on similar territory. Some perhaps even written with the insight of having not been themselves the father they reminisce so fondly of. To all intents and purposes, Ian Dury seems not to have been an easy man but his song to his father hits a similar vein:

Isn't it the truth, as we get older, abetted by those annoying and increasing similarities in the mirror, far from hoping we won't become our fathers, as teenagers, in time, inevitably, we do.

Buy the studio version of 'Never Any Good' and hope your own sons will think so kindly.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Father: One Hell Of A Life

Katell Keineg: One Hell Of A Life

This was originally posted on my personal blog, Another Old Guy, but considering the theme, I really can't imagine posting anything else. My father died on May 15. My family had a week to get our acts together and to allow family to fly in from out of town. We had a celebration of his life on May 22, at which friends and family talked about their memories of my dad. He was a very funny guy, and most of the speakers tried to honor his memory with some humor. Here's what I said:

My father wasn’t famous. Except maybe in his own mind. But he was my hero.

He taught me so much. I won’t say that he taught me everything, because he didn’t. I learned lots from my amazing mother, my family, my teachers and professors, my friends, colleagues and, of course, my wife. Who had to fix a few things my father taught me....

I don’t want to focus on most of the things Dad taught me, like how to throw a ball, ride a bike, shoot a basket, hit a forehand, drive a car, or burn meat on the grill, but on three big things, which are related, I guess.

First, he taught me to always try to do the right thing, not because of fear, but because it was the right thing. He never sat me down and said, “Son, always do the right thing,” but as far as I could see, that was how he modeled his life. Which is not to say that he was a saint, or followed every rule to a T. I mean, he was a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer in New York City, and there are some stories....

I’m not going to dwell on that, because, frankly, it is dull, and I’ve said all that I can say, really. Instead, the second thing I want to talk about is how he taught me to be a father. Dad worked hard. He got up every morning, went to work and came home. But I don’t remember many times that he wasn’t home by dinner time or had to work on a weekend, which gave us the chance to spend time together, talking, playing ball, watching TV or listening to music. He taught me that spending time with your family was more important than work, which may have hurt my career, but made me realize what the correct allocation of time was. Woody Allen, whose humor Dad introduced me to, once supposedly said, “80 percent of life is just showing up.” And Dad was there for us way more than 80%. He was at performances, assemblies and games (and if he never had shown up at my soccer games in high school, I don’t think I ever would have gotten off the bench). He took me to museums, shows, sporting events, and to hang out with him in court. He was there when I was admitted to practice, and moved my admission to the Southern District. He met Katharine before my mother did, when I was moving apartments, and he famously reported that she “put in a full day’s work.” And he continued to be there for my kids, attending plays, performances, more soccer games and other events for as long as he was able. Even after he was sick, he actually came to watch me coach a soccer team of boys he didn’t know, because I told him that they were a fun team to watch. And he didn’t even like soccer.

Dad taught me that you need to respect your kids, and give them as much responsibility as they can handle. That you need to give your kids freedom to make their own choices and decisions, while being there to give advice, counsel and support. And he taught me that even when your kids become adults, you still need to be there for them, to support them and advise them, without trying to run their lives.

The last thing I want to highlight is how he taught me to be a husband. Never in my life can I remember a time that my father didn’t light up when my mother entered a room. I never remember a time that he didn’t look at her with complete love and admiration and respect. I saw that he treated her as his best friend, his partner and equal in all ways. That didn’t mean that there weren’t “spheres of influence,” areas that he took the lead, as there were areas that Mom was in charge. But even though Mom, for most of my childhood, was a stay at home mom, I never once got the impression that he considered her role in the family any less important than his, or that she was in any way less than him. Maybe that stemmed from the fact that she had tutored him in high school algebra or not, but that was the kind of relationship I looked for, and was lucky to find.

Dad did, however, like to wind me up . . . occasionally . . . particularly with respect to his apparent belief in the “sports announcer’s curse”—that what the play by play guys said, somehow affected the game. It made me crazy that a man of reason and logic such as my dad would even pretend—and I’m not sure he was totally pretending—to believe in such a superstition. But even with that, I will certainly miss watching games with him. I said to Katharine the other day that I was sad that the Mets just missed winning the Series in what would turn out to be his last full season as a fan, but I also realized that, considering that he lived nearly 3 years after his diagnosis, like the last Mets season, he made it interesting longer than expected, and gave us what could only be considered as bonus happiness.

Anyone who knows me knows that I often try to tie things to music, and in preparing for today, I listened to a great song, not one that is at all well-known, so it appeals to my music snobdom, and not one that Dad would ever have heard. It is by the Breton/Welsh folk-rock singer Katell Keineg, and it is called “One Hell of A Life.” It is written from the perspective of someone who is dying, and she sings, in a sentiment that I think Dad would have appreciated, “When I’m dead please don’t philosophize or feel regret, just remember when I said: I had one hell of a life.” As much as I will miss Dad, I can honestly say I have no regrets about our relationship. We spent lots of time together, we talked regularly, and constantly told each other, and showed each other, how much we loved each other. And he had one hell of a life.