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Say It Loud, Say It Clear

The musician and his daughter
The musician and his daughter

Say It Loud, Say It Clear

Over the weekend I watched a documentary on a free preview of the Showtime network.  I’m not afraid nor am I ashamed to admit that it was on the band Genesis.  I know there’s some backlash, particularly since the shift from music in the 1970’s to the 1980’s and today when people have some chip on their shoulder about the band.  I’m not sure why, perhaps it was the second lead singer, Phil Collins, having been everywhere from on television to a cop on the film Hook to doing the soundtrack to Disney cartoons.

That said, I’ve always liked them, no shame or afterthought to that statement.

But this isn’t about them, at least not particularly.  No throwback to the 1980’s or melancholy or wishing things were like when I was a kid.  Genesis is just the impetus of one of the sweeter surprises I’ve had in some time.

The picture up there is from the 1990’s, not long after my oldest daughter was born.  She’s the infant in my arms, on a stage, Clapton Stratocaster around my neck, while I have long hair and look something like a character from the movie Death at a Funeral.  My wife took that photo, though I can say I never thought she was particularly pleased to be there.  This was my band, with my brother a member, playing at a summer festival in Omaha.

My wife had little or no use for my being a musician.  It didn’t make a ton of money – which isn’t at all what I was performing for in the first place.  It didn’t focus on our relationship or on her, except the couple songs I’d written about her or us.  Neither of those was easy enough to pull off live so there was no focus for her.  She wasn’t at all convinced this was a good idea.  In my defense, I just cannot stop being a musician.  It’s in my DNA.  It’s like that Stratocaster is part of my left arm and if you removed it I may as well bleed out.  I will also argue that there were months, in the bleakest of times when she was in Pharmacy school and I was working two jobs to keep the heat on in our home that we ate due to the gigs I played.  It wasn’t a ton of money, but it was money and every dime counted.

Living Years

Watching the Genesis documentary they brought up each of their solo careers.  Sure, Phil Collins had one; a stellar one, in fact.  But the guitarist, Mike Rutherford, had a band and still plays much of the time with his own band, Mike and the Mechanics.  After a start with one singer they switched to another singer, from the band Squeeze, named Paul Carrack.  The album came out in 1988, some years prior to that photo of my daughter and I but it continued to get some airplay.

As Rutherford recounted the fact he couldn’t sing and that may have affected his ability to sell the millions of records like Collins, my daughter looked over at me with a smile.

“Mom always thought you sounded just like him, did she ever tell you that?”
I looked at my daughter and at the television and was more than a little bewildered.  “Like Paul Carrack?!”
“Yeah.  She never told you that?”
“No!  I would have remembered that.  That’s a helluva compliment.”
“She was right.”  She looked at my son sitting next to me and asked him . . .  “don’t you think Dad sounds like that guy?”
My son just looked up, matter-of-fact, “yeah.”
“I can’t believe Mom never told you that,” she said, confused.

In less than two months it will have been four years since my wife passed away.  We had an interesting relationship.  Always loving, always friends, and often contentious.  Music was part of our lives but not always a part she wanted.  I always had a dream, even with 1, 2, then 4 kids of making a living doing it.  She never thought that was practical or realistic.

But then she’d surprise me.  She always did.  I never made the connection nor have I ever claimed to be of the caliber that Paul Carrack is.  I’ll take the complement, nonetheless.

Now, almost four years after she’s gone, I hear that she heard my voice and heard possibilities.  I knew her well enough to know that’s what was going through her head.  When she’d dismiss recordings I’d make she’d tell her daughter or friends that her boyfriend/husband sounded like Paul Carrack.  Should I be mad that she never told me?  No.  Not a whip.

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Today I’m sitting home, recording, getting ready to find funds to hit the studio and hire a drummer and bassist to put a full record together.  Where I’ve been frustrated trying to get that chord progression right or my computer gives me CPU errors during a take or I just can’t get the lyrics the way I want I’ve been frustrated and silent of late.

And then this comes, out of nowhere, blasting through, and I feel a pride I hadn’t known for awhile.  Pride in the fact she heard something in my voice, even if she never voiced it to me herself, not in that way.

This weekend she said it loud, said it clear.

It’s just up to me to listen.

Scenes of unimportance, photos in a frame . . .

If you talk to most real estate agents, you’ll be told how much they hate family photos and mementos hanging about, on the walls, propped up on the bookshelf. I never understood how having indications that you’re comfortable enough in where you are that you’ve made this part of your family; part of your life.

I always liked a line from an old Genesis song (I know, Phil critics, but I always thought he was insanely talented and oddly poetic, Susudio aside), even though it’s a lyric in a strangely creepy song. “Scenes of unimportance, photos in a frame, things that go to make up a life.”

To anyone else who walks into our home, looks on the wall, sees the photos hanging up, there’s no indication that there’s anything different. I hung up our family photos, the pictures taken by our friend who has a business called Photographer in the Family (her link is on the top of this blog) dotted throughout the house. It’s a snapshot of our lives, a rare moment without exhaustion after the twins were born, even Andrea smiling after half her face suffered paralysis by the virus attacking her nerves.

I worry about what happens next. Every day it’s like we grow a little stronger and our memory of Andrea grows a little weaker. We’ve managed so many major events in our lives, it seems like it’s impossible that in 3 short days it will be 8 months since we lost her.

We made it through her birthday, a day that was always unnerving for me anyway, but the next big holiday, the one that Andrea did up brilliantly every year is tomorrow: Thanksgiving. I’m having the dinner at our house, cooking the turkey, making my Mom’s famous dressing, all of it. But I ache as I make all these preparations because I know it’s not going to be the same, it just can’t be. I can put out the china, I can make the food (I always did anyway, no change there) but it’s her presence, that essence of Andrea that was always so pervasive in the holiday that’s gone.

Years ago, in that little house in Omaha, we had everyone over. My family, Andrea’s, her best friend, so many people that we put all the leaves in our dining room table. So many that you couldn’t get through the dining room to the kitchen, you had to go out the front door, around to the back yard and enter the kitchen by the back door. It was a crazy, mixed-up holiday, but it was beautiful. She had the table wrapped in gold, off-white candles burning with gold bows around their holders and white flowers on the table. Abbi was tiny, sitting in a chair at the table but so small you could barely see her above the level of the wood. It was insane, cramped and perfect.

Now we have to face these holidays without her. I’ve had to face them without her. The person who helped plan all these events, that woman’s touch to those scenes of unimportance, is missing. She’s not here to make the room bright. She hasn’t been for the major events this year.

Just a couple weeks after she died, I had to celebrate the boys’ birthday. I had no idea how I’d get through that day, particularly since Andrea was always so integral, so brilliant at coming up with ideas for their birthdays. In the end, I chose to have a simple party, just our family, their cousins and Aunt coming over. I didn’t want them to have to deal with everyone acting awkward and crazy and insensitive on what was supposed to be their day. They’d only just gotten back to school after the funeral and were dealing with everyone handling them with kid gloves. Nobody knows what to do, not that I blame them, when they see someone with such a senseless loss. Perhaps the better adjective is inexplicable?

There’s simply no explanation to why something like this could happen. Andrea didn’t get someone so angry they killed her. This wasn’t a stalker; not an ex-boyfriend; no drugged out oxycontin hooked thief shooting her for narcotics. She died in a hospital of an infection. One day she was here and the next, quite literally, she was gone, leaving the 5 of us to try and figure it all out.

People don’t know what to do, we don’t fit into one of their neat, easy categories. It frustrates them that we don’t fit into the box. Andrea wasn’t murdered, so they can’t be horrified. She didn’t have cancer so they can’t pronounce their support for a cure. She didn’t jump off a bridge so they can’t discuss her personal demons. Never mind him, he’s just the guy who lost his wife. Never mind them, they just lost their mom.

He’s a single parent now. That fits. Put him in that box.

We have a family friend whom I have gotten much closer to since Andrea passed away. The reason being that she faced the same thing – she lost her husband. She’s light years ahead of where I am now, physically, emotionally, mentally even, but has been invaluable in understanding the frustration and madness. She told me something I think is the most brilliant and insightful thing I’ve ever heard.

We aren’t single parents.

Do you get why that is? Those two words: “single parent” have a completely different connotation. In today’s society it implies choice. It implies that my four children are the product of a marriage that fell apart because the husband and wife couldn’t get along and it broke apart their home. It implies that there was a choice made, a thought-out decision based on the actions of two people.

I’m not a single parent. I didn’t choose this. I certainly didn’t want it. We may have had our problems, the valleys to our hills in the path of our lives, but at no point were we on the verge of divorce. I spent every waking moment they would allow in that hospital. I took care of her when she was sick. I clenched my teeth when she would get upset for what I thought were pointless reasons. I failed her on nearly every birthday. But I never thought about leaving her.

No, I’m not a single parent. I’m their Dad. I’m their parent. Out of the box.

What I worry about now isn’t planning the events or even making them happen. I can get a birthday party to happen. I can cook Thanksgiving dinner, maybe even decorate the table and make a nice presentation. No, I’m not worried about the event itself, I’m worried about what getting through that event or holiday means. I’ve told you before that I loved the Fall with Andrea. Each event, particularly Thanksgiving and the upcoming Christmas, prove not only that we can do this without her, it shows that we can. I have to do it, but I absolutely hate it.

We have these holidays because they’re supposed to be our family, but our family’s different now.

No longer do I look up and see those pictures and see them as scenes of unimportance. They’re not just photos in a frame – but they are the things that go to make up a life. Our life. It’s a snapshot of so much promise, so much foresight and anticipation.

We think of these things and those times and realize that the life we were seeing in those moments is not the life we’re living now. We keep those photos in the frames to remind us of how wonderful it was when she was around.

I can only hope that someday we can add to them, putting other pictures on the wall, the scenes of a different life.

I can only hope that we can have that anticipation again without the kids feeling like they are just so many scenes of unimportance.

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One of those NEW scenes of unimportance

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