Father anthologies

September 13, 2004 at 12:01 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Father anthologies

Some of my friends are facing the death of parents, and a few are probably experiencing the full range of conflicting emotions that comes with this territory. Very few people have had “perfect” relationships with their progenitors, yet oh!, how we strive, we strive…

Take fathers, for example: we all know seemingly endless examples of troubled father-son and father-daughter pairings. But it was at a funeral for a man who wasn’t a father himself that I had a glimpse into a facet of the father-son relationship. One of the mourners was a man, himself a father, whose own father had died a year before: I happen to know the details of their sometimes troubled relationship, the failings and shortcomings, the wishes and desires the son had lain at his father’s feet. The man we came to mourn, Steve, had no children, yet he had been the perfect father to many children, as well as a shining example for men trying to figure out their own roles as men, as sons and as fathers. We entered the synagogue for his memorial service and were greeted by the sound of jazz, including Horace Silver‘s Peace. The space was filled to capacity and beyond, and one after another, men came to the front to talk about Steve’s influence in their lives. He was a mentor, a teacher, a joker, …an example. The conflicted father-son relationship sometimes crystallises most acutely for the son when he realises that he wants to redeem his father by being a good one to his children. Sometimes it’s simply a question of figuring out how that father could have let him be a good son.

Yesterday I was listening to Leon Thomas’s Anthology — rooting around online for lyrics to his version of “Song for My Father,” I was reminded that it was written by Horace Silver, the same man who composed Peace.

For me, the trouble bubbles to the surface when I read a book by a woman who dedicates it “To my mother,” and whose preface explains how the mother nourished the daughter’s dreams and ambitions. From an apparently bottomless pit sounds this lament: Why couldn’t I have a mother like that? That’s when I know that I have to, as my father used to say, “pull myself along by my own nose.” Man, that hurts: my poor nose!

When all is said and done, Horace Silver’s words (and Leon Thomas’s stunning vocal rendition) are a much kinder way of pulling oneself up. It’s an ideal to strive for, because if there’s an “inner child,” there’s also an “inner father” and an “inner mother.” We may as well visualise them with a full array of virtues. Twenty years ago, I would have dismissed these lyrics, out of pain, as kitsch. Thanks to people like Steve, I know a bit better:

Song For My Father

If there was ever a man
Who was generous, gracious and good
That was my dad
The man
A human being so true
He could live like a king
‘Cause he knew
The real pleasure in life

To be devoted to
And always stand by me
So I’d be unafraid and free

If there was ever a man
Who was generous, gracious and good
That was my dad
The man
A human being so true
He could live like a king
‘Cause he knew
The real pleasure in life

To be devoted to
And always stand by me
So I’d be unafraid and free

If there was ever a man
Who was generous, gracious and good
That was my dad
The man, The man

— by Horace Silver

Lest anyone think that Leon Thomas’s Anthology is all sweetness and light, however, it ain’t. It also includes Marcus Garvey’s 1934 poem, The World is Hell, set to music as the song, Shape your mind to die:

The World is Hell as man shows it;
The creatures are of steel;
To live is of superior wit,
To fail is thus to feel.

No smile is genuine my friend,
It’s all a pleasing lie;
Be ever ready to defend
Or shape your mind to die.

— by Marcus Garvey

There’s just never one convenient way of doing and thinking, is there? Peace…

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