I laughed a lot the last couple of days. It was much needed. I got to hang out with some old friends and made some new friends who made me truly laugh. I haven’t laughed a lot lately and I had missed it. But, I also have struggled some in recent days. I am still mourning the loss of my Dad and several events in recent days have reminded me how raw my emotions still are. I had a high school friend lose her father and I was truly empathetic to her situation. Her Dad seemed a lot like my Dad; a guy who liked to laugh and tell stories. It seems certain that he was a great father and grandfather. I tried to find some words of wisdom for her and the best I could come up with is that we have to cherish our memories and honor our Dads by keeping their spirits alive through stories and most importantly by how we go about our lives.
I also went to see the musical Pippin on Sunday. It was a very good show. There were a lot of acrobatics, some fine singing, and an interesting story to be told. The show itself is sort of disjointed (and some of that is purposeful in the storytelling). I had a young friend tell me that the ending sort of left her a little cold. The ending of Pippin (different productions of the show actually have different endings) is that the young prince ultimately decides that his future and his purpose in life doesn’t lie in anything particularly bold or colorful (which he spent the first act believing was his destiny). In the end he chooses to settle down and make a life out of what comes to him day to day with a young lady and her son. Then, quietly, the young boy comes out and begins to experiment with the spectacle and color that originally attracted Pippin in the first act. It was a sort of circle of life thing.
I sat next to my 16 year old son as I watched it. The last time I saw this show I was probably in my early 20’s. It struck me how differently he (and I 20 years ago) must be seeing the show. He is young Pippin. The world is entirely in front of him and he is trying to figure out what his purpose is. He wants to find his “Corner of the Sky” where his spirit can run free. As his father I want to see him do just that. And yet, I am 48 years old and the colors I seek are a little different than they once were. I have said before that I find myself seeing things, as Billy Joel would say, in “Shades of Grey” (not necessarily 50 shades). I’m not sure whether that is good or bad. The musical Pippin doesn’t make it clear if it is good or bad. Our dreams and our goals change over time. I guess that’s the way it is supposed to be.
After my father passed away I had to look at the files on his computer to find some information and I discovered that he was doing a lot of journaling. He wrote a 60 page letter to my son that I was able to share with my boy. I didn’t read it because it was very specifically labeled “A Letter to my Grandson.” Beyond that he wrote a series of journals. In them he talks about the challenges of growing up a poor young man from Elm Creek, Nebraska. He also wrote about growing old, which it was clear he hated. The grandmother of Pippin had this line in the show, “I believe if I refuse to grow old I can stay young till I die.” That was my Dad. He refused to grow old and in his final days I believe he felt himself getting old, so he made a somewhat conscious decision to die before he felt old. He never did become an old man. My Dad journaled about his frustrations and about his joys. I have found touching reflections he had about conversations between he and I. Happily I have found out that he and I didn’t really have any secrets from one another. In his journals I have tried to find answers about fathering, about being a son, and about life. But, much like the end of the musical Pippin, I am sort of left wondering what I am supposed to do with what I have been given.
I love my wife and my son. I take seriously being a husband and a father. Being a father is the most important thing I will ever do without a doubt. I don’t regret for one day choosing to be married to a loving smart woman and I am certainly a very proud father. That’s all a given, but is there something else out there for me? The song “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin states, “People like the way dreams have of sticking to your soul.” I still dream. I still dream of what the future might hold for me. It isn’t that I don’t appreciated what I do now. I get to make music with young people every day that I go to work. We really do create some beautiful moments. I have been blessed to hear from former students that they believe their lives are better for having been in my classes and in my bands. It is incredibly humbling. And yet, is this what life holds for me?
My father was an accomplished man. There is no doubt that he made the world a better place by helping people fulfill their dreams, and yet at a certain level he had dreams that he wasn’t able to fulfill. He wanted more. As I sat with him after he had passed away and every time I think of him since he died I feel as though there should be some great lesson to be learned in his passing. He taught me hundreds of lessons and yet I feel as though I’m still not able to process that one final lesson that he has for me.
Writing in recent months has been cathartic for me. But, as I reread what I have written I am struck by how many of my thoughts come back to how little I actually know. I am honored that the statistics tell me that hundreds of people are reading what I write. I hope that the messages I share are that it is OK to question, to make mistakes, and to have doubts. I also hope that people see hope in the things I see in my job and in my life. I continue to believe that our lives aren’t about the “what”, but that they are about the “who”. I tell my students regularly that the fact that the class that I teach is band isn’t important, but rather that we give ourselves entirely to the idea that we have an opportunity to do something great together each and every day, even if no one else gets to share in those opportunities other than those of us in the room.
Maybe that’s the magic that we get to do. Maybe the magic is in the quiet evenings at home where we talk about our days as a family. Maybe the magic is in a meal shared or in a story told. Certainly the magic is in the people we choose to spend our time with. Maybe the magic is in making music with my students. I’m still searching for the epiphany that I believe my Dad left for me. In the meantime I will enjoy quiet times with the wife and son that I love and I will enjoy making music with young people who I know will become incredible adults. The musician Warren Zevon was dying of cancer when he was interviewed by David Letterman and Letterman asked him what he knew about life that maybe the rest of us didn’t know. His advice was to “enjoy every sandwich.” It seems like pretty good advice, so for the moment I plan to enjoy every sandwich and in the mean time continue to make myself vulnerable to accept an epiphany. Maybe the lesson is that epiphanies aren’t so much found but simply come when you least expect them.