ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

DON'T SING, DADDY!

I was sitting in Church some years ago, singing along with the rest of the congregation, when all of a sudden I noticed something soft and sticky sliding across my cheek until it came to rest over my mouth, where it clamped down. Tight.

I recognized the familiar smell, a distinctive mix of Life Savers, Cheeriors and spit. It was then-3-year-old Jonathan's hand. And the way he had it over my mouth made singing difficult.

"Jon!" I mumbled through his pudgy fingers. "Daddy can't sing!"

He smiled. I reached up to pull his hand away, and his smile quickly faded.

"Don't sing, Daddy," he said seriously, almost pleadingly. "Don't sing!"

His words bounced around in my brain, dislocating memories that had been tucked away for years. And suddenly I understood what Jonathan was thinking - and what he was feeling. In fact, I began to understand a LOT of things. Like why my older children take turns sitting by me in church.

And why little children sitting in front of me always turn around and stare when I sing. And why Jon's big sister Elizabeth asked me not to sing along with the "Lion King" tape to which we were listening while driving around on errands the previous Saturday.

Suddenly it all made sense to me. There could only be one explanation.

Sometime when I wasn't looking, I became my father.

I should have picked up on it the first time I found myself nursing a single soft drink serving throughout the course of an entire afternoon - and evening. Or when the family that lives at the end of the block started complaining about my snoring. Or when some unknown source began compelling me to tell every waitress: "You're a good cook!"

It's all stuff that my Dad used to do that drove me crazy - until I started doing it.

Take the singing thing, for example. It wasn't that my father was a bad singer. Far from it. He had a beautiful bass voice, full and rich, and he could always sing his bass part superbly well. The thing that was so disconcerting to me as a child was that he was so darn loud about it. His big voice would boom out over the congregation, as if he was Gladys Knight and the rest of us were his Pips. It used to make me cringe every Sunday.

Sort of like what my kids do these days, now that I think about it.

Of course, now I understand where that big voice came from, and only part of it had to do with lungs and vocal chords. The rest of it had to do with his love of music, his passion for singing and his deep faith and total commitment to the sentiments expressed in the hymns we sang. Even today, when I go to church with him in the Alzheimer's care center where he lives, the one thing he can do almost as well as he ever could is sing. And when you put my bellowing tenor with his powerful bass . . . well, we make heads turn. That much is certain.

Somehow it reminds me of that song from "The Lion King" that Elizabeth didn't want me to sing - the one about "The Circle of Life." In families and just about everything else, what goes around comes around. Lion cubs become the King of the Forest. Legislative minorities become the party in power. The quarterback who can't win the big one becomes Super Bowl MVP.

And embarrassed children become embarrassing parents.

Sticky fingers notwithstanding.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com.