“This is the price you pay for having a great father. You get the wonder, the joy, the tender moments – and you get the tears at the end too.” Harlan Coben
I heard my father sing last night, which is infrequent since he died on his birthday in 1982. We have only three recordings of his voice, all done by my brother Barry with a tape deck brought up to the choir loft at Blessed Sacrament Church when my Dad sang at my cousin Mary’s wedding. Here’s one of them in a footnote: Sacrament Divine.[i]
He sang many times at that church. My earliest indelible memories of church are sitting in that loft alone with him and the organist as I watched the Latin Mass unfold below from a privileged vantage point. In last night’s dream, possibly prompted by visiting some new friends, one of whom, Caroline, still possesses the lovely Irish lilt of her girlhood near Derry in Northern Ireland. Or possibly my dream was a most welcome Father’s Day gift with a promise of singing once again with my Dad.
Dad had a rare Irish tenor with a good range and steady, but never a voice lesson that I know of, unless his mother taught him some things. He bemoaned excessive vibrato and would have been appalled at the current fashion of so many superfluous notes and flourishes that bedevil modern interpretation. The ability to hold a single note without unnecessary side adventures was a valuable attribute for my father. Mario Lanza and later the incomparable Luciano Pavarotti were favorites of his. To put it into his perspective, Bing Crosby passed muster, but Frank Sinatra was a bit too creative. And Elvis, well, Elvis was a pretender and a heretic. I’m happy for him that he missed Tupac.
He loved to sing to the crowd at any opportunity, especially the old Irish and Irish American songs. From “Mother Machree” and “Wild Irish Rose” to “Clancy Lowered the Boom.” After a few drinks he might venture to the piano and belt out an exuberant “Blue Moon” with some inexpert, but enthusiastic chords. But the show stopper of course was “Danny Boy.” There would always follow a silence with long stares and even some tears after his “Danny Boy.”
His mother was an Irish immigrant of the County Galway Lannons; she was a professional singer in touring vaudeville shows. She died young of tuberculosis, and he never knew his father, who disappeared into the mist during WWI. The Irish aunts never spoke of the father. Neither did my Dad. There was an interpretation that senior died in France in the trenches, but there remains the possibility he returned to his wandering ways as a vaudeville show manager. Despite some effort, I have not yet found out the truth, and all that know have long since left the stage. The aunts and uncles took her in and her baby in 1917, so the culture in which my father was raised with a French name was thoroughly Irish.
World War Two killed my father but took thirty-seven years to finish the job. Like many other combat veterans, he became deeply addicted to tobacco with the habit reinforced by free cartons of Lucky Strikes passed out by the American Tobacco Company and the U.S. Army. Captured in the Ardennes at the Battle of the Bulge, he endured terrifying threats from his captors. Twice he was lined up in the late winter snow with fellow prisoners, and his mocking guards dropped the tailgate of the truck that led them into the field, unveiled the machine gun behind the canopy and jacked home the first round. After a tense half a minute, they would laugh and move out. The second time, his captors simply left the prisoners in the field and drove off with Patton’s army in close pursuit, and my father was free.
He married his sweetheart within a few weeks of returning home. She was the twin sister of his closest Army buddy, my uncle Sonny Laracy, my Dad’s partner on scouting missions in a Jeep for the Ninth Armored Infantry. He finished up as a sergeant. With his love, Betty, now ninety-seven, they parented six children who love them still and miss their Dad.
Happy Father’s Day, Pop. You sang wonderfully in my dream – note perfect. I hope to sing with you again.
4 responses to “Father’s Day”
Lovely reflection of your father and up-front honesty about your family. Thank you for the post and the song!
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Love you Dad. Wish I could have known him and remembered him better. I bet in heaven his voice sounds even better and at the same time exactly as you remember. Happy Father’s Day XO
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I have very fond memories of singing the Latin version of Ave Maria as a duet with Pop. I remember he was singing in a show at the Blackburn,the high school or elsewhere in town. He practiced a bit but always had a half pint of brandy or another form of “sing juice”, similar to swing juice on a golf course for the big performances. Can’t say that I blame him, been there, done that……
He and I played golf quite a few times, Brook Meadow, in Canton, was one of his favorite course’s due to the close proximity to his clients should he need to get somewhere quick. He was a big swinger and it went where he wanted it to more often than not, he was clearly a gifted athlete in pre war days I’m certain of that. In retrospect Dad was a poster child for PTSD and I am pretty sure he also had neuropathy, remember the restless leg that Mom used to complain about? I can relate, believe me.
I also hope to reconvene the sing a longs someday, tee it up and throw one back with “No Rack Jack”. His very affectionate nick name as a result of the Walpole Woodworker lore of his neglecting to adjust for the rack ( change in elevation up or down) of a fence sale….and sell he coudd!
The install guys ( me included) would be a section short or long ( long was preferable) as a result. I remember Dad bringing a case of beer from which he would give 6 packs to the crews on Fridays from time to time…..they loved him for it.
I wish my boys could have met him.
I love you Dad.
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