Archive for June 2011

A song for Father’s Day

June 15, 2011

In honour of Father’s Day, I’d like to share my favourite column that I wrote when I was working at PG This Week, a twice weekly paper in Prince George, BC (it was sister paper to The Prince George Citizen until it folded a few years back). Since I wrote this, my dad is now “Grumpa” to five grandchildren. He and my mom are not only terrific parents who have always shown my brother and I unconditional love and support, but are also wonderful grandparents, which makes living far away from them that much harder.

 

In my mind, my dad sings Pony Man by Gordon Lightfoot better than the famous singer himself. This is because the song coming from the lips of my father is one of my most favourite childhood memories. He must have sang it to us once on his own – so long ago now I can’t remember the first time – but my brother and I came to love the bedtime melody with a great deal of passion. We’d refuse to go to sleep, and would chant, “Pony Man! Pony Man!” Then he’d be obliged to sing the song for us for the hundredth time.

It was an entire ritual, the Pony Man bedtimes. Dad would tuck us in, then leave us transfixed as the story of a group of children enjoying a nighttime rendez-vous unfolded.

We were impressed as much by his ability to carry a tune as we were by his creativity. He’d change some of the words to make it fit our own lives. In the verse that goes: “There’s Tom and Dick and Sally, and Mary Jo and me,” dad would make us giggle with: “There’s Tom and mom and Darren, and Carrie Lynn and me.” It made us feel all the more special – famous, even – to be sung about in a popular song. And when we were young, we could imagine that dad’s version of the song was the real one, and that everyone else who ever listened to it would know our names.

My dad has been known to sing a few songs now and then. Our family favourite from car trips was the one about the man who marries late in life, only to discover on his wedding night that his new bride has no real hair of her own, but wears a wig, fake eyelashes, and has many other prosthetic body parts. The chorus goes, in a light, lilting tone: “He’s a very unfortunate, very unfortunate, very unfortunate man.”

There have been numerous life lessons I’ve learned from my dad. Many of these are now woven into the web of my own personal values. Though always a protector and a provider, dad has never been demure about the fact that life isn’t always fair. And when it isn’t, what I’ve learned from him is to work through it. Giving up gets you nowhere.

We get a different kind of support from the dad’s in our lives than we do from our moms. As the nurturers, moms are often the parent who will talk things through with her children, everything from what to wear, to how to deal with puberty. I’ve found that mom is even, sometimes, the one who verbalizes what dad is feeling when he can’t express it in so many words himself. A dad’s silence is often his strength. I’ve acquired an awful lot of respect for that silence, for out of it comes the plain and simple truth of a matter.

It’s like the last line of the final verse in Pony Man: “We head for port again, and down the whirling staircase, so swift our ponies fly, and we’re safely in our beds again when the sunbeams touch the sky.”

That image of security, and of a locale not geographically located but a place in my own heart, is the one I cherish always as a fond reminder of my dad.

After years of shelving the song, Grumpa recently printed the lyrics off the internet, and now sings Pony Man for his grandchildren.

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