“Don’t play that song for me/‘cuz it brings back memories/Of the day that I once knew/The day I spent with you”
— Lyrics written by Betty Nelson and Ahmet Ertegun; song interpreted by Aretha Franklin
I love music. There are some songs that when they come on, from the very first note, it’s like a religious experience. For me, these songs include “Everyday is like Sunday” by the Smiths; “Everyday I Write the Book” by Elvis Costello; “Take it to the Limit” by the Eagles and, going way back, “Kentucky Rain” by Elvis Presley. Those songs have literally worked their way down into my soul.
Another song that’s just magical for me is Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey.” I think I may have heard it first on the 70s music channel or during the closing credits of 1997 film starring Peter Fonda, “Ulee’s Gold.” I love everything about the song, from the acoustic guitars to the flutes playing the delicate melody.
And though I love the almost-seven minute song, it’s not an easy one to slow dance to, as I found out.
I hadn’t listened to “Tupelo Honey” since the night of November 3, 2001. That’s a long time to go without hearing one of your favorite tunes.
I played it recently and it triggered all sorts of strong memories and emotions in me. It continues to be one of my favorites. I love the lyrics, “You can’t stop us, on the road to freedom, you can’t stop us, ‘cuz our eyes can see, men within sight, men in granite, knights in armor intent on chivalry.”
The last time I listened to that song, and tried to dance to it, was on the night of my wedding. It was the song that I danced to with my father, Robert Dale Carter, who’s been gone now for more than four years.
Is there anything more special to a woman than dancing with her father on her wedding day? I can’t think of many moments more poignant than that.
My relationship with my father, to put in simple terms, was complicated. My father never expressed emotions very well. And it was always difficult for me to talk to him and relate to him.
It’s even more difficult to write about him, considering my complicated emotions I have over my dad. I spent so many years being angry at my father for what he couldn’t express to me. He was a man beset by issues that kept him from expressing things that he felt.
My father grew up in a generation that didn’t express feelings overtly. It was culturally-sanctioned for my father to be angry, to be explosive at times, or to clam up. He could even be silly. I still laugh when I think of him getting wildly excited anytime the theme song to “Sanford and Son” came on. Anyone who was around in the 70s knows that show. My dad was a lot like Fred Sanford – crusty, seemingly in need of care, and armed with a biting wit.
But tenderness? That’s not something my father dabbled in.
My father was a mystery to me. He still is. When I danced with him on my wedding night, we seemed to be out-of-step for most of the dance. I wanted to go a little faster to the beat and he seemed to hang back a bit. I wanted the experience to be special and it fell a bit short.
It was not unlike how our relationship was overall as father and daughter – clumsy, awkward, with a feeble and dismissive joke thrown in at the end to try to lighten things up and push away emotions.
My father passed away from lung cancer more than four years ago. I love my father tremendously. It is only through distance that the true picture of my father comes into sharper focus. He was a man who I perceived as insecure, discontent and awkward around other people. He was reclusive and tended to stick with people he knew. Some of my family members remember him as “grouchy.” Others called him “adorable” and the consummate host at parties. I remember him most as “irascibly lovable.” That’s my own phrase for him.
I know my father loved me. It was just hard for him to let me know this. That’s sad. It’s left me wondering about things.
I think about my dad often. Even as he was nearing death, he was reticent to open up and be vulnerable. Being vulnerable can be terrifying. I think it was for my father.
I realize I’m tardy in posting this blog. Father’s Day was June 21. It’s been a process, mourning the loss of my father. It’s always a process. It could be easy to complain and tally up all the ways my father didn’t meet my expectations growing up. But I know I have to accept him for what he was. There was no way to change him.
Wherever you are, Dad, just know that I love you. You are, in a word, irreplaceable. So we may never be dance partners, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t compatible as father and daughter.