Tag Archives: Fatherhood

Blue Impala – On Father’s Day

RBW Sr. early 60s

RBW Sr. early 60s

Father’s Day has always been an unusual day for me. Prior to my son Jack’s birth in 1998, it wasn’t a happy day. But now it is, at least partly. Yes, it’s the day my son and his mom make a fuss over me, and that’s very sweet indeed. And it’s an opportunity for me to reflect on this most important aspect of my life; fatherhood defines me more than anything, and makes me feel blessed. But Father’s Day, for me, is also a time of deep, melancholy wonder.

I wonder how things might have been different, had my own father, Robert Burke Warren, Sr. – Burke to his family and friends – not died on April 11th, 1972, just after I turned 7. He was 30.

Jack’s birth has brought lasting joy in the face of a vacuum in my life, but Father’s Day still finds me longing, occasionally angry (less so these days), and stubbornly curious about what might have been, how my dad would have aged, changed, and whether he’d be a Mac guy or a PC guy. I think about the man who, even though I only knew him for a brief period, shaped me, and whose shaping I both accept and continually fight against.

Burke’s death was tragic and mysterious. He was an ex-Marine, and, like his parents, an alcoholic. One night, after carousing with his cousin,  he drove drunk at high speed into an embankment off I-85 in Atlanta, and killed himself, by accident or by design I will never know. By all accounts, he was depressed (a proclivity I inherited), unemployed, and perhaps, like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman (spoiler alert) he knew his heirs would receive benefits in the event of his death. (Which my brother and I did.) But like I said, I’ll never know. My last memory of my dad, I’m happy to say, is of him playing guitar at my 7th birthday party, leading my friends and me in a singalong of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Country Roads,” “If I Had A Hammer,” and “Home Grown Tomatoes.”  He seemed pretty ebullient that night, although if anyone knows the skill with which a depressive can hide his condition, it’s me. But I was so proud to call the cool guitar playing dude my daddy.

RBw, dad, brother Britt, saying grace, probably 1970

RBW, dad, brother Britt, saying grace, probably 1970

My mother had divorced him when my brother and I were toddlers, and they’d been estranged, but in the last few years of his life, he was making an effort, coming around, hosting us at his swingin’ singles apartment, taking us on trips. I adored him. He drove a blue ’68 Chevy Impala, and often had a cocktail in a plastic cup when he picked us up from our home. The summer before he died, he and his second wife, Dee, took us to Disneyland. Our first airplane trip. They rented a Volkswagen Bug, and I recall laying on the backseat, happily exhausted from all-day amusement, and making up a song as I watched the passing streetlights of Anaheim, bringing myself to the verge of tears with the joy of creating a melody out of thin air (a melody I do not recall, but was, in all likelihood, a rip-off of something from a Sid & Marty Krofft show).

Britt, dad, RBW, Christmas '68 or '69

Britt, dad, RBW, Christmas ’68 or ’69

Dee, a gorgeous stewardess, adored Burke, too. He was movie star handsome, charismatic, a fun character with a debilitating gloomy streak exacerbated and medicated by alcohol. Though my mother says he would rage when they were married, the only time I recall him angry was when my brother and I – aged 7 and 6, and impish – got his Marine sword down from a shelf and unsheathed it. He came in before anyone was impaled, and of course he freaked out, swatting us on our butts as we howled in terror and remorse. He wore British Sterling cologne, had a BA in English from UGA, had once considered the seminary, but also wanted to get in the shit in Vietnam (they wouldn’t send him). He loved to play guitar and sing, and was skilled and self-taught, loved the early 60s folk stuff and sappy, romantic ballads. Didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up. Probably peaked in high school and never got a chance to redress the imbalance. Was not cut out to be a husband, at least not at 22, when he married my mom, hastily, if you catch my drift.

RBW Sr, 50s

RBW Sr, 50s

From these details, and others I have culled from people who knew him, I compulsively try to create a presence with which to commune, to try to understand, to rage at, and, as I’ve gained a little perspective, to console. I expect no satisfaction from these actions, no “closure.” It’s just a thing I do, sometimes gaining traction somewhere inside, sometimes spinning like a hamster wheel.

***

When my mother sat us down and broke the news that sunny April day, we all cried for a long time. I remember, just before she dropped the bomb, being in a  great mood. My mother said, “I’ve got some bad news,” and I replied, “What could be bad on a day like today?” And then she told us, through tears. Probably one of the hardest things she ever had to do, and she handled it well. 42 years on, I retain a visceral memory of the grief. All of us bereft, in unison, mom telling us to cry as long as we needed to. We asked if we’d ever see our father again, and she said no and she was so sorry.

She was sort of a weekend hippie, our mother, working in advertising, a la Peggy Olson, during  the week, but attending protest marches, communes, and festivals on the weekends. (Atlanta in 1972 was still kind of “the 60s.”) She said she believed in the collective unconscious, which we did not understand intellectually at that time, but sort of “got.” In a move she regrets, she didn’t take us to our father’s funeral, at which, I was told many years later, Dee threw herself on the coffin.

Mom initially told us our father “fell asleep at the wheel,” but when I was about 13, I found the police report in the attic and learned the truth. Documents and, horrifically, a photo of the Impala, the front end demolished, spiderweb shatter on the windshield. Thankfully, no photos of my dad, but autopsy reports stating he’d died with high levels of alcohol in his brain. This discovery occasioned another memorable sit-down with my mom, during which she revealed to my brother and me some of our genetic inheritance, i.e. our family tree is blighted with alcoholism. (Also, I would find out later, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, suicide, and, not surprisingly, divorce.) We were adolescents then, and it was an excruciating, but enlightening chat, and one of the only times she talked to us about our father when we were kids. Mainly, she said, “Watch out for alcohol, boys,” which I appreciate.

I’ve dodged the bullet of a “drinking problem,” but, interestingly, I am drawn to addicts, usually without consciously knowing they are saddled with the disease. Somehow – pheromones? facial “tells”? intuition? – I am disastrously discerning on a preconscious level. I have a history of diving into relationships with addicts, and then, after wonderful intimacy followed by stress, disappointment, and chaos, I bolt. I need to do the abandoning this time around, and I do. After the dust clears, I see the pattern clearly and feel like an idiot. Again. It was – and is – a therapist’s dream, and I have the bills, the time spent in Al Anon, and some fractured relationships to prove it. Also: my main source of moonlighting income in 16 years in NYC? Bartending, at which I excelled. I have to admit: I enjoyed cutting people off and 86’ing them. Power over the drunk at last.

Bartender, The Beauty Bar, wee small hours of Truckstop Tuesday, 2000

Bartender, The Beauty Bar, wee small hours of Truckstop Tuesday, 2000                          “You are cut off.”

Is it my destiny to neurotically recreate the story of the relationship between my troubled father and me, wherein the addict elicits and invites great affection only to spoil it all through bad, yet predictable, choices? Choices I, as an adult, can now control, or feel like I control, through rejection? Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe addicts are common, especially in my lifestyle, and 86’ing some – from my life and the bars – was the right call, regardless of my history. The addicts still in my life are a challenge to love, but that’s not been wasted energy. And they will tell you I can be trying, too, because I can be.

Juicy Freudian interpretations of such life choices are the rage of our age, as is blaming and shaming, etc., but at the end of the day, that all feels simplistic and reductive. Fodder for good stories, sure, but only fodder. To flesh it all out, to get closer to accommodating, if not understanding, marks left by love, you need music. You need art.

***

I inherited my father’s musicality, and I’ve been a musician most of my life. I wrote songs in my teens and 20s, but didn’t really invest serious energy in songwriting until I became a father at 32.

The received wisdom is that parenthood saps your creative juices, and your spawn are like little vampires. But, like a lot of dire parenting predictions, this was not true for either my wife, a writer, or me. For both of us, Jack’s birth brought a burst of creative energy. Also, and this is crucial, I wanted to impress him. Granted, he wouldn’t grasp the tunes for a few years, but I needed to buckle down and write some good stuff, and that entailed lots of rewrites and hammering away as I had never done before. No writing about romantic love; the best stuff came when I wrote about family.

I’d tried to write about my father before. I wrote a terrible poem about him in high school, a screed about his alcoholism and abandonment.  My English teacher loved it, and I got an A, but I’m glad it did not survive.

With my first CD, … to this day, I set about trying to write a resonant song about Burke, how I felt about him, how I dreamed about him sometimes, how I was angry but also sad about his death, and how I would always remember and miss him. In becoming a father myself, I felt a few steps closer to knowing who he was, what he’d felt; the delirious happiness, the terror, the humbling – and, at times, humiliating – privilege of parenthood. But for my father co-creating me (albeit by accident, my mom says) I would not be experiencing any of that – and I was and remain grateful for all of it.  Becoming a dad helped me move further toward forgiveness.

Al Anon sharing, therapy, et al, is helpful in constructing a less chaotic narrative of one’s life, but it’s no help in the songwriting process, so I let all that go, and let dreams and photos guide me. Most interesting, the song for my father began to come when I tuned my guitar to DADGAD. Coincidence? Maybe. (I would record it one step higher, in EBEABE, which makes the story less cool, but true.)  For non musicians, all you need to know is this is an alternate tuning favored by folkies.

My efforts birthed “Blue Impala.” Except for Richard Doll’s exquisite bowed double bass part, I played everything. And I stepped back from it and felt satisfaction. Fourteen years on, I still do.

 

Blue Impala
by RBW

Your paper face, your silent smile
Peel back the years, erase the miles
Bittersweet scent, cliche cologne
Photograph ghost in sepia tone.

CHORUS:
A blue Impala, one hand on the wheel
I will remember you, you were just passing through.

Sometimes you rise into my dreams
Some strange disguise in mad shifting scenes
I’m like you now, back then did you know?
Did that make it easier to let go?

CHORUS

Questions go unanswered, mysteries will remain
Wonder why and I ask the sky, but all I hear is the rain.

Just a wild seed in the tailwind of time
Cruel as a storm with calm in your eye
You left us all with so very much
So much to claim but nothing to touch.

CHORUS

Questions go unanswered, mysteries will remain
Wonder why and I ask the sky, but all I hear is the rain.

***

I sent … to this day to my mom, and she loved it, but for about a year, she told me she couldn’t bear to listen to “Blue Impala.” This did not surprise me, and, in fact, gave me a perverse little thrill; I’d evoked an emotional response, which is what you want as a writer.  But finally, she told me she could listen to it, and was ready to talk in detail about my dad, lo these many years later.

Even though I’d wanted to hear that for decades, I said, “That’s OK.”

I’d found him on my own.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Your son, Robert, June, 2014

rbwsrgrave

 

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Fathermucker!

To commemorate author Greg Olear‘s upcoming reading at my beloved local library – that’s Phoenicia Library  – on Friday, September 28th, at 7 PM, I am reposting the review/appreciation I wrote for Chronogram of his fine novel Fathermucker. Please enjoy, and please come over to my little town and hear him read. He is skilled.

 

Fathermucker: A NovelFathermucker: A Novel by Greg Olear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Josh Lansky, titular character of New Paltz resident Greg Olear’s rich Fathermucker, is primary caregiver to willful three-year-old Maude and brilliant-but-difficult five-year-old Roland, who has Asperger’s syndrome. In addition to wrestling with the pervasive feelings of fear and failure that plague all fathers, Josh struggles with virility issues, a stalled screenwriting career, and a troubled marriage to lapsed actress Stacy, now an IBM employee haunted by lost opportunities. This is business as usual, until a foxy mom at a morning playdate reveals her suspicion that breadwinner Stacy, now five days into a business trip in LA, is having an affair. Kids are everywhere, so Josh keeps it together while heartbreak, shame, anger and dread roil about his overcaffeinated guts. Before he can get details (with whom, for how long, etc.) the foxy mom hurries away, and he must wait for Stacy to return the next day. He ruminates and rages, all while wiping young bottoms, getting pulled over by a cop, salivating at eye candy, listening to Penthouse Forum-style playdate gossip (it happens), being judged for eating verboten junk food, receiving physical abuse from unruly children, and trying to find a decent song on the radio.

Almost everyone knows a stay-at-home dad—or SAHD, as Josh says. What most of you don’t know, and what Olear provides, is the passionate, devilish inner monologue often at odds with a SAHD’s (mostly) responsible exterior. Their friends view Josh and Stacy as a “great couple,” but inside, Josh is a piece of work; even before he tortures himself with screenplay versions of his wife’s infidelity—schadenfreude at its best—he’s just this side of a car crash. His frequently hilarious, insecurity-and-id-fueled conscience is stoked and soothed by hyperconnectivity to pop culture; tormented by tabloid titillation, calmed by Tom Petty, rankled by Facebook, saved by Noggin. Most men who care for kids don’t want you to know this stuff, but Josh’s frankness strikes a refreshing, power chord of truth. His little rebellions against the crunchy hipster class of New Paltz are deeply satisfying to anyone ever frowned upon for a substandard car seat.

Olear provides a tantalizing rhythm between the raunch and roll of Josh’s “inside voice”—including an occasionally annoying fixation on detail—and what he actually does. The choices he makes more often than not reveal a deeply moving devotion to his family, an uncommon love burning constant under the worry and kvetching, all of which makes a cheating wife more compelling (and excruciating). One of the more striking chapters—Asperger’s: A Chronology—is fascinating and briskly informative; this multileveled story-within-a-story illuminates the Lansky family’s stressed situation while also delving into a history of the medical establishment checkered enough to make anyone turn punk. Just as Fathermucker should be given out to all new parents (instead of, say, What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) the Asperger’s chapter alone should be made into an educational pamphlet.

Olear’s writer chops don’t end there. In addition to Josh’s distinctive, relatable wit, the insertion of Dr. Seuss homages into a coarse, long-winded web of sexual intrigue amongst Josh and Stacy’s married friends is a bawdy, ballsy tour de force.

At one point Josh notes that twins at a playdate “couldn’t be more different. No two snowflakes and so forth. Parenthood would fill your heart with wonder if it weren’t so fucking exhausting.” He’s wrong, though; in Fathermucker, even exhaustion can’t keep the wonder away.

View all my reviews

Paul McCartney, Fantasy Dad

In honor of Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday, I’m reprinting of a piece I wrote for Paste last summer.

 Paul McCartney is 70 – the same age my divorced, troubled father would have been had he not drunk too much in a hotel bar in April 1972 and subsequently driven off I 85 and killed himself at the age of thirty-one. I had just turned seven. Not long after that, Paul became my fantasy dad. I’d forgotten all about it until I saw him at Yankee Stadium, where I realized this fancy still flickers in a very deep part of me. I can only imagine how a son would feel seeing his father captivate fifty-thousand people, but as I witnessed McCartney tear it up for almost three hours, I came pretty close to papa-pride.

McCartney’s voice and image filled my late-60s and 70s childhood via my mom’s Beatles LPs, and as of 1972, Wings was all over the radio, which I listened to incessantly. I remember  photos of the McCartney family touring with Wings – probably in my mom’s Time magazine, or later my own Creem; I was struck by his beautiful, grubby kids Mary, Stella and stepdaughter Heather (from Linda’s previous marriage, but adopted by Paul). This crew sported shaggy hair like their dad, and they were often either in his arms or at his heels, running through airports and the like. Fun. Here was a most unusual set-up: a vital, rockin’ superstar, proud of and present for his children, never hiding the fact that he was happily married, up to his knees in domesticity, apparently satisfied to be tied down in that respect. Paul was fulfilled, yet still somehow funky, raggedy, unconcerned with appearances. His first solo album McCartney was recorded at home (and sounds it, blessedly) and the cover features a photo by his wife Linda, who also sang background vocals. The pic of bearded, smiling Paul with their first baby, Mary, nestled in his shearling coat fascinated me as a child. His eyes are dark, mischievous, sad but… strong and full of what I imagine to be love for his mate, his kid, his family. As a fatherless boy, this was very exotic to me.

As I grew up among increasingly dysfunctional children of divorce, the McCartneys’ inseparability bucked rock and roll standards and seemed an odd yet attainable ideal. So they wouldn’t be apart, Paul had enfolded his wife into Wings, to much eye rolling and allegations of Linda’s dubious musical talents. Similarly, Lennon would claim Yoko as a musical collaborator and suffer intense criticism. They both were undeterred by the snipes. I always loved that and I still find myself sticking up for the Beatle Spouses. In retrospect, the wife-involvement stuff and, in particular, McCartney’s inclusion of domesticity in his public image seems, ironically, cutting edge for the era.

Macca’s life was the rock star fantasy I wanted. But I didn’t want to be him; I wanted to be his kid joining him on the road. The swaggering, lock-up-your-daughters stuff would not appeal to me until my hormones kicked in, and even then, I kept close my McCartney-as-dad dreams and longed most for stability-within-rock, a notion that seems contradictory unless you apply it to McCartney. In my mind I was Paul McCartney’s son, watching from the smoky wings with my crazy-haired sisters as he played Dad Rock, goofy songs that lodged in my brain and made me laugh: “Hands Across The Water,” “Magneto and Titanium Man” and “Listen What the Man Said.” I imagined myself grabbing a fistful of his rank bellbottoms as we posed together, sweaty-faced in Lagos or Jamaica, both of us sunburned and sleep-starved. No matter what opportunities he had to stray – and he would have plenty, I’m sure – my traveling gypsy troubadour millionaire dad with the funny accent would never abandon me.

Later on I would find that both Lennon and McCartney had lost their mothers as kids. Paul’s to cancer, John’s after being hit by a car. Needless to say, my devotion intensified; Paul had overcome a blow not unlike mine, yet stood tall, brazen and larger-than-life, whole. So could I. Thirty-plus years on, I’ve come to realize that damage on this scale can’t be quantified, and to assume that he weathered “better” than Lennon, whose life always seemed fraught by comparison, is ridiculous. And now I realize no one is whole, ever. But that is what I believed then.

These were some of my thoughts as I marveled at near-septuagenarian Sir Paul tear it up at Yankee Stadium on July 15th, 2011. From the opening of “Hello Goodbye” to the encore of “The End,” I was a riot of sensation and notion; chill bumps, laughter, singing with strangers – all messy, uncool spillage from an open heart. When the thoughts of my father crossed the threshold and then departed, I realized McCartney possesses the power to do what meditation, drugs, food, sex, travel, athletics, yoga and art are designed to do: place a listener in an ineffable, timeless moment, then bring them back and take them elsewhere.

My wife, Holly, and I had arrived a little early, as the sky was just beginning to darken. Weather-wise, it was a perfect summer evening. The Biblical-style crush (“And lo, the people went down to the Bronx to be counted”) was intense until we made it to our seats about fifty yards from the stage. The scent of hot, processed meat and salty starch was everywhere and indicated vegan Macca’s lack of influence over the vendors. (Dads must compromise!) We settled in, giddy at our proximity to the stage, and the experience began with the massive PA pumping out instrumental versions of Beatle tunes by Booker T. & the MGs (an oddly upbeat “A Day In the Life”). As dusk descended, the two screens flanking the stage began to spool moving images and designs, lots of Linda McCartney’s classic 60s rock and roll photos interspersed with cartoonish psychedelia, black and white clips from Beatle movies, Super 8 footage of the Family McCartney. Whoever designed the presentation knew it would evoke everything from nostalgia to wonder to amusement, even a little annoyance. As with the entire show, the visual aspect was almost as genius as the music itself. The Cute Beatle has surrounded himself with an impressive retinue of showfolk – performers, designers, and engineers. The sound was mind-blowing.

Obviously, I am a superfan. I will allow that Paul has released some steaming crap (I think he’d allow it too), some unlistenable tunes and unwatchable videos. But, as he is my surrogate dad, and considering the level of stellar stuff, I have unusually low standards for acceptance of his work. Sometimes to the chagrin of loved ones, I will sing along to “Silly Love Songs” (one of the best basslines ever, I don’t care what anyone says) “My Love,” and even “Coming Up.” Interestingly, a couple of these largely loathed tunes were part of a looped McCartney Megamix that took over for Booker T as the stage lights slowly lit the waiting microphones and drum set. Even with my charitable taste, it was a little obnoxious.

Paul and his fantastic band came out around 8:30 or so, in the gloaming. Rusty Anderson on guitar, Brian Ray on guitar and bass, Paul “Wix” Wickerson on keyboards and the stunning Abe Laboriel, Jr. on drums, forty and fifty-somethings who still look great in understated rock and roll clothes – if there can be such a thing. Paul cut a striking figure in a tapered Edwardian three button blue jacket, black Beatle boots, snug black stovepipe trousers, a plain white dress shirt and suspenders/braces. He is ridiculously fit, with the ass of a twenty-something man. There, I said it.

All of the band members sing, and Laboriel in particular is a powerful vocalist, sometimes covering for Paul on the really high stuff while propelling the whole outfit forward like a machine with a soul. He is perhaps the finest drummer I have ever seen. They are a lean, rocking, passionate band with longtime road chops, charisma and that greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts quality every worthwhile band possesses. Simply put, they are the best band he’s had since the Beatles (check YouTube for various Wings lineups and Paul’s very good but unremarkable backup musicians from the 90s and you will agree). I think this current foursome may be one of the reasons he’s toured quite a bit in the last decade, after Linda’s death from cancer in 1998.

That’s right, I remember thinking as his astonishingly well-preserved voice cracked slightly on “Maybe I’m Amazed,” one of many songs written for Linda, the same affliction that took out his mother robbed him of his wife. Yet he got past it.

In one of the most moving visual displays of the evening, a sepia-toned home movie of the photo session for the McCartney album cover – with Mary snuggled in Paul’s coat – played on the screen behind Paul. It was that same image that resonated in my childhood come to life, with Paul posing and laughing, cradling Mary, his face glowing with love, seen as Linda saw him. The audience looked through Linda’s long-departed eyes. It was ghostly, dreamlike.

He lost her. Yet my New Dad threw himself into work and, with some guys only a little older than me, took to the stage after the passing of his soul mate. Didn’t go off the rails drunk, blaming crazed behavior on inconsolable grief, didn’t lash out, make a mess of things, but worked through it with song, with performing, giving of himself to the Fans.

I recalled my own losses, disappointments and betrayals, levies on the gift of a long life. Where had I searched for a road map, for clues, examples? My actual family of mostly women is pretty impressive, but when I needed to see how a man deals with rage and bereavement, I realized I’d kept my fantasy dad in my peripheral vision all along.

McCartney and Co. soared through “Jet,” “Drive My Car,” and, for the first time ever before an audience, the raucous Hard Day’s Night nugget “The Night Before.” The big screens pulsed with images of jets, cars, et cetera and the crowd got progressively more ecstatic. Before long I realized I’d never been in a group of that many people who felt that good, ever. It was palpable, a crackling connection coursing through an audience ranging from small children to folks with walkers.

At one point McCartney acknowledged the signs held aloft, fake-scolding the fans for throwing him off. One sign read “Kiss My Butt” and he chuckled and said “Well, let’s see it then!” then hastily backpedaled.  Another said, “My name is Jude” to which he gamely said, “Hey, Jude!” The patter was goofy and, according to his DVD from a couple years back, not totally spontaneous. Except the Derek Jeter crack: “Who’s this guy Derek Jeter? I hear he’s got more hits than me!” Rim shot.

As the band rocked on, I was hoping for “Here Today” and I got it. It’s a heartbreaking song, an imaginary conversation between Lennon and McCartney written after John’s murder. Even before I lost my best, oldest friend to suicide in 2004, I loved this song, which delves into unresolved issues between friends; the heart brings you into contact with difficult people and insists you remain, even when it’s a challenge. Then, sometimes, before you get a chance to mend fences, you lose someone and the pain just echoes on. The band left and Paul, armed with only an acoustic guitar, introduced the song. He made special mention of New York City being John’s home, which brought a deafening roar in honor of The Smart Beatle. Then the crowd listened respectfully as a simple image of a full moon glowed on the empty stage and Paul’s falsetto arched into the purple sky above the Bronx. I caught this moment – or at least a pixilated rendition of it – on my iPhone. When I play it back, McCartney’s voice is both crystalline and grosgrain, but the lo-fi image is a shimmery, saturated white burst of light on a screen surrounded by bobbing heads, like the very essence of dignity in the face of loss. Which, to me, is beyond rock and roll and simply art.

Linda, George, John, all gone. And so many of his friends from the 60s, too. I imagined I could hear it all in his voice, which ached but also raged and, at the same time, saluted the enduring beauty of those lost loved ones, reveled in the strength they gave him.

As “Here Today” ended a roadie handed Paul a mandolin – one of five instruments he would effortlessly play – and the band launched into the jaunty, damn-the-torpedoes “Dance Tonight,” from 2007’s Memory Almost Full. I recall publicists falling all over each other to proclaim the CD a “return to form.” It was his “break-up” record, supposedly touching on his divorce from the mercurial Heather Mills, and people with a lot of time on their hands figured out that the witty title is an anagram (likely accidental) of For My Soul Mate LLM (Linda Louise McCartney). In any case, it’s a good tune about enjoying life regardless of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, a concept on which fantasy dad needs no schooling.

On “A Day in the Life,” Paul sang John’s distinctive verses and tacked a repeated chorus of “Give Peace A Chance” to the end, like a coda. This was the only awkward moment of the evening. The audience, like a lot of Americans, isn’t really sold on the ideal of “Give Peace A Chance.” Not anymore. It was enjoyable but toothless. My cantankerous Uncle John was better with punky irony, and I’m sure Papa Paul knows it and doesn’t care. Like “Here Today” and the lovely ukulele arrangement of “Something,” it was a tribute, not a manifesto. The sad resignation of “Let It Be,” which followed “Give Peace A Chance,” went over much better.

The inevitable over-the-top fireworks and flashpots of “Live and Let Die” cast a veil of smoke over the congregation and scented the air with sulfur. Paul walked around in faux dismay at the extravagant pyro, actually imitating an old man as if he is not one. It was funny but also bizarre.

The night concluded with “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End,” the perfect concert-ending suite if ever there was one, topped off with red, white and blue confetti seeming to fall from heaven, as there was no ceiling. The communal satisfaction hummed through the air like feedback as the assembled separated into streams pouring through gates, doorways, concrete halls, back into our lives. I was struck by the amount of families, some of whom carried sleeping children out of the still-charged stadium. This had been a family event. Of course.


I had a lot to think about and plenty of time to do it as we sat in traffic, trying to get home. The usual two-hour trip would take four hours, but we didn’t care.

Clearly my boyhood desire for a rock and roll dad was never actually realized, and I made it to manhood under far less spectacular circumstances; I had help from a loving single mother who never remarried, a very present maternal grandmother, a United Way Big Brother, my friends and a couple of teachers. They did the actual work, and I don’t begrudge them their lack of rock star accoutrements. In fact, I was lucky in a lot of ways.

Paul’s actual kids – my fantasy sisters Heather, a potter, Stella, a fashion designer, and Mary, a photographer, plus fantasy brother James, a musician – have all done fine. Heather has said the hectic decade of traveling with Wings was not all fun. She told the press she had a hard time making friends once it all ended. Although I love traveling with my family, I also have tasted a little of the rock and roll lifestyle myself, and that is a very different, very particular animal. I actually cannot imagine having a kid in tow while going through the rigmarole of the road, much less three. Granted, the McCartneys had tutors and likely a phalanx of nannies, but for the kids I imagine it must’ve been hard at times. I can also imagine trying to explain these realities to my childhood self and making no impact whatsoever.

Finally, being a dad myself, I have long since moved on from searching for father figures and look to Paul McCartney now as a fellow dad. In true rock and roll style, his daughter Beatrice – by ex-wife Heather Mills – is five years younger than my son and younger than a couple of his grandkids. When I try to imagine an offspring of mine having a child who is older than one of my own kids I need to lie down. Leave that to überbeings like my fantasy dad Macca.

Beatrice McCartney

I have always known that music and images, when expertly wielded, can have a time-shifting power for both listener and performer.  The promise of that power is one of the things that led me to be a musician. Yet, when Holly surprised me with tickets to see Paul McCartney at Yankee Stadium, I did not expect to revisit any childhood longings for a rock and roll dad. I’d heard he still brought an impressive show, even from some very prickly, hard-to-please cynics, so I was banking on a great experience. What I was not prepared for was the welling up of a dormant desire for an adventurous, raggle-taggle, brilliant musician to spirit me away from a fatherless childhood to concert halls, tarmacs, hotel rooms, people bestowing love and accolades in foreign tongues, the feel of a jet’s carpeting beneath my bare feet as we fly over the Pacific. But even the most far-fetched of fantasies still exist in my mind, somehow, just waiting for the right sequence of notes combined with the proper visuals to unearth it.

Paul sings to departed Linda as he looks up at the Jumbotron, seeing his younger self gazing into his soul mate’s eyes while he cradles their firstborn against his chest. Time and space ebb for a few liberating moments and I see me, a grieving kid, caught up in a melody, singing in spite of it all, looking at a magazine photo of a musical family on the run who appear, for the time being, far away from loss, tragedy, death. Then and now, my fantasy dad has brought me to a timeless place. When the song fades and the cheering subsides, I am a man again, and Paul is not my dad. But he has allowed me to touch the part of myself that remains connected to the man I lost, and the dreaming child still inside me. As these feelings recede, I am happy to leave that longing. I’m glad to say I possess the skill to come back to being a real, actual father, blessed with health, a gorgeous, shaggy-haired child and a beautiful, supportive, fascinating wife. I am pretty sure I learned how to do that from Paul.

RBW & Jack, 1998, by Dan Howell

RBW & Jack, 1998, by Dan Howell

The Ardent Audience Likes My Macca piece

Hello Dear Readers,

A few months back, Paste published my essay. Paul McCartney, Fantasy Dad. (It was re-blogged with the superior title Paul Is Dad… wish I’d thought of that.)

For those of you who did not get a chance to read it, now you can by clicking HERE

Daniel Cavicchi, over at The Ardent Audience, wrote a really thoughtful blog entry about my essay. You can read it HERE.

Thanks for your readership.

Ever yours,
RBW