Thursday, October 14, 2010

Battle the Band

[DAD] Donald?

[ME] Yeah Dad, sorry to wake you.

[DAD] Do you know what goddamn time it is?

[ME] I know. It went later than I thought.


[ME] Sorry. Goodnight.


[DAD] Well...did you win?

[ME] Actually, yes.


[DAD] Don’t forget to mow the lawn tomorrow.

[ME] [SMILING] Ok.good


Ok, so that might not paint the greatest picture there, but that exchange with my father when I was 15 or 16 remains one of the fondest memories of him before his passing. Donald Sr. was

a gruff, solid rock of an Italian father. Quite conservative, somewhat anti-social, but as dependable as I think a father could ever hope to be. From as far back as I can remember, the only real bond we ever shared was baseball. More specifically the Boston Red Sox. It’s a time-honored story, the father/son/Red Sox thing, but I did live it with him. And I loved to play. He encouraged, as most any dad to son would do, the playing of any and all sports.He wasn’t what you might call, an avid supporter of the arts.

In all my years of growing up through school, I only really ever got in one fight. Let me set the scene for you. Fifth grade of CT Plunkett Intermediate School in Adams, MA. Probably an early December morning on the playground before the school day has begun. I am wearing a classic wool NFL football hat of my favorite team, replete with the requisite pom pom top. As we’re doing our usual running around the playground, someone grabs

the hat off my head and starts a game of “keep away.” Give it back! I shout. My friend tosses it to another guy, who is not so much my friend, and worse, a sixth grader! I swear, give it back! As this sixth grade enemy swings to send hat sailing to next person, the pom pom tears away and the hat falls into the muddy snow. All of a sudden everything is in slow motion. Sa-low-ah-mow-shee-uhn. Bam! The rage swells up inside as I see the Dallas Cowboys logo lying in the mud. And then I pounce.

Immediately we are surrounded by the population of the playground as is want to happen in these circumstances. Fight Fight Fight!! It occurs to me, even in the throws of battle, that I am in this fight they are shouting about! Me. To that point I had never been in a lick of trouble. Got good grades. Played sports sports sports, ate fluffernutter sand

wiches by the dozen, and mowed the lawn dutifully. So there I am. wrestling with a sixth grader (which was a big deal at the time) over the honor of my muddied and now tassle-less Dallas Cowboys wool football hat, and all I can think about is how much trouble I’m going to get in by my dad for getting in trouble. He was a terrific disciplinarian.

The crowd begins to shuffle and I can hear faint but strengthening strains of “break it up now. Break it up!” Oh god. Oh man. I can’t believe I just got into a fight. I can’t believe I’M actually the one everyone’s shouting “fight fight fight!” too. Ugh. And now here come what is sure to be the principal, to break up this mini war. I am yanked from the ground by a solid and strong arm. As I spin to accept my sure fired detention and public humiliation, I am greeted dad???

You see, I grew up with my younger sister, aka “The Little Princess”. Certain rules, such as promptness, did not apply to her, as it often doesn’t to the only daughter of an Italian father. As it so happens that day, though not uncommon to say the least, my sister was late for school and was receiving a ride from my day. Door to door service. The fight broke out just as they were pulling up. Timing is everything folks. So I spin around to find my dad holding my arm and the whole scene has put me in some weird breathless shock. “What’s going on? What happened?” he asks. To this day I am not sure exactly how it may have looked to the crowd surrounding us or my sister or my best friends standing there, but all that came out of my mouth, sobbing, was, “Hee--ripped-uh---the---pom pom---off---uhhh---my---uhh---football---hat--uhh!” Bahhhhhh!!!

Oh man, what a scene. My one moment of fight glory, and there I am, barely able to talk, crying to my dad about the “Pom Pom Incident.” He looks over at the perp, then back at me. I am ready to be hauled away for my front of everyone. He opens his mouth...”Well, did you win


I shake my head yes. He gets in car and drives off. I think the replacement hat was The New England Patriots.

So that was my dad. Certainly no two anecdotes should define one person, but in many ways I think it does with him. Years soon thereafter, I got into music, but ultimate path in life. Let’s just say he wasn’t happy. Any mention of rehearsals or bands or gigs resulted in classic “ABC After School Special” type father-son shouting matches. “It’s all drugs and potheads and idiots in Rock and Roll! I don’t want yo hanging out with those types!!” But dad, my friends aren’t like that. “Ehhh, what do you know, you’re just a bathtub diving wild indian.” This was of course, his go-to put down of me or my artistic pursuits. That or the refreshingly brief “shithead.” So needless to say, my love of music was in no way shared or endorsed by my dad, despite what you see in this photo:

Now a caveat. Though I may not have felt it or con

veyed it to him at the time, my dad was the greatest and most perfect father I could have had growing up. He provided everything I needed to become the person I am today. And though I certainly am layered with a litany of faults, I feel pretty good about myself most days, and certainly happy with the life music has enriched me with. Every bit of it I can trace to my father. Of course, if he were alive today his response would like and simply be, “shithead.” But knowing all this, and the fact that he had stopped being a part of my when I was still a teenager, not a day goes by where he manages to make some guest appearance in recesses of my thoughts. He’s obviously been a large and looming influence on me.

So back to the dialogue that opened this now -approaching-novel-length story.

[DAD] Do you know what goddamn time it is?

[ME] I know. It went later than I thought.


[ME] Sorry. Goodnight.


[DAD] Well...did you win?

That was my dad in his truest most magnificent light. I had just come home from my debut musical performance with my first ever group in a Battle of the Bands competition a couple towns over in a place aptly called the “RockBox.” Magically and intoxicatingly, we had won. Oh man, was I ever hooked. He absolutely HATED HATED that I was doing music. Hated it. I didn’t even know for sure he had a clue what I was out doing that night or why I was getting in so late. He never seemed to listen to me, specifically when it came to the defense of my musical pursuits.As I slowly crept up the stairwell that long-ago night, trying desperately not to awake my sleeping-in-judgement father, I felt lonely. Very alone and unsupported in what felt like a life decision to live and breathe music. A joy I felt could never be shared with him in the way we could share, say, our displeasure with the Boston Red Sox pitching or a

wful coaching. I was elated over my band’s victory that night, but conflicted with it being an inner happiness in our household.

So as I heard my father’s gruff voice from within his bedroom calling out my late return in no uncertain terms, it only served to cement my loneliness. And then, “did you win?” It’s all I ever needed to hear from him. It’s all he could muster, and I’m sure it took everything for him to ask.

And it still means the world to me.

I’m sure my dad would be “happy” to know he remains my greatest musical influence.