One day last summer, I was driving home with my iPod plugged in when Bobby Goldsboro’s version of Watching Scotty Grow cued up.
Watching Scotty Grow was the first record I ever owned, given to me by my parents when I was three or four. It’s the perfect anthem for any father and son, but I was sure that this was a song about me. The pride in the singer’s voice symbolized how my dad felt, watching his Scotty grow, and it made me happy whenever I played it on my Mickey Mouse record player.
The song sometimes gives me a brief, pleasant flashback, but never anything deeper than that. Not until last summer.
On that summer afternoon, I was in the midst of a difficult month. I was under a lot of stress and had too many things playing on my mind.
Any one of 5,000 songs might have come next, but it was Bobby Goldsboro. His words threw me back to my childhood harder than ever before.
I flashed back to the morning, four years after I wore out the grooves on my first record, when I woke up to a house filled with crying siblings. My mother sat my little brother and I down on the couch, an arm around each. “Last night, Daddy got very sick, and he died,” she told us. She said more, but that’s all I remember. The next thing I remember was lying on my bed, staring at the wall. I have no recollection of what an eight-year-old thinks at such a time. Maybe we’re not supposed to hang on to those thoughts.
My memories of him are faded and frayed around the edges. Comparing these dim memories to the people his children grew to be, I know there is a gap in them. I recall the man who walked fast toward serious business so that the farm work would be done before the day ran out. I was too young to appreciate the humor and subtle tenderness for his family that lay beneath.
It occurred to me that my father wasn’t much older than I am now, the night he went to sleep and never woke up. There is so much left to do with my children. I want them to know who their father is, beyond the two dimensions of knowledge that distant memories give. My father certainly wanted that too, but his wish was cut short.
That’s when my grown-man blubbering began. I struggled against the tears as I considered the terrible fate of leaving children with only faded memories. I’m not sure if I wept over my own fears or for my father’s reality. Both, probably.
I’ve never wondered who I am, nor felt the need to go in search of myself. Perhaps this means I knew my father better than I remember. When I walk with a purposeful gait because things need doing, I am my father’s son. So too, when I laugh with my boys.
I composed myself before going into the house. I didn’t want my family see me like this. It would be better to spend this day smiling and laughing with them than crying over past events and future fears we couldn’t do much to change.
There are things, beyond memories, that a father gives his children. Sometimes, it takes the children many years to realize them. Lucky kids are given the capacity to always keep growing. I like to think my father is someplace where he can see how lucky I was – he and God watching Scotty grow.