Paul McCartney was just 23 years old when I, an avid 14 year old Beatles addict, bought this book in 1965 for fifty cents. I used to have another one but somewhere along the line during these last fifty seven years, it got away from me. I was just shy of twelve when my penpal from Liverpool first told me of this boss and gear group from her hometown, who’d been the Quarrymen and the Silver Beetles before landing on their ultimate name. The name of the band which changed the shape of music forever. At least for the bulk of my life. I saw them perform at the Chicago Amphitheater in 1964. In 1967, I received the Sergeant Pepper album for my 16th birthday from the boy of my dreams. “A Day in the Life” was a song like no other, heady thoughts for a teenager in those days. Paul was only nine years older than me, but at the time, that gap felt like a big deal. Despite the breadth of music genres, bands and concerts I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, The Beatles’ body of work feels like part of my viscera. Growing up, I sang Paul’s parts in their songs, while my long-gone friend Fern sang John’s. We made up our own lyrics to several dozen of them over the years. She was still alive when John died and we mourned him together. Today, on Paul’s 80th birthday, I’m grateful that I saw him perform in 2019 and that he’s still performing in 2022. I don’t know whether he’ll die before me but if he does I can already imagine the symbolism of his loss. His longevity is like the bookends of my life, yet to be finished. I never thought of how profoundly all that music would affect so many decades, still a source of comfort and joy, wistfulness and longing caught up in all those tunes, dear to my heart. I haven’t loved all the songs equally but there are many that still rank high on my favorites list.
I woke up today, thinking of how astonishing it is to be my age and for Paul to be his. Like many older people who reflect on the swift passage of time, the gifts, the losses, the blink of an eye sensation that time feels like these days, I remain surprised that so much of life is already behind me. By late this afternoon I was thinking of my own Day in the Life. This weekend, both my kids were out of town. Of course that’s happened many times over the years, but tomorrow is Father’s Day, so I noticed my solitary state, which is customary, a bit more than usual. I had a busy, active day. I started with breakfast, followed by a trip to the big box store where I continue to purchase endless numbers of 2 cubic feet bags of cypress mulch for my equally endless garden projects.
Next I went to the farmer’s market, impatiently waiting for my own tomatoes to mature, but needing that taste of summer unmatched by the pale imitations of the winter excuses for that tasty fruit.
When I came home I went to work, starting with what I still refer to as Michael’s jobs. I can’t say we were perfect in dividing the labor involved in running our household. But we were pretty fair. For the first 4 years after his death, I had a father/son duo who took care of my detested lawn and the weeds which threatened to cover my driveway and brick sidewalk. Never my favorite stuff, but rather extra chores in all seasons, I was glad to fund those guys to help me avoid them. The guys quit this year. I got bids for doing these jobs I find so alienating, but the prices were too much for my budget. Along with all the other increases in seemingly everything, I prioritized and decided to do these myself. I mowed the despised lawn. I cleared the driveway and sidewalk weeds. Then I got the trusty bow saw and cut down a huge chunk of a plum tree I thought was lost to last year’s drought. To my surprise, part of it sprouted this spring. I always think that anything that works hard to stay alive should be nurtured. Hence, the saw.
I was so annoyed at all this extra stuff. What I really want to do is get rid of all the grass and plant flowers and shrubs that attract pollinators and provide habitat for all the critters that visit my yard. When I got done with the chores I impulsively started that process by covering a chunk of the backyard, at least partway, to created one less small stretch of grass that won’t require mowing. I was too tired to finish, but I will. My anal-retentive spouse’s voice was ringing in my ears, “ you haven’t even gotten your dimensions on paper.” Oh well.
You might wonder how I got from Paul to my work to Father’s Day. Here’s the trail of my thought process. As I plodded my way through each task I was thinking about how amazing it is that at age 80, Paul can still endure the rigor of a rock and roll tour. In my experience at his concert, he played a three hour show, standing for most of it unless he was seated at the piano or keyboards. And he doesn’t hold back. His voice sometimes doesn’t sound quite as strong as it did when he was young, occasionally missing the upper register and such, but he still can belt it out, doing numbers like “Back in the USSR” and “Helter Skelter.” So I was drawing strength from him as a role model, rather than my earlier crush attitude toward the “cute” Beatle. Now we’re pushing the boundaries of age together and aren’t we the lucky ones? As if he could imagine our kinship, devised by me. Ha. From there I went to thoughts of my dad, hardly the guy to take on the physical challenges of life. He died too early, at age 67, unable to endure more than one round of chemo for his bladder cancer. He was really smart, but always a bit like a scared kid, likely because his own dad died when he was only eight years old. Lots of verbal bravado, but I learned it covered a lot of fear.
I learned a lot from my dad about what I think are the critical personal foundations of life. He taught me about loyalty and principles. He taught me about staying true to your beliefs and about never allowing anyone to bully you away from what you know is right. He helped me establish my views on humanity and politics. I value all of that. He did not, however, teach me much about practical matters and certainly nothing about nature, pollinators, weeds or bow saws. My parents owned one house for a short time in Iowa when I was little. When his job wasn’t enough to cover expenses and my mom longed to return to Chicago, he left home ownership behind and was a renter for the rest of his life, despite my mom’s entreaties to try again. Winding up as a bank officer, he dug his way out of debt and retired with enough money to provide for himself until his death and for my mom, who lived another twenty-five years. I remember when I wanted to buy a house, he was extraordinarily conservative and I realized I’d always know more about certain aspects of life than he ever would. He was self-limiting. That behavior can be contagious. I’m glad I escaped that part of him. I loved him and he loved me but he was never my hero or role model. I’m not sorry about that, either. I’m not the hero-worshipping type. I’ve led a life free from his self-imposed boundaries. I wish he’d lived longer to see the other side of those walls and to have watched my kids grow. And me too, although I know he had confidence in me as an adult before he died.
I never had another father figure. I’d gotten the essentials of what I needed from my dad. I met Michael at age twenty. He was twenty-two. His relationship with his dad was complicated. His father had told him, and also made clear through his actions, that he intended to have only one intimate relationship in his life, the one with his wife. Michael was provided for, with the physical necessities of life, and even more than those, in a material sense. But his security in love was crippled from the beginning of his life. His interests as a craftsman, a woodworker and artisan were ignored by his father who wished for a son who’d be a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant. He then offered to turn over his advertising specialty business to Michael when he was in his twenties, a job that was utterly uninteresting to him. Between the two of us, I’d clearly won the dad lottery.
We spent 10 years together before we had kids. During that time we sorted through a lot of our issues, both emotional and practical, wanting to make sure we’d be ready to correct at least some of what each of us felt were the challenges left in us by our parents. I don’t think anyone gets through the world without exhibiting at least a few of the bumps we received as kids. And I wouldn’t say we didn’t have to make plenty of adjustments to the reality of creating and caring for kids. But, generally, I think Michael was a wonderful father who successfully navigated his role in a way that was infinitely superior to his own experience. I’m confident that our kids would agree. In addition, he cultivated all those handy skills his parents blew off as unimportant. I learned how to apply many of them to the demands of daily life in my partnership, rather than from my dad. You bet I know how to use a bow saw, as well as knowing the best tool for so many other things, from plumbing to cars. So fathers. Some people have none worth remembering, some were incredibly lucky and then there’s everyone somewhere between those extremes. That’s a day in the life for me, thinking my thoughts as I toil. Happy Father’s Day.