Old man, look at my life. I’m a lot like you were.
My dad passed away almost three years ago. He called me a day before he passed and told me that he was going into the hospital and that I shouldn’t worry. I told him that I’d be on the next flight up. He said that wasn’t necessary and that I should stay home and take care of my pregnant (almost 8 months) wife. So I didn’t go. I have a lot of regret over that decision.
My brother and my step-mom took care of the required arrangements. I asked my brother to come down after that and he did. We spent time knocking around in a semi-daze. We would go to the track or to the golf course and talk about memories and flaws and strengths and how surreal everything was. It was really difficult. It is still really difficult but I’m really glad that my brother was there and we had each other to lean on.
I have been thinking about one story I told my brother in the days after Dad’s passing. I was living in Denver and things, frankly, weren’t going too well. I was depressed and miserable. I was screwing up and sabotaging relationships with friends. My work was suffering. My family was doing everything they could to help. My mom was really there for me and I can’t thank her enough. My dad came out to give me a kick in the ass. I didn’t handle it particularly well. We argued. I felt that he was embarrassed of me. He probably was (in those moments–I realize he wasn’t all of the time, now). He went back home and we were both angry.
Shortly after he left I was scheduled to join some friends for a Neil Young show at Red Rocks. I’m not that much of a Neil Young fan. There are some songs that I like a whole lot. I typically try to listen to as much of an artist as possible prior to attending their show. I had always liked Old Man, though. I started to internalize the song (with my own narrative) to stand in for me talking to my dad. You can see the lyrics here. I’d listen to the song over and over and it would make me feel so unbelievably sad, saying what I wanted to say to my him.
So I went to the show and had a good time. It started to rain pretty hard during the encore. Most of the crowd left when the rain started. We stuck it out until the end of the encore and started toward the exit. Neil came back on stage and we were so wet we decided to stick it out. He did a pretty long 2nd encore with Like a Hurricane and Down by the River. I went home soaked but happy. Like him or hate him, Neil Young puts out effort on stage. Honestly, I’d see any band at Red Rocks. Even the ones I despise because the venue is so cool.
But the concert’s not the point of this piece. I told my brother about all of this while we were walking the golf course. A few months before Dad passed, I watched one of those “Storyteller” shows where the artist comments on a song before playing it. Maybe he or she will explain what it is about or a story about recording it, et cetera. I watched the Neil Young one. When he got to Old Man he said that he bought a bunch of land in Northern California. The seller had a ranch hand that had been working the land for as long as anyone could remember. When Neil would drive around on his property, he’d see the ranch hand around and felt a mix of respect and awe toward this “old” man. I was floored. Once the amazement passed, I started laughing. The lyrics don’t even make sense in the way I meant them “speaking” to my dad! I had forced this entire thing and created an insta-sadness mechanism! I completely had my head up my arse about this. Realizing this really removed a burden for me. I no longer felt so hung up on things. The song had no power over me. The veil had lifted.
So at least I got to sew things up with Dad before he passed. I let go of the anger, forgave him, forgave myself and we talked about things. We didn’t fix everything but we fixed what we could. Like I said above, I still regret not being there when he went to the hospital but I’m glad I don’t have to hold onto false beliefs about us going forward. The lesson for me was to check in with projecting my own feelings or needs onto something else–like a song that doesn’t match up with how I willfully misread its lyrics. Now when I hear that song I picture a weathered old man working the land. Sure, it gets lonely for him, but his life is purposeful and comparatively simple. When I think about Dad I try to do it on my terms. I try to remember the good things and be the man that he was. Because he was a good man and I miss him.