Footsteps

I was listening to the soundtrack of “Springsteen on Broadway” on Saturday when the rock star/singer-songwriter got to talking about his dad.

“When I was a young man and looking for a voice to meld with mine, to sing my songs and to tell my stories, well, I chose my father’s voice, because there was something sacred in it to me,” Springsteen said. “When I went looking for something to wear, I put on a factory worker’s clothes, because they were my dad’s clothes, and all we know about manhood is what we have seen and what we have learned from our fathers, and my father was my hero and my greatest foe.”

I wonder if all boys want to follow in their father’s footsteps, to live up to the man they believe he is, and I think probably so. I know I’ve always tried to treat women the way my father treated my mother, because he set such a good example. My father was an electrical engineer and a ham radio operator, and watching him throw his voice hundreds of miles with that mysterious array of humming machines probably had something to do with my choosing radio as my medium during the first half of my career.

My father was not an overly demonstrative man, but we never felt unloved, not by our parents at least. I remember one angst-filled night when, certain to the depths of my teenage soul that I would always be alone and misunderstood, I fled from the dinner table to my room and threw myself sobbing onto the bed, dimly aware that I was being ridiculously melodramatic but unable to withdraw from the youthful crazy. My dad came in and sat on the bed beside me, no doubt feeling at a loss himself, and he rested a hand on my shoulder and sat there as long as I needed. He didn’t say a word, and he didn’t have to. He was just there, and that was all it took.

I wrote about that moment in a newspaper column to thank him on his 80th birthday. The only conversation we ever had about that column was on the phone a few days later when I paused for an awkward moment and asked him if he saw it. “Yes,” he said, “It was nice,” and then there was another awkward pause, and that was how we knew how meaningful it was for both of us.

My father was born on this date 97 years ago, and for the first time since 1923 he’s not around to be celebrated. His father lived to be 85, and none of his four siblings made it to 90, so it was a pleasant surprise when he completed his ninth decade. “You may as well hang around to make it to 100,” I said, and he laughed and said something like, “We’ll see.” Mom died when they were both 82, and the last time I talked with him about her, he looked me in the eye and said, “I miss her,” with as much feeling as he ever showed. So he was probably ready to go meet her in whatever place it is that spirits go after this.

And so he’s made that journey, and the only time I’ll see him again in this world is when I look in the mirror and see the family resemblance again; there’s something in this face that feels like mine but borrows heavily from his.

I’m not sure I know exactly how to say what it is I want to say. But I feel like if he was here, he’d know what I meant.

Published by WarrenBluhm

Wordsmith and podcaster, Warren is a reporter, editor and storyteller who lives near the shores of Green Bay with his wife, two golden retrievers, and an insistent cat. Author of How to Play a Blue Guitar, A Bridge at Crossroads, Refuse to be Afraid, and A Scream of Consciousness.

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