43: Melody of the Heart

43: Melody of the Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Melody of the Heart

Where words fail, music speaks.

~Hans Christian Andersen

A bit of home arrived in the small package I received around my twenty-second birthday. It was from Wyoming. I had moved away from the small town there in order to attend Arizona State University a few years before. The familiar sight felt like a cool breeze reaching its way across the mountains and into my little spot in the desert, giving me some relief from the stress and deadlines my life had become.

Full-time classes along with a full-time job at a hotel had left me little time to stay in contact with anyone from home. I smiled when I saw my name written in my dad’s distinct handwriting on the package. Although my dad still lived in the same town after my parents’ divorce when I was young, I didn’t feel close to him for much of the time I was growing up. Opening the package and seeing a cassette tape reminded me of the journey we took to change that.

Both of my parents could see early on that I perceived myself as an independent spirit. They reluctantly allowed me to stay behind when my four siblings went to visit Dad. “I’ve been babysitting all the time,” I would explain. “I need a break.” Disappointed, Dad would ask me to reconsider. I would get even more stubborn and stand my ground.

These breaks chipped away at the bond with my dad. I talked my way out of fun camping trips. I lost the chance to take part in his family reunion in Michigan and learn about my own birthplace. I was old enough to remember enjoying listening to Dad playing guitar and singing while he still lived at home. By staying away, I missed out on the performances taking place in his new living room. By the time I was in my teens, I was performing a role of my own: Angry Teenager.

As a man who never seemed to want to rock the boat, it must have been difficult for Dad to cast his oars into these turbulent waters. But one day, he took the plunge. He was worried that we were not close. “I’m here for you, you know,” he said. I rolled my eyes and inhaled deeply on the cigarette I had lit to show how grown-up I was. I performed the kind of screaming fit appropriate for the Angry Teenager role.

This fiery argument started to turn to ash as I realized that, at the very least, Dad had been an audience for my living room performance. He was right there, even as I was pushing him away. I smashed out the cigarette, not sure of my next line.

The next big performance didn’t belong to me, or even to my musician father. Dad planned to take me to Salt Lake City for an eye appointment. I was excited; it was the Big City, after all. My four younger siblings stayed at home, so for now, it was just my dad and me.

During our road trip, Dad and I listened to music. He could respect a lot of what I was listening to. He may not have understood why all of the guys in bands I liked wore more make-up than I did, but he seemed to relate to my excitement about the songs that made up the soundtrack of my life. Dad would play music from his day. I realized bands like The Beatles or the Stones could be as good, or even better, than my music. I told him all about my sophomore research paper. It was about music censorship and the new parental advisory labels. I sensed Dad agreed with my tentative title, “Let Freedom Rock.”

This shared appreciation of music let me see that I was more a reflection of him than I had given myself a chance to realize. Somehow, he had known this already. About halfway to Salt Lake, he told me to open the glove compartment. I reached in to find two tickets for a concert at the Salt Palace, for that night!

Hours later, I was racing up to the stage to get closer to the guys from Winger and Cinderella. I turned around to find my dad. There he was, tall enough to see above the teenage girls, enjoying the show. “Who are you here with?” a familiar voice yelled through the wailing guitars. A girl from my high school had made the trip.

“My dad surprised me. Isn’t that cool?”

As I made my way through the next few years, I did see my dad more. Often, I watched him from the audience while he performed with one of his bands at local fairs or picnics. It was something he loved to do when he wasn’t working down in the mine. But usually, I showed up when I needed something. I didn’t yet have the emotional tools to show up “just because.” He bought my prom dress. He test drove the white Mustang with T-tops that I saved up for and just had to have, even though I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift. Later, that same Mustang and I became frequent visitors to Dad’s Repair Shop — his garage. Maybe I was being needy, but I wasn’t being turned away. We would still talk about music. But eventually I started to talk about the other important things: my plans for the future, school, boyfriends. I may have just been hovering backstage, but, somehow, I had started to find a place for me with my dad.

So there I was, at twenty-two, holding a representation of our still newfound connection: a music tape. I turned it over and read the title. The tape held just one song: “Tina Marie ’73.” Written and performed by my dad. When I listened to it the first time, I couldn’t help but cry.

Rising through the melodic strumming of the guitar I heard my dad’s voice wondering if “the bright wallpaper made her shine, the way she did” — singing about me, in that quiet time when I was a baby. Calling out to me with the magic that is music, he reminded me of more recent times when he “tried to look in, to see what was on my mind.” My tears of sorrow for time lost turned to tears of hope when I heard Dad explain about how “much time was ahead” and now it was “time to dry all the tears we shed.”

This song reminds me that the love my dad felt for me was essential to create the melody he had in his heart for all of his children. Even as I tried to separate myself, Dad had been willing to wait. Now, even though he is physically miles away, I can still listen to the song that bears my name and feel my dad’s love surround me, causing me to shine, the way I did for him all along.

~Tina Haapala

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