Father’s Day

Father’s Day

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

Father’s Day

Good morning! Good morning! The song from a Beatles album issued a wake-up call to the morning radio-show listeners. As the raucous noise of horns, crowing roosters, yowling cats and barking dogs slowly died away, John Hancock, the host of the talk show, announced with his usual up-tempo enthusiasm, “It is a good morning! It’s a Wednesday, and I don’t feel like talking about the news. Most of my regular listeners out there know there are other things on my mind these days besides health-care reform in Charlotte, crime legislation in Raleigh and serial killers all grouped in the same sentence. So today is Father’s Day—even though it’s only March. I’ll be back to explain.” The music of melodious guitars changed the mood as Dan Fogelberg’s song, “The Leader of the Band,” filled the airwaves. And listeners heard the emotional words of a mournful son who not only denied his love for his father, but made a poor attempt to imitate the man he admired most.

The music faded and Hancock came back saying, “Yeah, I know. It can’t be Father’s Day. But you know—it’s my show. Today, I want to pull your minds away from world dilemmas. Let’s talk about something we all have in common: fathers. Today, I promise I won’t be rude. I won’t be arrogant. That’s a switch, huh? I want you to call in and introduce us to your dad. Living, dead, good and bad. Tell us about that day with him at Shea Stadium, or remember back to the best conversation you ever had with him. I want to know what he taught you and why he’s special. Tell me about the dad who didn’t leave when things got tough. I don’t know how energetic you’re gonna get on this subject but I hope it works. I’d hate to have to play Montovani all day long. We’ll take a break—the lines are open. Back to you in two.”

In seconds, all lines were jammed. He was a morning talk-show host on the three-call-letter radio station in North Carolina. The association with his audience could best be described as a love/hate relationship. Most loved him for his persuasive personality and gregarious sense of humor and were tolerant of his attitude. But even those who adamantly disagreed with him on many subjects and disliked his arrogance couldn’t resist listening to him. This show would not be about complaints, whining or pettiness. The fifty thousand watts of air would be filled with real stories from the hearts of his audience as they called in testaments to their fathers.

The first caller said, “John, my father couldn’t read or write. He taught us ways to live that had nothing to do with the three Rs. Honesty, respect and character are his values. The whole family taught him to read when he was sixty. He’s a proud, yet humble guy who listens to you every day. He’s seriously ill now so before I miss the chance—I’d like to say on the air, ‘Dad, I love you,’” the voice cracked in emotion.

A fragile female voice said, “Hello, are you John Hancock?”

“I better be,” quipped John, “I’m wearin’ his underwear.”

“Well,” she continued, “I’m a great fan of yours. I listen every day. I know your dad’s been ill. Is he still with you?”

“Yes, ma’am, my father will always be with me.”

“Does he know how much you love him?”

“Well, I hope so,” John replied. “I wrote him a long emotional letter once, just to make sure he knew what he meant to me. I think I wrote it more for myself than I did for him.”

Further into the hour, the beat of Buddy Rich studded the air and John toasted, “This one’s for you, Dad. Some of my fondest memories with my dad were when he taught me how to be a drummer—like learning how to do a double paradiddle.”

A husky voice said, “Hey, Hancock, you’ve really opened a mind trap for me. I’m sitting here by the side of the road—blubbering and crying like a baby. I’ve never had much time for my dad. I put everything else first. I always meant to—but, well, you know. I just called him, telling him I’m pickin’ up a bottle of Scotch and comin’ over. He’s hearin’ your show today, too. I owe you one, buddy,” and the voice choked off.

Each caller shared their lives and their fathers with the listening fans. Comments so beautifully expressed that it seemed as though they were reading from a planned script. Details of a hundredth birthday party; loving praise to a stepfather; kids from a family of six whose dad had raised them after Mom abruptly died. Stories heavy with sacrifice and dedication. Most of the time John merely listened, joining in only occasionally.

It was the last ten minutes of the show, when this caller said, “Hancock, I never miss your show, but I was a little late tuning in today—missed the first part. I know your dad had a stroke. Did your father pass away last week?”

John hesitated a second then responded, “No—he didn’t.”

“Well, you always seem to come up with the unexpected. I hope you have some good news to tell us. My dad died years ago, but I see him every time I look in the mirror.”

Then John said, “The clock tells me it’s time to shut this show down but I need to share one more thing—about my dad. After midnight last night, my mom phoned with ‘the call you don’t ever want to get,’ telling me my dad had just died.”

All sound stopped on the station—dead air—an unpardonable sin in broadcasting. But in this case, excusable. It would later be reported that cars were spotted all over Charlotte, pulled to one side of the road—radio listeners sharing a few seconds of grief with John Hancock. He recovered his voice and struggled to continue. “After that call I found myself in a great state of denial. But my dad taught me to face up to things, to be a man’s man. I didn’t want to tell you ahead of time that he had died. It seemed only right for me to honor my father today by letting you pay tribute to yours. I’m one of the lucky ones. My grieving will be easier, I think, because my father and I found a sense of peace with each other that some people never find. After seven years on this air, my listeners have become like family. Family is what matters.”

In the background, John began playing the hauntingly beautiful theme music from On Golden Pond, then spoke over the score of Field of Dreams. “I’ll be gone for a few days to take my dad back home to Texas.” By this time, John had quit trying to mask emotions or to stop the tears that clogged his voice. His words quivering, he choked, “Thanks for sharing your dads with me—and letting me share mine with you—on this thing we call ‘radio.’ This is John Hancock—out for now.”

Ruth Hancock

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