(This article is being published in this column with the given permission from the author, Mr. Henry J. Turowski, a retired US Navy Officer, a very good friend, and my former employer during my stint in Diego Garcia, B.I.O.T.)
FATHER AND SONS
(Henry J. Turowski)
Sometimes, although very rarely, a song touches my nerves so electrically that the music and lyrics race directly past my ears and consciousness and go straight to my heart. A moderately known English singer, song writer, and full-time radical named Cat Stevens did this to me. The song, titled “Father and Son”, was a minor success during the period just before Hank was born, but it didn’t come to my attention until after his medical crisis.
Hank was married in April of 2017, and naturally, he has been on my mind – and so has that particular song – for obvious reasons. The song relates a conversation between a father and his rebellious son. Stevens sings both voices, but places sufficient emphasis on the tone and force of the singing to create two different personalities in the music. The “father” sings in a controlled, moderate, and somewhat superior-sounding fashion; the “son’s” voice is strident, anxious, and sizzling with frustration. The combination of the two voices and the poignant words, brings home to me the full effect of the ageless struggle between maturity and independence. It begins with the father’s elegy:
“It’s not time to make a change, just relax and take it easy. You’re still young, that’s your fault, there’s so much you have to know.
Find a girl, settle down, if you want, you can marry. Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy.
I was once like you are now, and I know that it’s not easy, to be calm, when you’ve found something going on.
But take your time, think a lot, think of everything you’ve got. You will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.
Cat Steven’s words are the same ones my father preached to me when I was young, rebellious, and searching for a comfortable niche in life. Dad’s words weren’t eloquent, but the message was clear.
“Take it easy. Stay in school. Get a degree. Avoid girls. Have fun. Give life some time.”
This is the same message, in almost the exact words, I found myself preaching to my own sons, and I experienced the same universal theme of worry and frustration my own father endured with me.
In Cat Steven’s song, the son sings next in an attempt to force his father to understand. There’s no patience in the voice, just as there is no patience in youth. The son believes his own struggle is unique, and someone as “old” as his father could not possibly understand.
“How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again. It’s always been the same, the same old story. From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen, Now there’s a way, and I know, that I have to go away. I know, I have to go.”
I hear echoes of my own attitude toward my father in this message. I felt he could not possibly understand my internal bewilderment. I convinced myself that my concerns and ideas must have been unique. Yet I heard the same refrain from my boys. They were absolutely sure that I didn’t understand their lives and problems. They felt a compulsion to explore and experience life, and somehow, I was holding them back.
From a parent’s perspective, it’s a desperate game of push and pull; of rushing headlong versus waiting patiently; of gorging on life’s experiences rather than savoring each moment; of hiding the ugly realities from children and their seeking their own version of the true meaning. The wrong step, a hasty irrational choice, a decision not founded on certainty, and a young life could be lost forever. I know this all too well with my own ‘lost’ son Patrick.
Whenever I listen to the song’s lament, I always feel deeply sad. Life provides youth with ample energy but insufficient wisdom, and leaves parents with too much sense and not enough charisma. It is a vicious cycle of collision-course miscommunication.
When Hank was only three or four years old, he came quietly into my bedroom one day while “Father and Son” played on the tape deck. He climbed up and sat quietly on my knee as the music flowed. We were both intent on the words and melody.
After the son’s strident plea, Hank looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said gently, “I won’t ever go away, daddy.”
Instantly there were tears in my own eyes, because I knew that was a sweet and wonderful lie.
This was the very first instant in my parental life when I realized that someday he would indeed go away, all my eventual children would. And before that departure, they would suffer all the aches and rage and frustrations of the growing process. Worse still, I was powerless to prevent any of it.
In the song the father repeats his message to the son, then the son answers:
“All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside. It’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it.
If you were right, then I’d agree, but it’s them you know, not me. There’s a way, and I know, that I have to go away. I know, I have to go.”
I cannot listen to this song without suffering a severe emotional impact. It says so many things to me, reminds me of so much that I experienced, and weaves so many messages and subtle warnings.
When I listen, I can feel myself experience emotions felt identically by countless other parents throughout history. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, cycles within cycles – until death intervenes and one cycle ends, but another always begins.
Such is the nature of life.