my old man

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I was driving home from church on Sunday when a song crossed my mind I had not thought of in a long time.

“Hey, Siri,” I said, “play ‘My Old Man’ by Steve Goodman.”

She repeated my request and the song began. The version I have is from a live album, so it started with Steve talking about his dad and then saying he wrote the song after he died. Then he began picking his guitar and singing.

I miss my old man tonight
and I wish he was here with me
with his corny jokes and his cheap cigars
he could look you in the eye and sell you a car
that’s not an easy thing to do
but no one ever knew a more charming creature
on this earth than my old man

Our fathers were not that similar, as you will see if you listen to the whole song, but I find resonance in Goodman’s grief. I, too, miss my old man tonight, and I have in particular over the past few days because (as I realized driving home on Sunday) it was during these last days of July ten years ago that Dad suffered the strokes that eventually killed him. He died on August 3, 2013.

It was not random that the song came to mind as I worked my way home.

Dad and Steve Goodman had their own connection. My father loved “You Never Even Call Me by My Name,” a song Steve wrote with John Prine, though my father knew the David Allan Coe version. He kept the CD cued up in his car and listened to the song over and over.

(A brief aside: Goodman also wrote “The City of New Orleans,” “Banana Republics,” and–if you’ve ever been at Wrigley Field when the Cubs have won–“Go, Cubs, Go.” He died of leukemia in 1984 at the age of 36.)

I was in my late thirties before my father and I began to figure out how to talk to each other. I credit Ginger with being the one who gave me a way to move beyond the stalemate that existed, but that’s a longer story for another time. For reasons I don’t know, as our phone conversations grew more frequent and affectionate, I called him Pop, which I had never done growing up and I don’t know that it was something I did face to face, but when I picked up the phone I said, “Hi, Pop.”

Perhaps I needed a new name for a fresh chapter in our relationship. That chapter lasted over two decades before he died. I am grateful. I thought of the way we found each other as Goodman sang,

and oh the fights we had
when my brother and I got him mad
he’d get all boiled up and he’d start to shout
and I knew what was coming so I tuned him out
and now the old man’s gone, and I’d give all I own
to hear what he said when I wasn’t listening
to my old man

Eva Meijer writes,

Memories are much more fluid than data, more tangible too. Perhaps stories are a better metaphor for memories. Stories also change over time, and because of who tells them; stories that people tell themselves and others change with them. And they change us too, whether they’re our own stories, or those of others.

If he were alive, we would both be setting our alarms to wake up at 3 am to watch the Zambian women play their first World Cup game, or maybe we would record it and watch it together (by phone) over breakfast. That the competition falls over these weeks is serendipitous for me as I remember him.

I miss the old man tonight
and I can almost see his face
he was always trying to watch his weight
and his heart only made it to fifty-eight
for the first time since he died
late last night I cried
I wondered when I was gonna do that
for my old man

Peace,
Milton

2 COMMENTS

  1. I miss your Old Man. We only had 11 years, but they were life-changing.
    This is a wonderful piece (no surprise!); thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

  2. Milton, thanks for tying some loose ends up for me; I met your dad in 1988 after I’d been married for a year and started attending his church in Westbury; he certainly never met a stranger – only got to spend a few years with him before he moved to Waco to work for Baylor and we lost touch, so I never knew any details about his passing, only that he’d gone on – and I’m also a Steve G fan, and knew about him as a songwriter, but had never taken the time to hear him sing, until I saw your video

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