My younger brother and I were exchanging memories of my father over Memorial Day weekend up in Maine, and he said to me: “I remember you saying that Dad had probably not spoken more than 50 words to you in your entire life.” And he proceeded to relate a hilarious anecdote of how he used to present our father with his High School report cards, which were invariably Straight As, except for one time when he got a “B” in Spanish. Rather than say anything, our father just pointed to it and puffed on his pipe of Half and Half tobacco.
I could have told him another story: how, when my father died, at 55, of cancer, I had felt nothing. It’s a terrible admission, but how could I love a man I had never known? He was a good, brave man who flew 90 missions in a “Flying Fortress” over Occupied France and Italy, and showed me once a flack fragment that had missed his head by inches. I don’t know whether it was the war that took it out of him, or whether he was simply one more in a long line of Anglo Saxons in our family tree who believed children “should be seen and not heard”.
I don’t know when I decided that I was going to have a different relationship with my kids. It was probably after my first daughter was born, and I was the first person she saw, staring straight at me from the doctor’s arms, as if to say “Who the hell are you?”
Michelle, my second daughter, bought me tickets to a Neil Young concert in London for Father’s Day. She’s 28 now, and the last concert we went to together was back in 1999, when she was 14. The first and only other time I saw Neil live was at Woodstock in ’69, when he had just joined Crosby, Stills and Nash. Neil was probably my chief “musical influence”, as we say in the trade. I was drawn to him chiefly because all the women at my “Uni” adored him. “He’s so sensitive!” they would effuse. This was greatly confusing to someone who grew up thinking that women swooned over the likes of John Wayne and Gary Cooper.
But Neil had “staying power”. After over 40 years, he still can draw a mixed audience of Woodstock Veterans like myself and the younger crowd. Part of the reason is, he has managed to keep the fire of his creativity alive, and his music remains fresh even as he and his crew of blue haired Grandfathers from Crazy Horse take extreme care not to get too into the music and throw their backs out while making their guitars yowl. Always The King of Distortion, Neil went a little over board this time and subjected us to over 15 minutes of something that resembled a two mile-wide Oklahoma Hurricane (later, perhaps in atonement, he played the original ‘Hurricane’) in Reverb Hell, but he actually apologized at the end of the show, acknowledging that “some of it sucked”.
After the show, cruising down the Thames on a ferry to London Bridge, some deeper feelings settled over me. I thought of when Neil and I were both ‘Young’. I thought of how amazingly fast those 40 odd years since Woodstock had sped past. I thought of what a wonderful family and professional life I had, when at the time I had no idea of where it was leading. I thought, best of all, what a boundless joy fatherhood had brought to me.