Door Holder: My Dad

My eldest daughter sent a text this morning, with an audio file attached.

Practice run for Katie’s wedding – still learning it!

I listened while driving down Route 60, the autumn colors poking through the morning sunshine and cool air circulating through the open windows of the Mazda. Acoustic guitar, gently strumming; my son-in-law’s voice…

When I think of you and the first time we met 
And I heard the sound of your sweet, gentle voice…

And then my daughter joined in, and I was instantly with them, in the living room of their little home in Fayetteville, the acoustics bouncing off the high ceilings. My heart clenched, truly, in some powerful connection of music and metaphor and DNA; and then I did what, to me, is the only thing you can do in a moment like that.

I found the third part and I sang along.

I don’t know how many people are like this – but we have a certain tribe, those of us who hear two-part harmony and are absolutely, utterly compelled to fill in the blank. It is inherently natural to me – it always happens, and I see it happen with my kids, and I know that this is a things deeply rooted in our souls.

My dad taught me this; or, at the very least, he held that particular door open for me to understand how to find that hollow spot and fill it.

Clyde Case did a lot of things in his life that trickled down to his only daughter. Growing up surrounding by farmland and two boy cousins – a year older and a year younger than me – I learned, early on, that there was nothing a boy could do that I could not. Baseball; football; dirt bikes; cutting Christmas trees; I kept up because I was told that I could, and I was given every opportunity. My dad instilled in me this notion that I could do and be anything that I put my mind to do.

He was the life of the party, my dad; the oldest of four sons, the most irreverent and silly. A leader. Charismatic. And a walking contradiction – the millworker’s son, a Marine who worked his way out of the mill and into the white-collared office, into a sales job that took him to the land of cowboys and endless horizons and great success in the business world – who also could rebuild the engine of a ’67 Mustang and sing Waylon Jennings songs at the top of his lungs.

My dad knew how to work a room, and I remember watching him do so and realizing that there was something in us that was a lot alike; I had that leader gene in me, and so I knew that in many ways I was going to be a lot like him.

And I am.

So there is a massive imprint on my life of my father, and his own life and his choices and character and the way in which he wielded his unique skills and instincts. Of course the impact of his life on mine is larger than one blog post.

But there is this thing, that is most prevalent in my life – that thing that put me in tears this morning as I drove down the highway singing harmony with the blood of my blood and her husband. My dad played music constantly for us; every time we were in the car, we listened to Beach Boys and Waylon and Wille and Merle and the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt. There were no cell phones then, and we all needed something to do in the car – so there was music. Eight-tracks, and then cassettes, worn thin because Dad would play them repeatedly while traveling, making a living across miles and miles of Texas. We sang, and we traded parts; sitting beside or behind my dad, I learned to fill in the blanks.

We did it on Sundays, too; standing side by side in the cool of the Methodist church, we’d lean into the wooden pew in front of us and sing the hymns, alternating parts. I could read music – he could not – but his ear could find the parts as well as I could, and we would cover the alto, tenor, and bass lines, over all four verses. I’m not sure what theology I ever learned from the Methodist hymnal – or if those moments were even close to being worshipful – but I sure learned how to sing parts.  

I remember singing with him at other times, too; for a church talent show one year, “It’s Hard to Be Humble”, in harmony. Anne Murray’s “Cold I Have This Dance”, and songs from Godspell. We learned “Operator” by the Manhattan Transfer with my brother, and we thrilled my grandmother with our rendition in church one day.

I learned this deep, soul-certain thing from my dad – this ability to live in the music and find a place to fit; to settle into the joy of vocal harmony that seemed to somehow connect us to the past, to something unnamed and just slightly hidden behind the current century. There was always a taste of the past in our singing, I think. My dad held that door open for me and pulled me through, running from room to room and helping me find my place – a place of comfort, a claim on what I could call mine.

There is a larger metaphor there, one that applies to the bigger picture. There is a willingness in me to forge ahead, to believe that there is a place for me in most things I encounter in life; and so I have – although still often wrapped in the cellophane of insecurity – a boldness in me that I trace back to my dad. I can be in charge; I can figure this out, I can find solutions and lead the way.

I can find the third.

That is an integral part of who I am. I think of my dad every time I look for the missing harmony part, grateful for the pulse and melody that lives in his DNA, that he placed in mine. And I continue to look for the places to find that missing part in the world around me – be it musical or ministry.

It’s a grand thing, really, to look back and point to the power of influence and see the proof bubbling up in your everyday life. I’m so grateful for my dad, and the way he opened that door for me.

I love my dad.

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