My dad was never a singer. While my mother was a soprano in the church choir and my brother could whistle an entire movement of Beethoven’s Fifth on a single intake of breath, my dad’s contribution to the musical harmony of the family consisted of turning up the volume on the radio. Not to say that Dad didn’t appreciate music. I can remember many summer days riding around in the truck, the back of my 6-year-old legs sticking to the vinyl seats as the wind whipped my ponytail in the breeze that substituted for air conditioning, listening to the Statler Brothers on 8 track or the Oak Ridge Boys on FM. But Dad never sang along. He drove in mute appreciation and kept time with the beat by drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.
I asked Mom about it one time. “Why doesn’t Daddy ever sing?”
I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but in my mind she would have been frying apple tarts, a staple in my formative years, so she would have dusted the flour from her hands on her apron before replying, “He’s not comfortable singing in front of people. That’s why he doesn’t sing at church.”
“But why doesn’t he sing in front of us? We’re not people.”
Mom shrugged. “Singing just isn’t Dad’s thing.”
And although I knew that she was right, I did note that as with English, weather, and promises of politicians, there was an exception to the rule. My dad sang “Three Little Indians” almost every afternoon as he was getting ready to work the night shift. One time in particular, Dad had forgotten his work clothes in the utility room; and unbeknownst to him, my sister and her friend had arrived home from high school while he was in the shower. Not realizing the presence of a person outside of our DNA pool, Dad came strolling up the hall in his undergarments, singing “Three Little Indians” and snapping his fingers. Teena was mortified, the friend giggled, and Dad simply turned on his heel and retreated while humming the same tune. At the resilient age of five, I found the impropriety of modest undergarments unfathomable, given that I was still lobbying to go to school in my Wonder Woman underoos. Who knew what the fuss was about? In my kindergarten mind, we had bigger fish to fry, such as that dangling Spanish moss that draped the limbs of the live oaks outside and turned sinister in appearance as soon as the sun went down. But boxer shorts and an undershirt as a family emergency? Please.
I continued to think about that song. I’ve thought about it recently, since it was the only melody I ever heard my father hum, and here’s the conclusion I’ve drawn: Dad was a man who knew his limitations and wasn’t afraid to confess a lack of talent in the field of music. He’d steer away from anything complicated, or even anything that would draw public attention; and instead, he focused on the one children’s tune that he knew he could master. He never strayed outside that simplistic musical realm.
In my own life, I’ve seen this exact trait emerge. My bout with softball, cheerleading, and trying to back a car down a driveway with only the use of the rearview mirror have all brought down a gate of finality in my mind. I’ve been down those paths, some literally, and I will not venture forth again as long as I have breath in my nostrils and forward motion at my disposal. In my mind there’s no need. I was never created to perform any of those activities, so I focus on those I can achieve. I found my niche in singing; I found my niche in writing; I found my niche in overseas community service and, finally, in the realm of teaching. Are there days when even these areas weigh heavily upon me? To be certain, there are. Some days I don’t want to leave the house at 6:30am. Some days I don’t want to open the parent email that will invalidate the long hours I spent grading a set of 40 papers. Some days I don’t want to teach students who tell me they want out of my class because I’m too hard. These are the days of dissonance.
But then, there are the other days. The days when I have a student show me a story she’s writing that I haven’t even assigned. The days when a parent writes a kind note to my administrator because she appreciates the effort I put into my class. The days when a student makes a 15 point gain on a test and beams with joy when I tell him how proud I am of his hard work. These are the days I sing my song, and the melody is just right for my life. So as I pick up another stack of essays to grade today, I remember my dad and his song. May I sing mine well.
© 2013 – Traci Carver