Over the years, music has covered a wide range of human emotions. But one aspect of the human condition that has never been evoked by a single musician is the complex relationship between father and son. I'm speaking specifically here about the strained bond that forms between the two when the father's neglect for his boy ultimately leads to the son's neglect for his father.
As a father with a particularly stressed relationship with his own son, I would have killed for a classic rock/easy listening tune on this subject to have existed around 1974—the year my son was born. A song that would have warned me that every moment with my son was precious, that time with him was fleeting, and that even though I always had planes to catch and bills to pay, my primary concern should have been providing my son with love and affection, not just food and shelter.
But that song didn't exist, so here we are.
If only someone had taken the time to write a song that, maybe, starts with a catchy guitar riff that both sets off the melancholy tone and foreshadows that the singer is about to take you on a journey through time, pinpointing specific moments in which he has neglected his son. I feel like I can almost hear it now, like a distant dream: the song's narrator bemoaning the many times he turned his son away, even though all the kid did was look up to him, until, in a powerful twist ending, the neglecter has become the neglected.
Christ, that would have been a very powerful song. I can't believe no one ever wrote it.
I know I'm not the only one who could have used a song like that. There are probably plenty of dads—and kids—who turn to the bar jukebox looking for a folksy, easy-to-sing tune that speaks to the fragile relationship of father and son. I can't tell you how many times I've beat my fists against a Best Music Of The '70s boxed set saying, "Why couldn't you contain a song with a straightforward narrative structure that describes my mournful parental situation and then, as a change-up for the chorus, maybe contains a mishmash of broken nursery rhymes to convey the detrimental effect I've had on my son's innocence? Why?"
That actually sounds like it would be pretty stupid, but I'm sure a competent musician could have come up with something better.
If a ballad like that had existed, maybe it would have hit the theme that a father's time with his son should never be taken for granted over and over and over again to the point where it would have stuck in my stupid, selfish head. I'm sure there are more than a few workaholic dads like me who wish they had had a song that hit that theme so hard it made listeners want to shout, "Just stop doing what you're doing for a minute and teach the kid how to throw a ball for Christ sakes."
Where were you, classic folk-rock hit about the tragic cycle of parenthood, when I needed you most?
Think of all the things a song like that could have warned me against: missing my son's first words, always putting off that "good time" we were supposed to have, the taste of my own medicine I got when he came home from college that first time and didn't have a moment for me. But I'm not asking for a song about my specific relationship. It could be the kind of thing where the father and son in the song serve more as archetypes—symbols, if you will—for all father-son relationships. The song could have used them as vehicles that would allow listeners to hook into the universality of the song's overarching message, which I imagine would have been something like, "Spend quality time with your son or he's going to grow up to not give a shit about you."
Look, I'm no musician. I know that.† But I am a father, a father who called his son just the other day and told his boy that he should come and visit because his father hasn't seen him in a while. Unfortunately, my son said he didn't have time because he just got this new job and has a family of his own to tend to. When I hung up the phone it immediately occurred to me that this was exactly what I would say when he was younger and wanted to spend time with me.
The boy turned out just like me. I'll repeat that because I want readers, and potential listeners, to feel like they were just punched in the stomach with a fistful of perfect narrative arch: The boy was just like me.
Something like that would have made one hell of a good song. What a waste.
Perhaps I'm still not articulating these feelings very well. But that's precisely why we all could have used a song to truly crystallize what I'm talking about—a song comprised of heart-wrenching, somewhat melodramatic lyrics that makes you hate yourself for tearing up when you hear them. You know, something singer-songwriter Harry Chapin would have put out in his prime.
Yeah, someone with a soft voice like Chapin's, who could have made listeners think, "There's a barrier between this father and son. On both sides of the barrier, there are affection and love, but in between are decades of unspoken apologies and misunderstandings that have only become stronger over time. But will love be able to conquer the barrier?"
The answer is no.
Because, in the end, this would have been a very depressing song. The sort of thing where the listener surmises that the two men will die never truly knowing each other. Boy, I sure could have used a song like that.
Damn it, Patrick, I'm sorry I was never around.