My dad probably never knew that his music transformed me so much. But it took him far away to another place and even if he didn’t realize it, I always met him there.
Riding in the car with him was never a mediocre trip to the grocery store. When we were in the car together, we became the characters of various stories and dreamers of different lives. We would time travel to an infinite amount of destinations.
A car ride with my dad was a waltz in a swanky night club from the 1940s, a war protest on the quad of a university during the ’70s, or a night in the bar, drinking pints with close friends. But my dad certainly didn’t dance, never attended protests and hadn’t touched alcohol in years. It was simply his music, his songs that took me back to those eras of mystery and excitement. Dad was a man of many songs. I became a girl of many stories.
I usually expected the same routine when I rode with him. He would make small talk with me, often about my classes. Sometimes, he would even go out on a limb and discuss the ever-changing love interests and emotions in my life.
But, no matter what we spoke of or even if we didn’t speak at all, my dad would put his music on and we’d both evolve into heroes of a new world. Our car rides were vacations and escapes. Sometimes, we would revisit a place, but usually those were my favorite destinations. One of the best was a smoky lounge with dimly lit candles and waitresses wearing buckets of cheap perfume. My dad and I would sit at a small table and sip gingerly on our drinks – his a vodka martini and mine a Shirley Temple.
We would listen to a man named Frank Sinatra, a picture of sophistication in his shiny, black tuxedo, with a thin cigarette in one hand and a microphone in the other. Though the room was crowded, he would sing just for my dad and me, occasionally giving us a sly wink or blowing a smoke ring our way. My heart always leaped when Sinatra would stand up from his stool, cup the microphone in his hands and preach to us as the lights began to dim: “I’ve lived a life that’s full, I’ve traveled each and every highway, and more, much more than this, I did it my way.”
Suddenly, I would wake up from my dream, usually because the CD had skipped, making Sinatra stutter.
As my dad pounded the dashboard with his fist and tried to help Sinatra clear his throat, I’d start to worry about the man within him once the music ended, lost, standing alone in the world without his melodies and chords. Without Sinatra, all that was left was a man who was overworked, underpaid and quietly singing along to a tired song.
Usually I could soon breathe and sing again when the car would hit a pothole and bring Sinatra, as well as my dad, back: “That’s life and I can’t deny it, many times I thought of cuttin’ out, but my heart won’t buy it.”
Of course, not every car ride with my dad was filled with entertainment. If he made me listen to the gender-confused music of Queen or David Bowie, I felt like the brooding teenager that I should have been, stuck for hours in a car with my dad. Naturally, these times occurred when he was driving me somewhere crucially important, such as school or the movies. I could not dodge the humiliation when my dad pulled up, playing Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” so loudly that I swore the windows of our car would shatter, as if the rust on our car wasn’t embarrassing enough.
My dad grew older and his music selection changed with every season. Within these passages, the man within would finally start to dance, or at least I was finally starting to see him. One thing was certain: my dad gave me an anthem. He blessed me with a song that made my heart dance. I saw it in my own eyes.
My dad gave me “Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. It’s a song that always made me smile and take me back to my childhood. But this time, I wouldn’t be portraying a character. When that song played, I was only asked to be myself and know that my dad had never needed anything more of me. I always know that when Morrison sings, “Cast my memory back there, Lord, sometimes I’m overcome just thinking about it,” my dad will travel back with me and celebrate our paths.
The number of car rides with my dad, once infinite, now gradually decreased. I had committed the unavoidable act of growing up and also growing away from my dad.
Luckily, I found that my musical tastes began to merge with his. He now enjoyed contemporary music, and my generation had begun to dig up the musical skeletons of his era, simply to revel in their bold harmonies. Because of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and their new popularity, the gap between us narrowed.
During one recent car ride I felt our journey together had finally reached its peak. We sat silently in that same rusty and dirty car. But when my dad played the Rolling Stones “Start Me Up” at the top of its lungs, I felt that a new path had emerged. So without hesitation, I proudly put my window down so that all the world could hear:“I’ll take you places that you’ve never, never seen. Start it up. Love the day when we will never stop ... .”
Junior Mary Moilanen is an English major.