Fatherhood: A case for music therapy
“Roadway, this is Daddy Rabbit. You have a County Mounty on your six”. I was sixteen years old, driving in Cleveland rush hour traffic and having to listen to my father, Bill Merideth, spout out CB gibberish while sipping on his Dr. Pepper.
Being from central Indiana, most kids in my hometown learned how to drive on the interstate by driving to downtown Indy. Not me. My father thought that me being his chauffeur on a business trip would suffice for my initial interstate driving experience.
The boys trip to Cleveland allowed me to see what my Dad actually did when he left our house for extended periods of time as a salesman at a company called Bowman. Through lots of hard work and grit, he enjoyed numerous promotions as a salesman and eventually manager over a long and fruitful career.
My father had great interpersonal skills. Not only was he knowledgeable about the products he was selling, but he always remembered all the clients’ names and usually brought a gift such as donuts with him. I remembered one individual in particular from the trip: a mechanic named “Rooster”. The only reason I remember is well, his name was Rooster, he was wearing a mechanic’s shirt that had a name patch with “Rooster” and he had a tattoo of, you guessed it, on his forearm. I am not making this up. The Alice in Chains song “Rooster” was playing while we were there. I don’t know if he had planned it, but he was one proud Rooster while it was resonating over the speakers of that cold garage.
The tenth anniversary of my father succumbing to lung cancer is slowly approaching in late November. His absence leaves a void that reminds me almost daily how precious life is. Some days I would love to call him up and tell him how weird my day was or how I see him in my own parenting where I say something that is his direct quote.
I know as a parent he wanted a better life for my sister and me than he did growing up. He was not afforded extra curricular activities as he was forcefully catapulted into adulthood too early helping with the family income among his seven siblings delivering newspapers. I was fortunate, thanks to his hard work, that I never had to experience poverty or a tough home life like he did.
I believe, in some aspects, my father overcompensated in his business endeavors due to his upbringing. I also feel that he vicariously lived through his children as much as he could anytime we were able to participate in opportunities he never had. My dad would sit at the desktop computer next to the piano after a stressful day of work and listen to me play as he played solitaire or whatever computer game we had at the time. These episodes of music therapy were rare as he was frequently away on business. But every now and again, he would sit and listen, turn to me and ask a penetrating question about the song I was playing because something he heard had piqued his interest.
I inherited my father’s very unique personality and sense of humor. One time while I was driving he picked a fight with a semi that I had just passed. He taunted and provoked this driver enough on the CB that my father convinced him that we were in another semi and would meet him at the next exit. My father’s trucker vernacular was very convincing. Sure enough, this truck came barrelling by us and pulled off, ready to fight. We continued to drive on down the road in a blue Ford Crown Victoria with multiple antenna making us look like a cop car. That brings up a whole other set of stories all together. I digress.
“To Music, Becalm His Fever” was a wonderful outlet for me to channel my grief. I found the text beautiful and very applicable to my father’s last days. My father occasionally relaxed in a recliner and played chords on a guitar. The piano accompaniment in the first stanza is comprised of only chords he could play.
As the piece progresses, the accompaniment strays from the amateur guitar knowledge my Dad possessed and moves to more complicated rhythms and non-diatonic chord tones. This shows a transition from the man I knew my father to be to the bedridden patient that my mother so lovingly cared for in his final days and eventually hospice.
Towards the end of the second stanza, the accompaniment drops out to allow the piece to finish a cappella. Each vocal phrase shortens just like my father’s final breaths. The final word cannot even be finished by the entire choir as the sopranos are left to finish the final consonant of “heaven” representing his transition from this life to the next.
I have had two incredible experiences performing this piece with two different groups: accompanying the Nashville Youth Choir and conducting the Middle Tennessee Middle School Honor Choir. However, I was so involved with those performances that I did not think about recording. I would love to one day have a good recording of this but until then, I will enjoy the memory of those performances and you can enjoy the MIDI sounds found below.
Bill Merideth always wanted to write some country lyrics and then have me set them to music. We never did get a chance to accomplish that feat. This composition would be the closest thing.
Here is the poem by Robert Herrick followed by a letter my dad wrote to me in his final months. I hope this piece brings healing to you if you have experienced the loss of a loved one. It continues to bring healing to me.
Charm me asleep, and melt me so
With thy delicious numbers,
That, being ravish’d, hence I go
Away in easy slumbers.
Ease my sick head,
And make my bed,
Thou power that canst sever
From me this ill,
And quickly still,
Though thou not kill
Thou sweetly canst convert the same
From a consuming fire
Into a gentle licking flame,
And make it thus expire.
Then make me weep
My pains asleep;
And give me such reposes
That I, poor I,
May think thereby
I live and die
Fall on me like the silent dew,
Or like those maiden showers
Which, by the peep of day, do strew
A baptism o’er the flowers.
Melt, melt my pains
With thy soft strains;
That, having ease me given,
With full delight
I leave this light,
And take my flight