Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Through music, a boy is gifted an expression of love from his stoic father
My father and I had many disagreements. He was a wonderful father, but sometimes, to assert my independence, I would disagree with him for no good reason. We always had a good relationship, but there were tensions. Tonight, for reasons I cannot fathom, I asked Alexa to play music by Andres Segovia, the man who was one of the most revered classical guitarists of all time.
That moment took me back in a completely unexpected way to an experience with my father. One I shall never forget.
I had not been thinking of my father, so I don’t know why this happened. I was in middle school in Saratoga, California, and I had been playing the guitar for just a couple of years. I loved it. My parents knew about my interest, and they gave me my first guitar as a present. At that time, I played mostly folk music, meeting with friends and sharing songs after school. I played hours every day. One day my father told me that he had purchased tickets for us to see Segovia in concert in San Francisco. I was stunned. My father loved music, but he never listened to classical guitar music. He was more of a Frank Sinatra kind of guy. And he had never done anything like this before.
My father sang in the shower, and since he left the bathroom window open, he could be heard at least two houses away. It embarrassed me at the time, but now I treasure the memories. I can still hear his version of Frank Sinatra songs. Sure, I cringe a bit when I remember, but the memories are sweet nonetheless.
He was a person of impeccable character, a good husband to my mother, a good father to me and my two sisters, and a beloved professor of political philosophy. He inspired me in many ways, and later on I chose to follow in his footsteps and become a professor as well. He always took me seriously, listening to my questions and giving me precious time to answer them.
But he was never any good dealing with feelings. He couldn’t talk about his own feelings, and he was impatient with others when it came to issues related to their feelings. He was of a different generation, a sailor on an aircraft carrier during World War II and…
As far as he was concerned, the best thing to do was deny one’s feelings and carry on. Some people have called his generation the greatest. Perhaps it was, but it came with a price.
There were times when his awkwardness with feelings could be hurtful. Later, after I had grown up and had been married for several years, my wife and I experienced a miscarriage. I called my parents to tell them that I was devastated. After a short silence, my father said, “Oh well, you can always have another child.” There was no acknowledgment of the pain that my wife and I were feeling. It was one of the most insensitive things I had ever heard. I was so angry with my father, that I couldn’t speak with him for over a year. How could he say that to me? I know he didn’t mean to minimize the pain that my wife and I were feeling, but he couldn’t help himself. He was only saying to me what he would have said to himself.
But that day at the concert, I understood. I had never been to a live performance before, and I had no idea what to expect. I was all dressed up, wearing a tie and a sport coat — a rare thing for me. We arrived at the theater, and I discovered that it was much smaller than I had imagined. I realized later that it was perfect size for a solo guitarist. I was very excited. There was no curtain — just a single wooden chair in the middle of the stage. The simplicity of it was deceptive, because what came after was so complex.
There was no fanfare. At a certain point, Segovia just walked quietly on to the stage. He didn’t look at the audience, but it wasn’t an affront. He was already absorbed in the music he was about to play. He sat down, looking somewhere into the audience, without focusing on anyone in particular. And then he began. It was magic. I was transfixed. If you have never given classical guitar music a chance, I hope you will listen to some soon. The music was quiet and yet powerful. I had never experienced anything like this before. I loved the guitar, but I had no idea that the instrument could create these sounds.
About two minutes into the performance, a man who had arrived late, walked into the theater. He was as quiet as he could be as he walked slowly down the aisle and found his seat. But he had disrupted the mood. To my amazement, Segovia stopped playing. He wasn’t angry, and he didn’t reprimand the person who had entered the theater. He just sat quietly on the stage for what seemed like an eternity. And then, he began his piece again, from the beginning. It was a pure and direct experience with music.
I learned that day about beauty. Segovia taught me, but my father made it possible.
My father and I drove home quietly that night. We spoke from time to time about one thing or another — never about what had happened at the theater. I understood much later that my father was communicating with me through the music. He didn’t know how to talk to me about feelings, so he took me to a concert that awakened and celebrated feelings. My father was showing his love to me. Even at the time, I appreciated what he had done, but now I see how much was really going on that night. Through the years, my father and I never discussed that night, but I believe to this day that it was as important to him as it was to me.
My father passed away several years ago. There were so many things I wish I had said to him, so many questions I still wanted to ask. Now I will never have the chance. But that day at the concert, everything was said with the music. Thank you, father.
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