1975. I am six years old and I am riding with my dad in his Buick Skylark. Maybe it’s a Chevy Malibu. Whatever the car, it’s the size of a small tank with an endless front hood, Batman-like tail lights, and bench seats that are equal parts cushion and spring, and 100% bounce.
It is a moment that is forever etched in my mind.
My dad and I are riding in the car. It is a Saturday morning. I know this because the mood is light–the weekend is here and the day holds much promise and possibility. It is summer because I am wearing shorts and the windows are cranked all the way down. I don’t remember where we are headed. I don’t care. I am riding with my dad–alone. ALONE. Not one of my 6 brothers and sisters to bother me. No one to share the front seat with. Yes, the front seat. I sit across from my dad in the front seat, my legs dangling over the edge of the embroidered nylon bench. No seat belt to trap me in. Just me and my dad cruising on a weekend morning.
The car glides around a bend and I fly across the seat, toward him. I stay there. My bony leg next to his. My elbow resting on his lap. I watch his hand dance along the steering wheel, a cigarette dangling from his lips. He’s so cool. He’s my dad.
As I bask in this time alone, he starts to sing:
You’ll never know just how much I miss you
You’ll never know just how much I care
And if I tried, I still couldn’t hide my love for you
You ought to know, for haven’t I told you so–a million or more times
You went away and my heart went with you
I speak your name in my every prayer
If there is some other way, to prove that I love you, I swear I don’t know how
You’ll never know if you don’t know now
I am awestruck. “Again!” I cry. “Sing it again!”
He protests, realizing he is vulnerable now.
“Please?” I beg.
He obliges. You’ll never know…
We drive on. A dad serenading his son. I feel like the most important kid in the universe.
For a while after that, on the rare occasions when my dad and I would be driving alone, I would ask him to sing that song. It turned into our little duet, as I would echo the last part of each line. HOW MUCH I CARE…MY EVERY PRAYER. It always made me happy, and could serve to draw him out of a mood if he was a little brooding that day.
And then, like too many things in childhood, it just stopped. One day, I stopped asking and he stopped feeling comfortable singing it to me. There were many times when we would be driving in the awkward silence of my teenage years, where I would think about that song, where I would wonder what would happen if I requested it, where I would laugh in my mind at the absurdity of my dad singing to his son, now almost an adult. I never asked, though, and as the song implies, now I’ll never know.
About nine years ago, I heard that song in, of all places, Disney World–the happiest place on Earth. The land of make believe? I was walking down Main Street by myself. It was nighttime and the crowd was thin. I had never heard the song performed by anyone but my dad, yet here I was, being serenaded by the lilting voice of Alice Faye–I checked. My dad had long since passed away, and now I had an infant of my own. I looked up in the night’s sky from the streets of the Magic Kingdom. You went away and my heart went with you…
Yes, a piece of it did. But larger pieces remain behind. Embedded in my first-born son, and soon thereafter, his brother. There are many car rides for us now–smoke free with them tethered safely in the back seat. But I try to remember the glory that can transpire between a father and his son in the more subtle moments of life, on an insignificant car ride, on a random weekend morning.
Car rides that may, in fact, last a lifetime.