Runaround Sue was the malapropos anthem of my childhood. I’m not sure why my father thought a song about a cheerful promiscuous woman would be the right thing to play for a two year old, but play it he did. All of his other song choices made perfect sense: The House at Pooh Corner, I’ve Got My Pajamas On, All of Me… all sweet, child friendly songs with positive messages. A quarter of a century later, however, and the one I remember best is the song about the girl who runs around with every single guy in town. My father would bring out his beat up guitar and I would dance, dance, dance.
From the very first hours, my father has wrapped my life in music. It began with theme songs: Airwolf, Greatest American Hero, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. There were songs he loved (Sweet Baby James, Fire and Rain, Carolina in My Mind) and the ones we made up as we went along (Goodnight to Freckles…you’ll always be my friend…). When he discovered the Vineyard church, it was Awesome God and The Victory Chant. Whenever there has been a campfire in my life, my father has been there to serenade it. Whenever I’ve had a song stuck in my head, he’s been around to play it out for me. If I want to sing, my father is there to back me up.
If the music had been the only thing my father gave me, it would have been enough. But he is not a man of few words or few talents, and he wanted me to have all my bases covered. He made sure I could identify superheros, pro-wrestlers, and the crew of the Starship Enterprise. He read me chapters of the Bible interspersed with chapters of Tarzan. He taught me to play Pooh Sticks, to ride a bike, to follow instead of lead when I dance… he coached soccer, softball, and whatever else was my hobby of the week. My early education was peppered with talk of quantum physics and computer science, and he helped me build a laser at age eight.
If the lessons were the only thing my father gave me, they would have been enough. But he is not a man to teach from a distance, and he jumped in. He donned a white top hat and tails to become Charlie the Cherub in our kids choir and an electric bow tie for my elementary recital. In middle school, he took the stage with me for my very first solo number – rocking a wicked Irish accent and watching patiently as I sang. He made sure he knew what I was doing in class, helped me finish my homework, and fixed everything I broke.
If participation in my activities was the only thing my father gave me, it would have been enough. But he is not a man to settle for activities – my father participates in me. He knows the names and habits of every friend I make, becomes their facebook buddy, and comments on their lives. He asks my opinion when he doesn’t need to and genuinely considers my viewpoint. He engages me in debate, challenging my ideas and pushing me to consider new angles. He defends me unconditionally, and believes that I’m somehow stronger and smarter and better than I am. He makes sure that I know it.
I am lucky. I am lucky because from the beginning, my father has taught me, participated with me, been my friend, and provided the soundtrack. I’m lucky because he played Runaround Sue over and over again, inappropriate lyrics and all, simply because I loved dancing to it. He’s exactly the sort of parent I hope to someday be.
If I’d been given the chance to choose, Daddy, you’d have been my pick. Thank you. Happy Father’s Day.