The Gift

A few weekends ago my dad, Ed Wictor, passed away.  It's hard to think of much else right now.   I've written a fair number of songs dealing directly or indirectly with life passages.  I'm squarely in the middle of one now.  I'd like to tell you a little about my dad, and one of the wonderful and meaningful gifts he gave me.

My dad was a complex man, a good man with deep and intractable flaws.  He grew up in Remsen, Iowa during the Great Depression and the second World War, and bore the stamp of those experiences.  He had a restless and curious intellect, a  mechanical engineer's interest in how things work, a relentless work ethic and an iron will, and on his best days, patient, stubborn persistence in getting something done.  He provided well for his family - putting six children through college - and helped foster a household full of literacy and learning.  He was, by all accounts, a better man than his own father, for which I'm proud of him.  He had a whimsical side, expressed in terrible puns and fanciful wood toys he made.  He was also opaque, secretive, a stranger to everyone in countless ways, perhaps unknowable even to himself.  He was ruled by emotions he had no grasp of, no tools to express directly, and which for decades he tried escaping through alcohol and long work days.  He had no close friends.  Surrounded by family the last decades of his life, he walked alone, trusting no one with his joys, sorrows, or much of anything personal.  That, as much as losing him, grieves me down to my bones.   I'm sad not just for myself, but for him too.  I learned long ago to forgive him his shortcomings, and to take responsibility for mine.  As his son, I share many of his flaws, and I'm grateful to have chosen to handle them differently.  And I'm also grateful for, and proud to have, some of his considerable strengths.  

In the summer of 2001, I quit my teaching job to begin playing music full-time.  On a visit with my parents, my father presented me with a little parlor guitar that had been in his family for decades, and the origin of which I'm now unsure of.  (It had belonged either to his Uncle Gil, or possibly his grandfather…)  Growing up working in Wictor Hardware in Remsen, dad understood the importance of tools, and of giving the right tool to the right guy.  Up until that moment, I didn't know that there were musicians in my father's family.  (My dad's brother Ken, it turns out, was a pretty good trumpeter, and by age 12 was sitting in with swing bands as they traveled through Remsen.)  That family heirloom guitar became my first lap slide guitar, and it started me on the musical path that I'm still on today.  This past week I took the guitar out of the closet, not having touched it for at least five years.  It sounded great - the perfect voice for all those emotions my dad never shared.  Playing in my living room at 2am, I felt grateful for my dad.  
Video of me playing the family heirloom guitar:
Dad's colorful wooden dragons:

Ears and Eyes:  What I'm Listening to and Reading
Stephen Greenblatt, "The Swerve:  How the World Became Modern."
Taylor Branch, "Parting the Waters:  America in the King Years 1954-63"

Movie:  "Intouchables." This is a beautiful, moving film with some good laughs too - see it if you can.