The Piano Man

I wrote this for my Dad’s birthday in May 2010.

When I was a young kid I had a tape of songs made for children. (I was a kid in the 80s, we listened to tapes.) I don’t remember what the tape was called but to this day I still remember some of the lyrics and melodies and if I heard the songs again I would remember them immediately. They were songs about families and nature. Themes include sisters (she’s my sister/and she plays with me/ and I hope that she/ is glad that I’m her sister too), being special, (I’m a VIP in my family/I’m a VIP you see), the wind (Mr. Wind is a mischief/ Mr. Wind is a pest/ He blows my papers everywhere/ He never lets me rest/oo-OOO-ooo-OOO-oooo-OO-ooo) and sharing (If I had a penny/and you hadn’t any/I’d buy a candy stick/And let you have a lick.) I remember the tape was made out of white plastic, with a blue sticker that listed the names of the songs on each side. (For all you kids with your MP3s and CDs, cassette tapes had two sides, often called Side 1 and Side 2, but sometimes called Side A and Side B. Things were simpler then…in the 80s.)

I bring this up only because I had this tape for years and years, even after I had grown out of the age group for which it was intended. I may still have it, and I hope I do. Because at the very end of Side B was a recording that existed only on that tape. It was an audio recording of my dad and me when I was just learning to talk. My dad had used the tape to record a few minutes of our voices. My voice squeaked in delight, in the way only a small child is able. My dad would ask me to count to ten, and I would rattle off the numbers, often times skipping the number 5, I’d stop at the number 9, my dad would finish and say “10” and I would repeat him and then we would cheer and clap. There was more audio of us on the tape too, me making the sounds of certain barnyard animals, and saying my name which sounded like, “My name is Hess” and a few minutes more of us talking until the tape came to an end.

My father loved being a dad and was proud of his kids and happy to show us off. (That sentence makes it sound like he died, but he didn’t, he’s alive and well.) I have a flash of a memory of him and me climbing up rocks next to a waterfall. I remember the rocks being slippery and covered in moss and my dad reminding me to be careful to not fall. He owned a deli in downtown Provo, an idea years ahead of its time, and he had arcade games and pinball machines in the restaurant. I remember those games eventually found their way into our garage when he had to close the business. And I remember my dad didn’t come home from work and crack open a beer and sit in front of the TV. He came home and sang while he played the piano. I grew up listening to Elton and Billy Joel being played live in the living room.

I remember one Friday night when I was about 7 years old I called him at work and asked if he would rent a Nintendo game for me.

homer (My dad and Homer Simpson have many similarities.)

When he came home, he hadn’t rented a game; instead he had bought one: Bart vs. the Space Mutants. That year I went with him to sell beef jerky during the deer hunting season.Every October (I think it was the second to last Friday of the month) he would get up in the middle of the night and drive down through Nephi Canyon to sit on the side of the road and sell beef jerky. I don’t remember ever getting up that early before in my life. I do remember watching the sun rise as we stopped at McDonalds that morning for breakfast. I remember thinking, “McDonalds has pancakes?!” We hit the road again, drove through Nephi Canyon, set up some signs on the side of the road that read Beef Jerky Ahead and pulled off near a park and an old chain-link fence. For years he sold beef jerky on the side of the road since before I was born. He set up shop at the end of the road before the hunters pulled off into the wilderness to hunt. That year my dad brought a Nerf football along with us and I was small enough to fit through an opening in the fence that led into a big field. He tossed the football high in the air over the fence and between the towering pine trees and I would run after to catch it. We would pause when a hunter stopped to buy beef jerky. My dad wasn’t a hunter, and even if he was he wouldn’t have made me be one if I didn’t want to be, and I did not want to be. When we would spend time with my extended family of gun loving, Mormon Republicans at our cabin in Fountain Green, Utah, he didn’t tell me to go out and play with guns or shoot rabbits. He never said that I had to or that I should and never pressured me. I stayed out of the dirt and sage brush, preferring instead to read novels or make friendship bracelets.

The sports bug did not bite me as a kid the way it did other boys my age. Aunts and uncles thought it was strange, especially since all my cousins, even some of the girls, played sports, but even then I never felt any push from my dad to do something I did not want to do. He took genuine interest in the things I did enjoy, like learning to play piano, being in plays, writing, and reading.

He was always supportive and proud of my scholastic accomplishments and my goals. When I got a little older he would laugh at my snide teenage commentary and take with a grain of salt my meandering philosophical rants about pop music and art and why the Smashing Pumpkins were the best band ever. He was always a receptive audience for my random (and frequent) Simpson quoting.

In my late teens and early 20s I went to work for him doing construction in Monterey, CA. I heard on the radio that Marilyn Manson was coming through San Jose and I made a deal with my dad that if he would drive me there, I would buy his ticket to the show. It was one of the best deals I ever made. When I worked for him in Seattle we would go to the casinos and play three card poker and hang out at Fisherman’s Wharf on the weekends.

A few months before I graduated from ASU I took him out to dinner because I needed to be honest with him about some parts of my life. I had prepared for many years for what I was going to say because I knew it had the potential to be life shattering. I had reached the point where I was finally able to talk about it. I was surprised that when I told him the things I had to say, that my worst nightmare was nothing to be afraid of. To his credit, he didn’t try to force me to do something else, or threaten me or try to change me into something I wasn’t. That speaks volumes of his character and for me felt like the weight of a sumo wrestler had been lifted of my back. For that I’m very thankful and proud he is my father.

Today, May 7th, is his birthday. So I say, Happy Birthday Dad! Love ya

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  • Jessica
    March 5, 2013

    I loved that tape! What a fun blog post to stumble upon :)

    • Ryan
      July 3, 2013

      Awesome. Thanks for the link, Jessica. This is up there on my childhood list along with Frog & Toad and The Elephant Show.

  • Jenna
    May 30, 2014

    I just cried reading this again. I love this so much, we have the best dad.

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