Keith and Linda


It’s an old story really, the girl who’s missing a father. Either he’s dead, or drunk, or doesn’t care. Or perhaps the parents are divorced and he’s gone or banished. Perhaps he’s an angry man, or neglectful. Hopefully he’s not mean or violent. Hopefully his hands don’t stray to his daughter, but it’s an old story.

Another old, and much happier, story is the father who IS there. He protects his family, teaches and guides. He looks into the eyes of his children and sees through to their souls. He joyfully, most of the time, shares what he knows about life, and interprets and explains the confusion of right, wrong, good, bad, and how the world can be too overwhelming and challenging sometimes. He’s not perfect either. He gets angry at the wrong time, but he apologizes. He forgets the PTA meeting, but he takes you out for ice cream and listens as you talk about your new project. Even if it’s hard for him, he tries to listen and understand emotions, but maybe just trying is enough. Maybe he shows his love by sharing what HE loves so you tune into it the rest of your life, letting the memories wash over you.

I know some of what a good father does by the ones I adopted. My own father left by the time I was eight months old. I never spent a holiday with him, and saw him a few times in my life. His presence was huge though in the ongoing battle with my grandmother who raised me, a battle that lasted until they both died the same week. But luckily I had other “fathers” to look up to. I watched the neighborhood fathers go to work, come home, embrace their wives, play with their kids,  spank their kids, go to the school programs, fix the car, barbecue once in a while. Mow the lawn. They were there every day.

But one of the most important figures in my life was my first cello teacher Mr. Brauninger. I write about my first encounter with him  in my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother, and you can read an excerpt here about our first meeting. For three years, he guided us fledgling musicians like the little birds we were into a love of music, especially Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn that we have never lost. I still know some of the “kids” I played music with so long ago, and we mist over when we talk about Mr. Brauninger. His third year teaching in the public schools in Enid, Oklahoma, Eva, a 5’2″ bass player and firebrand teacher, came to town, and together they became our musical mother and father. They fell in love and got married, and when I was 13 moved away. I lost track of them, but for 35 years, I dreamed I was looking for them.

Finally,  I found them in Des Moines, Iowa, and I came to see them; we embraced each other as if no time had passed. They had silver hair, and I had grown up, but the time we had shared was still part of us. He told me something I would never forget as we talked about the shy, skinny insecure little girl I was. I said to him, “I always felt that you SAW me.” He said, “Linda Joy, when I looked into your eyes, I saw the face of God.”

That shocked me a bit–I knew he was religious but…God? Then I got it. One of my memories of him were how he’d look into my eyes and I could feel that he was there. Really there. No one else did that. Not my mother, not my father. It was a bolt of lightning and a great comfort all at once. I suppose now I’d call it an energetic connection. Or simply call it love.

We were on the best wavelength you can have in those moments, and there were many of them in the four years he was with me, back when I was a bit lost, but for him and the music. I know in some ways he helped to save me, and I have always loved him for it. Luckily for the next ten years, I got to thank him again and again, as I visited him several times before he died. On the last visit, as he was struggling with cancer, he held my hand and looked into my eyes once more. “I guess I have been like a father to you, haven’t I?”

Yes, Jim. You were there for me. Thank you and much love always. Happy Father’s Day.

PS in the photo I’m with my good friend Keith, three years older than me, and later the first boy I loved. I’m 11 here and he’s 14.