The song started simply on an acoustic guitar. Singer-songwriter Colin Hay, the leader of the 1980s group Men At Work, was on stage at the Barrymore Theater in Madison, performing an original song I had never heard before. The lyrics began, and I found myself getting a lump in my throat.
I can’t let you go just yet
And I still can’t forget
You walking around
You’re in my reflection now
As I reach out and touch you now
Where did you go?
Of all the days to be introduced to the song "Dear Father," it was the 30th anniversary of the death of my own father.
My first-ever published column in 1996 was an essay describing my worries that over time I would forget important details about my dad. The 20 years since have proven that those concerns were unfounded, but like the concerns and regrets expressed by Mr. Hay in his song, they were pretty real at the time.
"As time marches further and further from the day we laid him to rest," my original article reads, "I worry about forgetting him."
Below are some other excerpts from that piece. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I haven’t forgotten you:
I have always regretted that he wasn’t here on earth to see me evolve from a confused kid just out of college to a proud home-owning father with a suit-and-tie job. That he wasn’t here to see his two grandchildren, including the one who bears his name. I can only take solace in the faith that I have, that he does indeed know all of this.
To my children, Grandpa Lyke is just a name in the list of "God blesses" at the end of their prayers, though his name carries the special addition, "up in Heaven with the angels and God."
When my kids get older, I want to be able to tell them in meticulous detail all about the grandfather they never knew.
I want them to know about his subtle wink, his hearty laugh, his huge hands and his arms that were constantly scratched and scarred from farm work.
I want them to know how he would relax by pitching horseshoes when his work was done.
I want them to know how could recite the 1957 Milwaukee Braves lineup from memory 25 years after their heyday. I want them to know how he would take us on long Sunday drives through the countryside, never telling us our destination.
I do not want to remember my father by the last month of his life, when his diseased and damaged body was a shell of its former self. Those details are far too vivid, surreal and disturbing.
It’s amazing the memories you can pull out of storage when something reminds you.
Recently, I was reading my daughter a library book, written by a farm boy who had witnessed his father get badly injured when his clothing got caught in some farm machinery.
When I was a teen, I had witnessed something eerily similar happen to my father. He was climbing up onto a tractor when his pant leg got caught in the spinning mechanism that operated our hay baler.
Amazingly, his pants were ripped completely off him, but his belt remained around his waist. I can’t imagine how much that had to hurt. Despite the pattern of bruises all over his legs, he was incredibly lucky.
What if his pants hadn’t torn free? What if his legs hadn’t been long enough to straddle the bar? Too many farmers have suffered far worse at the hands of their machinery.
I knew little about my dad’s childhood, but my aunt told me where I could find their first home, the farmhouse where my dad actually was born.
I’m sure I had seen it before, probably on one of our long Sunday drives, but that would have been when I was a child.
Now, as an adult, I was determined to really see it. Armed with an old township plat book and my aunt’s description of the house, I pinpointed its location. Not knowing what to expect, I imagined that I might see a neglected old farmhouse on an abandoned farm.
To my surprise, the farm was still a working operation and the farmhouse was in great shape. I drove past it slow a few times, trying to imagine his arrival on a spring day in 1924.
As I drove away from that farm, I thought about all of the things I would ask him if he were alive. I hope, as my children grow, they will have both the interest, and the opportunity, to ask me.
Jim Lyke lives in Milton. His column runs monthly.