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Music, my father, and me

By Matthew Woolford

I was ‘born’ and raised at LP #71 Pelican Extension Road, Morvant, in a house built by my great-grandmother, Shirlee Andries. On her passing, the house went to my father, Michael, who eventually started his own family there.

Our kitchen was a sizeable one. My father, in the tradition of his grandmother, cooked on most days and prepared the ‘Traditional Sunday Lunch’ on the morning of Our Lord’s Sabbath. This was complete with rice, callaloo, baked chicken, sometimes fish, peas of all varieties, and macaroni pie with splashes of tomato ketchup on top.

Also, in the tradition of his grandmother, my father would bake bread in the afternoon of Our Lord’s Sabbath. This would often be shared with a slice of cheese or a spread of margarine among the family. We “all ate and were satisfied’’ (Mk 6:42).

As I write these words, I now see how this may have been his way of sharing the spirit of his grandmother with his own children.

On the countertop, in the corner of this kitchen, was the ‘secret’ ingredient that made all his culinary excellence possible: my father’s little, old radio.

This radio, to the best of my memory, was small and dark brown in colour, with a time-display that never seemed to work. Its speaker, however, was strong enough to send soundwaves crashing through the entire house.

As a child, it was from this radio I learnt that news updates were given throughout the day and not just on the television at night. It was from this radio that we collected the results from the games played the night before in the National Basketball Association. And it was from this radio that my father and I listened to ‘Rick Dees’ Weekly Top 40’ and Emmit Hennessy’s countdown that often followed on a Saturday afternoon.

I now see how this may have been his way of sharing the spirit of a wider world with his own children.

I may have to go straight to Confession if I said that I am, was or ever intended to be a perfect son. Just like the ‘older’ of the two prodigal sons in St Luke’s Gospel, I too have struggled with anger, questioned whether my contributions were being undervalued, and blamed my father for things which he did and failed to do.

And just like the ‘older’ of the two prodigal sons, I too have responded to the sound of music.

According to the Gospel of St Luke 15:25, “Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing… He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him… He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours’.”

I harbour no doubt that it may be easier, and even more popular, to reflect on the moral arc of this parable from the ‘younger’ prodigal son’s perspective. However, at this stage of my life, I find the dialogue between the ‘older’ prodigal son and the father to be more powerful, engaging, and even more reconciliatory in nature.

As Folk Music legend Joni Mitchell admitted in her 1969 Album entitled Clouds, on one of her most influential recordings, I may be starting to see “clouds…, life… and love…” from ‘Both Sides Now’.

According to an article done on Mitchell by Wyndham Wallace, for Uncut Magazine in 2017, “Clouds articulates the dizzying confusion that accompanies the onset of adulthood, when you’re expected to shoulder responsibilities, but are still coming to terms with your identity.”

When I was a child, I saw my father as a perfect man. As I negotiated adolescence, I realised that he wasn’t, and that reality may have been too much for me to bear at the time. That, however, was my cross to carry and not his.

Since then, I have grown in self-control, to some degree, and have learned to better manage and articulate my own expectations.

Our love for music, however, continues to be one of our most important connections. We both agree that Stevie Wonder is a genius, that Marvin Gaye was beyond brilliant, and that Michael Jackson was ‘Gone Too Soon’.

My grandmother, Myrtle Williams, used to say that when a man resembles his father, he is either lucky or blessed. At 38, I can admit, and accept, that I am blessed. And there is little denying this!

I still look like my father, I still walk like my father and in a plethora of ways, I am still my father’s son.