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Monday, April 8, 2013

My Secret Superhero- A Tribute

Superheroes are all the rage these days. And who can blame us? Superheroes have everything-- power, charisma, the ability to affect real change AND a clear villain to fight.  Who wouldn't want that? They are symbols of hope, the idea that no matter how ordinary we may seem that there is a spark of greatness in all of us.
Oh, and they can fly. There's that, too.

After my last blog post, I received several positive comments and questions via email, Facebook, and Twitter. My favorite was "How did you get to be so legit?" As much as I would like to answer, "natural awesomeness" it would be much closer to the truth to admit a high level of "nurture awesomeness." 

Because you see, growing up, I had a superhero. I was not one myself, but I had one, and I was in on the secret. Like Lois Lane to Superman, Alfred to Batman, and everybody who knew him to Ironman I was the normal who knew both the secret identity and the super identity of my hero. 

My hero was Rock and Roll Man. He was also my dad. And in keeping with the gold standard superhero formula, he had a mild-mannered alter ego, an everyday persona of kindness and meekness. He's easy to talk to and a good listener who always treats everyone with an automatic respect and courtesy, no matter their age or status. I can count on one hand the times I remember him raising his voice and not use all my fingers.

But put a guitar in his hands and plug it in, and prepare to be blown away by the sound and fury. Music is a huge part of my life and I've spent decades studying it, playing it, and listening to it. I can say without equivocation that my dad is the BEST guitarist I have ever heard play with no exception. It's incredible. It's awe-inspiring. And it's almost unbelievable if you know my dad from anything other than his music, because the man who does a million little services every day in quietness almost cannot be the same person who hits you with the wall of sound and brillance that Rock and Roll man does.

Don't believe me? Check out his YouTube channel. For a specific example, check out this video of him playing a Gibson Flying V.

But for how super his guitar playing was and is, that wasn't what made him a hero. Like all great heroes, he has an origin story that's full of heartache and trial. You see, my dad has loved guitars and rock and roll and music for his whole life. He taught himself to play in high school and was a member of a couple different bands, but the other people in the band started making choices that were more in accordance with what we would think of as a "rock 'n roll lifestyle," than with someone we would want our own kids to grow up to be. I've never gotten the full story, but I know he made his own bad choices at the time and moved out because he and his parents weren't getting along. 

So like Peter Parker he lived with relatives other than his own parents. He moved in with his grandma, his own sweet and nurturing old woman, who consistently and lovingly nudged him towards turning his life around and serving an LDS mission. Very much a "With great power comes great responsibility" relationship. He pushed back, but decided to give God a chance to tell him what He wanted. But my dad had to be sure.

So he made a deal. If he was supposed to serve a mission, then God would let him know by having his car start on the first try. Sound simple? His car was the old, beat up, falling apart kind that in the best of conditions would maybe start on the third or fourth try. To add to the proposed miracle, this deal was struck in the middle of a Northern Utah winter. Freezing cold, tons of snow and ice, the kind of day in the kind of place where the best German engineered cars kept in loving garages only start on the first try about half the time. So like the warrior Gideon, like Jacob at the well, he asked for a sign. Not to give him faith, but to provide a course of action.

Early that next frigid morning, the ancient engine in his duct-taped car turned over on the first try. And true to his word, the direction of his life changed forever. (Incidentally knowing this story is what prompted me to ask for my own confirmation before I got married, and because of it I married the best husband in the world. Sorry everyone else, I got him.)

He served that mission and came home and got married in the Provo Temple to my mom, an incredible person in her own right. Then he dropped out of college to go to work when my mom had my older sister. He didn't do anything with his music at this period or for the next several years, and I'm honestly not sure he even owned a guitar while my sister and I were little. He still loved the music and the guitar was a passion that lay dormant, pushed down because he associated it with all those bad choices early on. That wasn't who he wanted to be, either for himself or for us.

All growing up my dad worked awful, stressful jobs in fields he didn't care about to provide for us. He'd moved around a lot as a child because his father was in the military, and he'd hated all that constant uprooting and swore he would never do that to us. So when better offers or promotions came his way, he'd decline if they meant we had to move. He wanted to give us that stable home, and a place we could call our hometown. No matter what it cost him.

My dad believed in Jesus Christ, and while I can't say he never wavered or had doubts because I don't know if he did or not, I can honestly say he always acted as though he had faith. All the time. Whether or not he thought anyone was looking. I've never been a morning person (finding out I had narcolepsy was actually a huge relief, because I didn't like mornings the way that some people don't like being shot) but every weekday, no matter how early it was when he had to leave, he'd wake us all up for family prayer and scripture study.

I'd like to use this moment to publicly apologize. I was a brat about it. Sometimes a pretty horrific one. I'm sorry for that, and you were right, dad.

I was bitter about the waking up early, but I remember very clearly one specific morning. I wasn't feeling well at all, and I woke up around 5:00 a.m. Scripture study was in 45 minutes, but at that moment I needed a drink more than I needed sleep so I went downstairs to the kitchen.

I stopped midway down the staircase. I could see into the kitchen and I saw my father there. He was on his knees, praying with his scriptures open in front of him and used cereal bowl on the counter. I didn't say anything and he didn't see me. Instead I crept back upstairs and got a drink from the bathroom sink, then went back to bed.

That moment had a profound affect on my life. Not necessarily because of what he was doing, specifically, but because he was already showered and dressed with his breakfast eaten. He wasn't leaving for work for at least an hour, but he had gotten up that much earlier to have time to do his own quiet scripture study and prayer. That moment didn't change me because it gave me faith in the scriptures or in the doctrines of the church. It moved me because here was conclusive evidence that my dad really lived the things he believed. He walked the walk, so to speak. 

The lesson I learned at that moment was that my dad wasn't kidding or being a jerk or just trying to fake it when he woke us up all early. It was because he truly believed. It made me take him more seriously and although I'd love to stay I stopped being a jerk myself about early morning study, I was better about it.

The lesson I've learned since is that for us to be taken seriously, to be believed by our friends, our co-workers, and our children, we must actually DO the things we talk about. Whatever they may be, whether we're taking about religion or exercise or following our passions or giving each other a break, we have to do it ourselves. And it must be both. Words without example can be taken as hypocrisy, but example without words can be misleading. We aren't perfect and we're not going to be great at it all the time, whatever it is, but we need to live as close to the ideal we set as we possibly can.

It was somewhere around this time that my dad picked up the guitar again. At first it was just for family parties or in other "safe" environments. But with the support of my mom, who knew he loved music and from whom I've gained much of my people skills and directness, he started playing again.

He still loved rock and roll, but he didn't like the angry or dark feelings that could come from a lot of the music with the most blistering guitar solos. So he started to write his own. He wrote fun songs, funny songs, happy songs all with incredible guitar and can't help but dance beats. But it was just a hobby; he still worked for those bosses who screamed at or belittled him. He also worked for over two decades as a member of various bishoprics (unpaid clergy) for family and single congregations. He's a bishop right now for a university singles ward, and I'm pretty sure if I bothered to do all the math it's likely been closer to three decades.

I think I've talked a little bit about my passion for writing before. I may have even stressed about how little time I have left of use in my hands and how much I want to get done before that. All this is maybe a third of what Rock and Roll Man feels. He's had a passion for playing guitar like my passion for writing which he's put on the back burner for nearly my whole life because he didn't believe he could make money at it and so instead worked to provide for his family. That is heroic. 

And now he's nearly 60, and he still plays like a superhero. And since we've all finally grown up and moved out he's been able to dedicate more of his time to his music. So much so that he even put out his very first album! (It's a link if you click it- buy it to enjoy with your family!)

He doesn't know how to promote it, though. He's not on Twitter yet and hardly ever uses his Facebook page. He has no agent or advertising company in his corner. My secret superhero is ready to not be a secret anymore, but there's no trumpet or fanfare. There's just him and his music and his Rock Happy! album. Some songs are silly, like Cheesecake Blues or Gettin' Older, some are just fun like Goodnight with a Kiss, and some are unexpectedly poignant like Burst Into a New Life or even What I Want in a Woman.

So I'm asking. This is my favor to ask from everyone, because I know how hard self-promotion can be. I know how many hours you can spend on social media sites and on relevant blogs and get nowhere, because everyone everywhere (even me!) has a mental resistance to being "sold" anything. Share this post and help me do one small thing to thank my dad for a lifetime of sacrificing his dreams to take care of my siblings and me. You can even post your own comments about how awesome your parents are or how much you appreciate their sacrifices for you, and sharing this for my dad can be a thank you to yours from you.

And dad, I promise, if I get famous from being an author I'm taking you with me. Don't forget.