My dad started taking music lessons when he was a teenager. His teacher would stop by for a lesson, and my grandmother would make sure to feed him before he left. When my dad’s skills exceeded those of his teacher’s, the lessons should have stopped. His teacher kept coming by to play music with my dad, too embarrassed to admit that he was only coming over because my grandmother’s food was that good.
My dad started taking his music on the road in the 1970s. A decade later, still on the road, he met my mom at one of his shows. He soon convinced her to quit her job, sell her car, pack up her belongings, and go on the road with him. They were married in their blue jeans in New Mexico with only the band members as witnesses.
My dad settled in North Carolina after finding out my mom was pregnant with my oldest sister. He became a well-known local musician, playing gigs around town and within the state, giving lessons, and mentoring other songwriters.
My dad picked me up from school most days and drove to the club he played the night before. I spent many afternoons in bars helping him break down and load equipment. “Roadie” was my first official job title.
My dad bought me my first electric bass when I was 12 years old, and I started a band before the end of seventh grade. A year later, I told him I wanted to play guitar. He told me I needed to continue learning the bass so I would better understand how the two instruments worked together. He gave me my first guitar the following Christmas. “We should start lessons soon,” was the last thing he said to me.
My dad died 14 days later. He was 51 years old.
When you experience loss, you often try to find meaning behind it. You look for silver linings or lessons to give the experience some sense of purpose. It’s been over 14 years since my dad’s death, and I still struggle with finding purpose.
But I’ve got a new idea.
Instead of looking for purpose or meaning behind loss, I’ve been asking myself:
- What was his purpose?
- What did he value most?
- What was he trying to contribute to the world?
- How did he live his life? Why?
Once I was able to answer those questions, I then asked myself:
- How can I keep his values alive in the world?
- How can I instill those values in myself and in others?
- How can I continue what he tried so hard to cultivate?
This thought process reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad less than a year before he died. On the way home from school, he asked me, “Audrey, do you think I should get a job? I’ve been thinking about applying to work at Target or Food Lion or some place like that.”
I was completely taken aback. I told him he already had a job. I told him he shouldn’t have a job if it’s not what he loves. I told him that’s what he has always told me: do what you love.
He never did apply to work at those stores, and he died as what he’d always been: a professional musician.
Now, there is a lot missing from this story. There was my mom, who essentially provided for a family of five so my dad could continue living his dream. There were mental health issues kept behind closed doors. Both financial and psychological struggles, however, were beyond my scope of understanding as a child. My takeaways were probably quite different from other family members’. For what it’s worth (and it’s a whole hell of a lot to me), he left a significant imprint:
Do what you love.
And after 14 years, I know how to answer my questions:
My dad’s purpose was to create and share his art with his community. He valued honesty, integrity, and hard work. He lived his life sharing his art and helping others cultivate their own art form. He was trying to accomplish a life of passion and intention.
I continue his purpose by cultivating my own passion as a contributor in the world, whether I’m a teacher, musician, friend, writer, or daughter. I live with intention, doing what I love every single day. I serve as a sounding board for friends who are trying to cultivate their own passions. I serve as a model for my students who are still discovering who they are. I try to put back into the world what I expect to get out of it. And in this attempt to realign, I am living in the present without an idealistic view of a guaranteed future.
My dad lived as if he knew he would only have 51 years to breathe.
I’m doing what I love with the mindset that I may have less.