For most of my life, my parents have received a Christmas card from an old friend of theirs who used to drive me to kindergarten. She would always ask if I was still singing. I am far from the best singer in the world. I’m good enough to sing a song at an open mic, or join in on a single song on an album, but nobody would ever buy a whole album of me singing lead or listen to me for half an hour. I was probably just the only five year old she’d ever met who could do a decent cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”
Most kids are introduced to children’s music at an early age, or so I’m told. I wouldn’t know. I remember owning a single “Disco Mickey Mouse” record. The rest of the music I was introduced to at an early age included, of course, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Marty Robbins, and Waylon Jennings, courtesy of Dad’s record collection.
Most kids go wild when they’re home alone with the parent who is home with them the least. If one parent is a stay at home parent, and the other works full-time, the one who works full-time gets to deal with kids trying to see what they can get away with now that things are a little different than a typical day. I sat on the couch, transfixed by the music I was only allowed to listen to, and sing along to, with Dad.
My mother hates country music. I can thank her for being the only kid who also liked Motown and John Denver and Rod Stewart, but the first songs I sang, I learned hanging out with my Dad. Country music was not to be played when my mom was around. It still isn’t. I don’t think she’s willingly listened to a single country song in her life.
As soon as she left the house, I knew I got to listen to the forbidden music. Dad would wait until the door closed behind her, then quietly walk over, select a few records, and place them on the stereo that resembled a giant writing desk. I would sit on the couch for hours, transfixed by the music and the stories the songs told, singing along as soon as I managed to learn the words. My Dad has always had a good singing voice himself, and would sing along to the records too. I learned to sing both by imitating him and by imitating the music I heard on the record.
I’m not sure my parents knew just how focused I was on music, how much I was learning, until their friend told them I had sung “Ghost Riders in the Sky” during my ride to kindergarten. I followed that up with “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” and “Ring of Fire,” my favorite Johnny Cash song to sing to this day.
My mother was not about to listen to anyone, even her own child, sing a country song, but I was encouraged to sing.
That first bit of encouragement would lead to more of the same messages from adults and my peers throughout my childhood and teen years. I was a good singer, meant to go into the arts. Later, I would start writing stories, and being a rather introverted and shy person, become a bit more comfortable with that art form. Looking back, I can see that my earliest storytelling lessons were likely also from early country music, with its lyrics full of tales of ordinary people facing problems. But I have always been a creative writer whose second passion is music, and who could also sing a bit.
And for that I can thank my Dad.
Happy Father’s Day to my Dad, Larry Szabo…and to all the fathers who encourage their kids in the arts.