One of my earliest childhood memories is of my father and I “walking like Egyptians” in our living room while listening to The Bangles. I was 5, and it was my very first cassette tape — I could not have felt cooler about knowing this trendy hit song by heart.
We’d listen to the song over and over, dancing and laughing until we were red in the face, and each time it ended I’d bound across the room to hit rewind. To say that I was completely obsessed is an understatement. I was determined to “walk like an Egyptian” until my legs gave out.
My dad never once complained, though I’m sure the mere thought of hearing that song for the hundredth time or of doing that same dance on repeat night after night was enough to drive him mad. With this simple plastic gift (Oh, a popular band, let’s see if she likes it!), he’d created a monster.
When it comes to my father’s taste in music, this childhood memory could not be more off-key. A huge fan of classical music, a diehard Andrew Lloyd Webber admirer, and an opera-singing-in-the-shower kind of guy, he was less than thrilled to hear the “noise” that I insisted on blasting from the family boom box over the years — Prince and Paula Abdul, M.C. Hammer, Bell Biv Devoe, New Kids on the Block… All inching their way up to the top of his s@it list with each repeated play. (I’m sure Casey Kasem was up there, too.)
But, the feeling was mutual.
Friends would come over for weekend sleepovers, and without fail, we’d wake up to my dad belting out Andrea Bocelli in the kitchen while making breakfast (at 6 a.m., thankyouverymuch). My friends thought this was hilarious, forever joking with me at school about my dad’s “mad opera skills.” Obviously, he was on a mission to ruin me, and as a self-conscious teen it felt like he was doing a good job.
“Someday you’ll appreciate this — I guarantee it!” he’d holler emphatically. And though I fought this simple promise with enough stubbornness to match his own for two decades, he was right.
I was in my mid-twenties and backpacking through Europe with my best friend from college when it all just seemed to suddenly click. We were having dinner at a café in Munich, and a familiar classical song began to play faintly in the background. Pausing mid-sentence to listen closer, I couldn’t help but hum along. I was completely stunned — and I knew every single note. To this day, I can’t tell you what famous piece this might have been, but I’ll never forget the overwhelming love that I felt for my dad in those three minutes. It was as if I was back, sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, listening to my dad’s jokes, chatting with my mom about my day; I was home. In that moment, I just wanted so badly to hug him, and to admit, for once, that he was right. (Quite possibly the greatest gift of all.)
It’s funny how opinions can shift so quickly and so easily as you become an adult. Old friends still joke endlessly about my father’s early-morning opera outbursts, but now it is me who laughs the loudest. And when we go to visit, I enjoy the chance to wake up to him belting out opera tunes — and that’s a guarantee.
A year ago, he signed up for singing lessons, just for fun. My parents live on a lake and his teacher told him to go out into the front yard and to sing every morning in the fresh air, “to share his music with the lake,” or something absurd along those lines. (Insert many a family joke, here.)
Though I don’t think he performed many early-morning lake arias before letting go of the lessons, this is exactly how I love to picture my dad when I am feeling far away from home and missing him. Waking up the neighbors with his unabashed love for opera just as he did for me throughout all of those years, his confidence in doing what he loves (regardless of his level of skill), and overall, for his assured and unashamed air of “not giving a damn if anyone likes it or not.”