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My Dad, by Michael Brandt

My Dad

… read poetry to us

as we lay tucked in our beds

in the room I shared with my little sister

in the bungalow on Ashland Avenue.

Grown-up poetry: Sir Walter Scott, Longfellow, 

Tennyson, Leigh Hunt, Kipling. 

Though much of the substance of those works

sailed well over our heads, 

the way he read them – with something like reverence,

sometimes with urgency,

convinced me that I had much to learn

from Abou Ben Adhem, from Lochinvar, from Gunga Din.

And because my Dad could hit a softball farther

than anyone on the policemen’s team,

which recruited him as a ringer every summer 

for their annual showdown with the firemen,

I knew it would be okay if I was the only boy in my class

who spoke in verse.

My dad could sing.  

His was the kind of voice 

that can exact from an audience 

a moment of absolute silence

just before the explosion of applause.

To listen to that voice, 

flowing from a stage, resounding from a choir loft or 

(muffled by our bathroom door)

offering up “Unchained Melody” as the benediction

to an immersed reverie,

was to recognize something sourced in the heart 

which insists upon expression.

And because the singer had once been

a Chicago Public League wrestling champion, 

I harbored no fear in opening my own heart in song

to the seekers, dreamers and cynics 

who would inhabit the world of my youth.

He had a Code,

not learned by rote,

but slowly assembled from axioms and proverbs, 

scoured by experience.

It required that he stand down to no one

and readily accept the price to be paid for such a conceit.

It led him to always offer to pick up the check

and to never argue over one.

It anticipated the future as an upward path 

and filtered from the past all the puddles of spilled milk.

It allowed for mistakes and apology,

generosity and forgiveness.

And because on occasion I saw this powerful man cry unashamedly, 

I would come to understand

that gentleness is not a weakness,

nor disappointment, loss or failure

the same thing as defeat.

Michael Brandt’s musings have appeared sporadically across a spectrum of Midwestern news and special interest publications. He is privileged to share a ridge top in Arena with his wife, Janet, and their large hound Thule.

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