My Dad’s Swan Song

the beauty and bravery of pursuing a passion

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It was on a Wednesday that the oncologist solemnly told my father there was nothing more he could do for him. So what did Dad do that Sunday? He directed an Easter concert. As he led the chorus with his rich tenor voice, no one would have known how weak he was. He died a month later.

My dad’s vocation was dentistry, but his entire life, his hobby was music. He sang in church choirs, barbershop quartets, and community music groups since he was a boy. The last year of his life, I watched my dad throw himself into his passion, making doctor appointments and chemotherapy seem like an afterthought.

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Keep busy at something; a busy person never has time to be unhappy.” How true that was for my dad. When a cancer diagnosis turned his world upside down, he decided to form a new chorus. He spent his days leading rehearsals, studying sheet music, and planning concerts.

He got my mom into the act by asking her to be the pianist. Mom practiced her part to perfection, searched for props, and was reminded of her own love for music. I’m sure my dad knew it would serve as a happy distraction for both of them during the worst possible time.

Throughout his life, my dad’s passion for music added beauty to his own life and that of so many others. For those who knew him well, seeing him continue to pursue his passion even as he was dying was beyond inspirational.

When I get discouraged about my own passion of writing, my husband is always there to quietly ask, “What would your dad say?” Then I remember my dad’s courageous example. Even if I never make any money from writing, I know how much I love it and can only hope it brings a fraction of the happiness my dad’s singing did. Walt Whitman said, “Do anything, but let it produce joy.”

My dad gave his passion his all, but never took it too seriously. “Becoming serious is a grievous fault in hobbyists,” said Aldo Leopold. “It is an axiom that no hobby should either seek or need rational justification. To wish to do it is reason enough.” Perhaps there was no rational justification for my dad performing that last Easter concert. In fact, I remember telling him he should cancel, but more than anything, he wished to do it.

I’m grateful to have the memory of watching my dad direct his chorus that Easter Sunday. With my mom at the piano, we laughed through a rousing rendition of Tiptoe Through the Tulips, sang along to traditional hymns, and fought back tears during a heart-wrenching version of Edelweiss. It was my dad’s magnum opus, his swan song, and the bravest and most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed.

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