Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Father, Lyle Dean Bigelow – The Leader of the Band

Father's Day Tribute - To My Dad

I’m grateful that I remember my Dad. Sadly, that’s more than some can say about their own fathers. On August 2nd, 1995, at the end of 69 years of life, my father passed away peacefully, leaving my mother and six children to go on with life. I was 35 years of age at the time and felt much too young to be advanced to the front line of our family’s male generation, but there I was anyway, reluctant and feeling old before my time. It’s been sixteen years since that sad summer day, and I still miss my father.

I recently visited Dad’s grave, located in Cardston, Alberta, and spent a few quiet minutes contemplating the life of a man who, thou human, gave me life and raised me the best he knew how to. When Dad was three years old, his mother died in childbirth. When he was nine, his father died in an accident. Dad’s childhood and subsequent youth were filled with turmoil and an abundance of uncertainty. My father’s early life was a bumpy ride, and Dad bore those early scars for all his life. Some of those scars made him weak and other scars made him strong and wise. Considering Dad’s rocky early years, not to mention his ongoing poor health, I’m proud that he made as much of himself as he did. I’m not sure I would have done so well. Dad sacrificed for us children. Dad tried hard to set a good example to us.
I’m grateful that he was as good a father as he was to me and my five sisters. And as the years passed, just like most fathers, he got better at being a Dad.

In July of 1957, because of his poor health, Dad took my mother and three older sisters to the lights on the rugged and remote wet, west coast of Canada and became a lighthouse keeper. Little did my parents appreciate how their move would affect their posterity. By the time I was born in 1960, my family was living on their third lighthouse, a tiny, oblong dot of land called Pointer Island. Their move to Pointer Island Light in 1958 would be my parent’s last move until Dad retired in 1984 - and by then I was grown up, moved away and married.

As I stood by my father’s grave, I shed tears of sadness and tears of joy. I smiled as I remembered the story Dad often related about his birth – how the doctor had told his mother that she shouldn’t get attached to him because he wasn’t going to live long. Dad had greatly outlived both his parents as well as the doctor’s expectations. After 69 years of dodging death, Dad now lay at rest in the family plot – and I was left to continue on his legacy... The chorus of a famous 1981 song came to mind – a song written by Dan Fogelberg, called “Leader of the Band”.

“The leader of the band is tired
and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
to imitate the man
I'm just the living legacy
to the leader of the band.”

More tears flowed. Dad hadn’t been perfect in life, yet he had tried – and over time, as I watched the years flow by, Dad became more and more the man he wanted to be. “I’ve seen the light... Have you?” Dad’s oft spoken words sounded again in my mind, accompanied by my memory of Dad’s easy smile, but this time I finally answered the question. “Yes Dad. I think I have finally seen the light. I think that getting life right is about making sustained efforts to improve myself over time – lots of time. I’m not sure I’m as far along as you were at my age, but I will keep on trying – I’ll keep struggling forward. And because I saw you succeed, maybe I can too. Thanks Dad! Thanks for being the leader of our band!”

 P.S. The six seagulls soaring in the beams of the light shining from the skeleton tower on Pointer Island represent me and each of my five sisters. My older sister, Sharon, drew the sketch for Dad's fittingly unique headstone.

Dan Fogelberg in Wikipedia
Dan's live, 1982 performance of "Leader of the Band" on youtube.

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