A song for my dad, who filled my life with music

He also played harmonica and clarinet. But the singing? It was beautiful.

I am the daughter of a singer.

My dad was many other things in his life, as well. He was an Army veteran, a teacher, a school psychologist, and later in life, a realtor. He was also my softball coach, a husband, father and friend to many.

But as he lives his final days in hospice and I capture every moment I can with him, I find myself thinking of the throughline of his life — music.

When he was growing up, he and his family had a singing group that performed at churches. When he was in the Army, he sang “Unchained Melody” in a military talent show.

My mom is also a musician and most of my childhood memories are of the two of them making music. They performed together at weddings, with Dad singing “Let it Be Me,” “I Believe” or “How Great Thou Art” in his powerful bass voice with my mom accompanying.

When we would drive home from trips, I remember my sister and I drifted off to sleep in the back seat of the car, while Mom and Dad endlessly sang songs together. My personal favorite was “Rolling Down the River,” with my dad’s rumbling voice lulling me to sleep.

My sister and I were incorrigible, and we frequently performed “shows” with the neighbor kids, creating song and dance numbers. My dad attended each one, always clapping, always smiling.

When we were small, my sister and I would sit in the living room at night, as my dad sang all of his favorite songs to us. He loved Nat King Cole, Johnny Cash, Roy Clark. We could listen to him for hours. As my love of music deepened and I had my own performances, Dad was always there, as he was for his grandchildren when they performed on Vashon.

My dad was about much more than music. He came from very humble roots and was able to get his college degree as well as his Masters after he left the military. He worked as a small town sheriff’s deputy while going to school and working in a cannery at the time. In his years as a school psychologist, he helped countless kids. I have vivid memories of teenagers calling our house for help or needing Dad’s advice.

One of my favorite stories about my dad involves Elvis Presley, when Dad was stationed in Germany at the same time as Elvis did his short stint.

My dad and some Army buddies had a small band that performed in towns nearby, and one night, Dad was in the restroom when a young guy approached him, saying, “you fellas are pretty good out there.”

Dad then recognized who the guy was, just as Elvis asked, “mind if I sit in?” My dad gladly gave up his lead microphone so Elvis could sing “Old Shep” while he played guitar. Dad has been talking about that memory a lot lately.

As the years went on, music was always there in our family. He always attended my performances over the years. I would perform songs for guests and the sound of piano was a constant in my house, with my mom and sister playing piano with my Dad and I singing together.

He also played harmonica and clarinet. But the singing? It was beautiful. My fondest Christmas tradition was singing “Oh Holy Night” together each year.

My dad’s voice is weaker now. They say he has a few weeks before aggressive esophageal cancer claims him. My dad has been my hero in my life. He now needs help and can no longer walk. His body has weakened. It’s not easy, but we are here. The other day, he sat in the chair near me and sang “Old Shep.”

It made me smile. My dad had a full life. I like to think of that young GI who let Elvis sit in on a session with him. I like to think about the harmonizing my parents did in the car or the countless performances my dad attended. And the music. All the music.

I like to think of those things in these final days. But my dad, a gifted musician, was really so much more. I was blessed to have him. And I will miss his voice in my life.

— Lauri Hennessey is a frequent contributor to The Beachcomber. Her father, Duane Reed, died on Sept. 18, surrounded by his family. On the evening before his death, when pastor Dione Corsilles joined the family to sing hymns at Duane’s bedside, he rallied for a few moments to sing a few words of “In the Garden.”