How The Backbeat To My Life Begins With My Parents… (Part Two)

Far too many boys grow up without a father and the sad results of that reality can be seen in the moral decline and overall confusion of society as a whole. I am very blessed to have not been another such unfortunate statistic. From my earliest memories I had Dad there to guide me, to push me, and to support me when that support was most needed.  Oh, and I shouldn’t forget to mention he’s something of a local legend: rabble rouser, soldier, businessman…Dad has worn many hats over the years but the one he has worn longest and most consistently was that of father.

He came from poverty but through hard work and a sharp mind enjoyed considerable success later in life. That success was a lesson I followed closely even if at times I stubbornly demanded to make my own way in my own way.  For those who have read The Bowman Boys there is a great deal of my father in the character of Levi Bowman. From handshake deals to battles with local government, Dad is a man whose word means something. In certain ways his kind of man seems so out of place in this age where manufactured feelings are everything while honor and integrity are lesser things too often dismissed.

He isn’t perfect. None of us are—certainly not me. What he has been and will always be is someone who is there when needed, who values family above all else, and who wants the best for those he cares about most. That’s a father—a damn good one.

Here are the tunes that represent the man he is to those blessed to know him:

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Born on the Bayou

This is one of those songs that immediately takes me back to my childhood, one that Dad was largely responsible for creating. We had the run of the land, got our hands dirty, worked harder than most, and were made stronger because of it.

Cat Stevens – Wild World

Ah, the divorce song. I remember the moment so clearly even after all the years that have passed between now and then. It was just the two of us on a long drive to the duck hunting grounds. Dad and Mom were going through their separation. Things were chaotic, uncertain, and sad. Dad has never been one to easily express his own emotional struggles but he briefly let me have a glimpse of the weight on his shoulders that night. The song came on the radio and he reached down, turned it up, and sang along to it in that soft-deep voice of his. When the song was over he turned the volume back down, sighed, and kept on driving. I’ll never forget watching my dad singing to himself out of the corner of my eye. It was the first time I realized he could be as vulnerable as any of us. He was a man in pain thinking of the road behind him while also focusing on the road that lay ahead. Later that Christmas he gave me a card that asked that I take it easy on Mom. He said it was a hard time for all of us, that things would be tough for a while, and that she could use my help. Even then, being the selfish, self-focused thing that I was, I understood the magnitude of the gesture. It was a side of him too few get to see. There was such nobility in his words—the kind of nobility I’ve since tried to replicate in my own life and marriage.

New World In The Morning – Roger Whittaker

This song is one of my favorite memories growing up because it allowed me to see my dad and his father interacting together. Grandpa Bill was a man of very few words. He started a gravel business with Dad that took them to remote locations for weeks at a time which required them to share a trailer as their living quarters. Sometimes Dad would bring me and/or my brothers along for what was a sort of working vacation. Dad ran the front loader and Grandpa Bill drove the dump truck. One time after that day’s work was done I was sitting at the dining table inside the trailer. Grandpa Bill sat on the other side of the table with his arm resting on his propped up knee as he smoked his pipe while Dad stood over the little propane cooktop stirring a pot of baked beans with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. There was an 8-track stereo by the table that Bill turned on. This song started to play. Dad began to whistle while Grandpa Bill puffed on his pipe with great satisfaction as a faint smile crossed his face. He looked down at me with a twinkle in those dark eyes of his and winked. Bill would be gone just two years later. That remains the best bowl of beans I ever had.

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Pancho & Lefty

Back when Dad was the owner of the local watering hole (again, see The Bowman Boys for further reference) we (Dad and my brothers) once attempted to sing this together during a late night Karaoke session. What we lacked in holding a tune we made up for in good spirits and alcohol courage. In many ways the song represents much of Dad’s outlook and attitude, including his devotion to his mother and his lifelong friendship with his former business partner.  He’s always been something of a rebel, albeit a respectable one, who follows those rules that make sense while ignoring the rest. There’s a good deal of wisdom in that. And just like the line from the song, while Dad can’t sing the blues all night long like he used to, the path he laid will continue to be walked upon by the children he raised and the many friends he’s made.


D.W. Ulsterman is an author, educator, socio-political commentator, and the creator of the popular San Juan Islands Mystery series.

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