My dad is a famous musical artist.
In his mind.
His group has thousands of screaming fans that follow them from venue to venue.
I’ve been to a few shows, but it always feels like I’m a curator at the dinosaur exhibit. So many dusty, old bones lying around. So many hip replacements squeaking and popping to Frankie Valli’s greatest hits. It gives me a creepy feeling. Like one of those ancient Doo Wop chicks is about to sling a pair of panties on the stage at any moment. Probably a pair of designer Depends. The ones I stock every Saturday on aisle two at the Drug Emporium.
You know, Dad once told me it’s not rock n’ roll when Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers plays a bass solo wearing nothing but a single tube sock—and not on his feet. That proves he’s never stood in the wrinkled shadows of his own audience.
But what can I do? He’s my dad. I have to respect him whether he’s wearing a white-sequins sports coat or not. I have to love him unconditionally even while my meathead teammates announce me as ‘Frankie Doo Wop’ every time I step to the plate. And, trust me, it’s not because I’m doing the twist in front of my locker every morning.
It’s because they know.
I guess you can blame it on Dad’s mid-life crisis. That’s when he and his buddies first tried to relive their days growing up on the street corners of South Philly. That’s when the monster was brought to life, at a high school reunion of all places.
It’s also the name of the group.
Seriously. I came up with it the last time I had a girl over to study. Mandy Johnson. She didn’t even bring her books. But after ten minutes listening to Dad’s demo tapes and another twenty being peppered with questions about the performance, she went home to retrieve them. She studied alone that night.
“Mid-life crisis,” I said to him as soon as Mandy was out the door.
“That’s perfect!” he shouted, his eyes sparkling like a three-year-old with a hand full of gum balls. I wanted to tell him it wasn’t a suggestion. It was a fact. “Just for that,” he continued, “I’m gonna do something special for you.”
Something special? I liked the u-turn this conversation was taking—straight out of Accapellaville. My mind raced with all the essentials I could ever need. I saw my dad polishing the last streak of wax off the hood of his ’84 Trans Am and dropping the keys in my hand. “She’s yours now, son.” I heard the bottles clink together as Dad pushed a case of Yuengling to my gut, smiled, and turned to look the other way. Literally.
And then I felt the final sharp crack—like a cinderblock to the forehead. Reality. The worst.
“We’re gonna sing at your graduation party.”
He couldn’t be serious. He wasn’t really about to do this to me. I mean, get me a DJ. A cover band. An organ grinder. Heck, get me a magician and a clown. We could smack a piñata and play Pin the Tail on the Donkey at this point and I’d be happy. But that’s not what I told him.
“What do you mean?”
“Who needs a DJ,” he said, “when you have live music?” Oh God. This was really happening.
“But all my friends will be there.”
“I know,” he said. “They’ll finally have a chance to hear us in person.” There was a smile stretching across his face that would have made the Joker jealous. I couldn’t say no. I couldn’t just crush him under foot like one of my Parliament menthols.
But I did. I exploded. The words spewed from my mouth without warning. It was like everything I’d ever thought about Dad’s prehistoric singing career had been wrapped up in one of those gas station burritos and I’d washed it down with a gallon of milk. There was no stopping the flow.
“You’re an embarrassment,” I said. “Your music makes me want to puke,” I said. “You guys are a joke,” I said.
Dad stood there like a punching bag as I delivered hooks and uppercuts, but he didn’t flinch. He continued to stick and move.
“You’re too old for this crap. ” Miss.
“You look like you jumped out of a clown car in that jacket.” Miss.
“You guys sound like a bunch of frogs trapped in a can.” Miss.
Dad didn’t move. His smile didn’t fade in the least. I decided to go for the haymaker.
“I hate you for doing this,” I said. “I hate that they’re all gonna laugh at you.” And that one did the trick. But it wasn’t the knock out blow I was looking for.
“Is that what you’re worried about?” Dad said still smiling.
“Well, they’re gonna laugh at me too.”
“Look, son, you can’t worry about that nonsense. If you love doing something, and you love the people you’re doing it for, then you’re on to something.”
As usual, he was right.
Frank Morelli is the author of the young adult novel, No Sad Songs (2018), a YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominee and winner of an American Fiction Award for best coming of age story. The first book in his debut middle grade series, Please Return To: Norbert M. Finkelstein (2019), is a Book Excellence Award finalist. It provides young readers with a roadmap to end bullying. Morelli’s upcoming young adult novel, On the Way to Birdland, hits shelves on June 8, 2021. His fiction and essays have appeared in various publications including The Saturday Evening Post, Cobalt Review, Philadelphia Stories, and Highlights Magazine. Connect with him on Twitter @frankmoewriter and on Instagram @frankmorelliauthor.