December 2, 2017 started off like any other Saturday; a cup of coffee and some reading, followed up with a phone call "home". A little after 6am, the call came. Nearly 3,000 miles away, a limb had fallen from the family tree.
A million feelings and thoughts shot through me, but there was no time to process. There were plans to make, and planes to catch.
When it was all said and done, the only way I could properly let go of the hurt was to write. "Somewhere in August" quickly became the working title, here's why.
How do you write a song that properly pays tribute to the man that raised you? A man that is completely responsible for the person you would eventually become? The most logical place to start is from the beginning.
The abridged version of “the beginning” is, my mom and my dad were divorced shortly after I was born. It should be noted that their marriage was brief (I don’t know why that’s important, but I feel it’s necessary to mention). This part of the story is second hand information because I was too young to know anything back then.
Gus is part of my earliest memories, so as the story goes, he is the father figure in my life.
As the lyric indicates, my biological father was not present for most of my life. He and I would eventually mend fences about 2 years before his passing, but that is a story for a different blog post. Anyway, back to Gus…
I had been jotting down lyrics as they came to me. I had one idea after another, and the hardest part was trying to figure out which idea was going the be the one I would go with.
Periodically I work with a producer named John Johnson. He and his crew at Tune Designer do a wonderful job putting songs together. As fate would have it, John sent me an email that said he had a few instrumental tracks available that just needed lyrics.
After previewing several of them, one in particular caught my attention. The music felt like it was composed specifically for me. It had my flavor and style, and more importantly, the lyrics fit! I sent a link to Christine (my better half) and asked what she thought.
Her text back to me said “that sounds like you. I think it fits your style.” When I finished reading the text, I was about 75% sure I was going to work with John on this song. Then it happened….
I was walking across the parking lot toward my truck, contemplating this song. Thinking to myself, is this right? Do I want to go with this instrumental, or do I want to write something different? Just then, I see a fishing bobber under my truck.
This was no ordinary fishing bobber. It was a tiny bobber… the kind Gus used every time we’d go fishing. He wouldn’t throw the bobber in the water like most normal anglers. He would snap it in place between the last 2 eyelets of the rod, turning the clasp in a way that let the line easily pass through. Still today, in the rare case that I use a bobber, that's the method I use.
Even if someone is not a fisherman, it is common knowledge that a bobber is a visual indication that you have caught something, and if a bobber under my truck ain’t a sign that I was supposed to have this track, then I don’t know what is.
I appreciate things like sarcasm, a quick wit, and a turn-of-phrase. Long story short, if you can pun with me, you can run with me. That characteristic is evident in my writing (an example would be “Playin’ Possum” which is a tip of the cap to George Jones).
When I thought about Gus, I kept thinking about everything I learned from him. Had he not been there, I would have been at the mercy of mom and society. Gus was my example to follow. He taught me how to be a man, how to treat a lady, how to be a friend, husband, and father. And there it was, I had my hook, I kept coming back to one line… it exits the chorus.
The words “I learned what it means to be a father, somewhere in August”. See, August is the name on his birth certificate; “Gus” is short for August.
I wanted to write something that really paid homage to him, but was still relatable to other people. When I say other people, I don’t mean family (obviously the song means something to them because they knew the man). I wanted a song that made people think about their relationship with their own father or stepfather.
To make sure I really captured the father/son relationship, I took to social media. I asked my friends to describe their father in one or 2 words. The answers I saw were exactly the same way I felt about Gus. They said, hero, best friend, provider, tough, etc.
Once the “feelings” were validated, the song practically wrote itself. C’mon, nearly every kid in the world has heard their dad say “don’t tell your mother”….
I was going to call this section “after thoughts” because (as you will see) I realized something after the song was finished, but I decided to call it “Final Thoughts” because that was from the Jerry Springer show, and Gus was a fan…
I believe that God speaks to us every day, so long as you know how to listen. The bobber was a pretty obvious sign, but there was another obvious sign that I completely missed because I was too focused on writing the song.
Obviously, the message here was that my stepfather (August) set the example for me to follow when I eventually became a father, guess when… August! God reached right into my life and reminded me that even when you think you’ve got it all figured out, there is something more that you haven’t seen or even thought of yet. There are bigger plans for you.
My "bigger plan" was to become a father in the month that shared a name with the man that taught me how to be a father. I was blessed to have such a wise man to learn from, but I was even more blessed that he took the time to teach me.
Now it’s my turn to do the same.
Every chance I got, I made it a point to let Gus know exactly how I felt about him. In the weeks after his passing, his friends told me how proud I made him and how he would speak of me often. I find comfort knowing that he knew how much he meant to me, and that our relationship was genuine.
That is what my kids (biological and step) deserve from me, and that is what they will get, every day, until my last breath.