The Old Man

“The Old Man” by John McDermott

Every St. Patrick’s Day season, my mother and I get out “The Irish Tenors” and watch it. One song, “The Old Man,” sung by John McDermott, makes me think of my father, who passed away two years ago this June. It’s not that the song actually recalls my father’s qualities—far from it. My father had his demons and his ways, and I’d have to rewrite the words to “The Old Man” to make it appropriate for the relationship with my father.

Two things, though, make the song resonate: My sister started referring to Dad as “the Old Man” about ten years ago, possibly echoing “A Christmas Story.” And Dad truly loved St. Patrick’s Day, so if ever I was to get a little choked up about him being gone, it would be now, when indulging moist-eyed sentiment is as much a part of the celebration as chugging Guiness.

Dad wasn’t what I call “truly Irish,” although he had a solid Irish lineage. We weren’t the New York or Boston type of Irish. There was never talk of the Easter Uprising or the Troubles; I doubt Dad knew a single rebel song such as “Father Murphy” or “The Rising of the Moon.” In fact, I don’t think he knew much about Irish history at all. His concept of Ireland was based on “The Quiet Man” and typical songs such as “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Bing Crosby might have been his biggest Irish cultural influence.

Nevertheless, he loved St. Patrick’s Day. My mother recounts an instance when Dad was featured on a local news segment on St. Patrick’s Day celebrations back in the 1970s. A recovering alcoholic in his last decades, his Irish celebrating became tempered, but he discovered the nonalcoholic O’Douhls and seemed content with that.

Bad things happened when my father drank, and I don’t relish memories of his binges, although I don’t recall anything specifically dire on St. Patrick’s Day. His joviality on the good saint’s day, though, especially when Dad wasn’t too tipsy, was one of the best parts of his character. He tended to share it more with his bar mates  year round, but we saw it at home in middle March.

Nudge: Choose a sentimental song about a parent or other family member—it doesn’t have to be “The Old Man” or anything Irish—and use it to focus on how that person did or did not fit the image depicted by the lyrics of the song. It’s up to you whether to be totally honestly or demurely sentimental. If you can tie the song directly to the person you’re writing about, all the better.

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