Updated: Aug 31
“What song has changed your life?”
I heard this question asked of someone yesterday and hours later, found myself thinking about my own answer. There are countless melodies that have moved my soul and lyrics that have captured my experience in ways I could not have expressed...but has a song ever changed my life? That’s high regard to give a song.
But, yes, I do have an answer. Though some credit should rightly be given to the people involved, a hit from many years ago crept back into my mind of a memory from long ago...
When I was much younger, my dad had sent me a mixtape–does anyone still know what this is?–with a compilation of songs that reminded him of me. One of the songs was “Don’t Fence Me In”, written by Cole Porter, but that’s another story. Just thinking about that one still makes me laugh. It probably captured our dynamic in the most real of ways, especially as I got older.
When I first pressed play, though, my room filled with the tune of “Butterfly Kisses”, sung by Bob Carlisle. Have you heard it? I can’t remember if I had before that moment or not, but as the words unfolded around the notes, I cried. My young heart had been impacted by his sweet gesture and the tenderness of the song. I could not recall another act like it from him. There was a vulnerability in having sent this to me that he had never risked showing before.
A while later, I worked up the nerve to knock on his bedroom door, after the house had quieted one evening. He answered, and I told him I had a surprise for him. You see, we had this thing when I was a toddler of dancing together. He had even written a poem about how I would fall asleep in his arms, and he kept a copy of that poem in his most coveted religious book. In an effort to connect with him, I had “Butterfly Kisses” ready to play on my stereo in the living room. We walked in and I asked him to dance.
We did. And it was so awkward.
Like, painfully uncomfortable. I can feel the awfulness even now, and as I type this my body is curling up inside of itself, like a potato bug that wished she had a turtle shell. I was incredibly relieved when it was over and I could hide in the dark of my bedroom again, pretending I had never risked such a bold act of love and care.
That was my first clumsy step forward; a step that didn’t actually feel like it was “forward” at all. I had decided that I wanted a real relationship with my dad and that if I was going to have a chance at one, I had to be willing to be vulnerable and initiate the change myself. I was 12.
At 16, I called him and asked to spend the summer with him in Ohio. He wasn’t always with us in New York because of his other wives, children, and group members, and I was ready for my next big risk. Again, I breathed deeply until I realized no amount of oxygen was going to give me the nerve I needed, then I finally just did the darn thing and dialed his phone number.
“I want to get to know you.” That’s what I told him. He said okay.
That might have been the worst summer of my life. Seriously. But again, I had stepped out, taking a risk for what I wanted.
One year later, I knocked on his bedroom door for what I knew may very well be the last time. I had told my mom that I was done. I was beyond “over it” all–his attitude, his abuse, his favoritism–and I would accept being kicked out if need be, but I would not deal with him anymore. He didn’t deserve to be called “dad.” Biological father, fine, but that’s where it ended. He hadn’t earned it. And I told him so.
For the first time in my life, I planted my feet and spoke what was true. My voice was probably shaking and I’m sure I could’ve been more well-spoken, but the craziest, most unexpected thing happened: he listened.
He listened to me.
And he apologized. My dad apologized to me for his failures as a father. Can you believe that?
There was no happily ever after coming for us, though. Realistically, I doubt there was any hope for that knowing all that I know now. Even had there been such a possibility, there wasn’t time for that depth of reconciliation before he died four years later. We would’ve needed a lifetime.
However, when his final day came, I had the peace of knowing we were in the best place as father and daughter that we had ever been. I was able to see him with more clarity, I had forgiven him for some of the things I knew at the time, and I knew that he could humble himself and show signs of change, to one degree or another. The man who was incapable of trusting had peeked over his city walls and maybe even removed a few cement blocks as his heart peered over the top and down at mine.
I had also begun to use my voice. Against everything I had been taught, I had started speaking up for my beliefs, my hurts, and my desires. I had dipped my toe into the pool of boldness and felt a hint of the relief that freedom brings. It would take many, many years for a dramatic shift to become apparent, but the internal change was underway.
And it all started with a song.
Music can seemingly move mountains within us.
There is something transcendent about a beautiful melody that connects hearts and souls across the ages.
There is something empowering about a chorus that can give us resolve to do things we never thought we could do.
And there is something hopeful. A glimpse at the indescribable that simply must exist, because we can feel it in the deepest parts of us. This undeniable knowledge that there’s more to our very being, more than we can see and touch. More than will ever be actualized in this life.
Have you felt this kind of beauty before? The kind that lifts you up and out of your now and into an unknown that you simply know is better in ways you’ve never seen before? Maybe through a song, or maybe through another art form, or the natural beauty of the mountains or the intricacy of a spring bloom. The imagination of what could be is encouraged and dreams are dreamt.
Is there a song that has changed your life?
Or is there a song that is speaking to your soul now, tugging you into your future?
Whatever it may be for you, I hope you choose to listen, because the other side of that tug could be the change you’ve been looking for.