Bedtime song for my son

Probably no one in the world has sung Danny Boy more times over the last few years than I have. I’ve warbled the famous Irish ballad just about every night since our Patrick was born in 2008. He insists upon it, and I am happy to oblige.

Singing at bedtime is one of life’s treats. Whether you have a great voice or a gravel pit, children don’t judge. Good, bad, or just plain awful, kids love a song at bedtime. God bless their little hearts.

My daughters, at the advanced ages of “almost 8” and “almost 6,” have outgrown it. They don’t mind a tune or two some nights, but they don’t rely on it. Clara is content to read herself to sleep. Magdalena has been known to shush me if I start in without first being invited, although she does it in a loving sort of a way.

Luckily, I have Paddy, my number one fan. His nightly command performance consists of two numbers: Danny Boy and the Thomas the Tank Engine theme song. In that order. No exceptions. Once Danny Boy begins, everything that follows is as predictable as the tides: Danny Boy. Thomas. Covers tucked in. A kiss on the forehead. Lights out now. I’m closing the door, but not all the way. I love you, buddy, you’re a good little boy. See you in the morning.

That’s the way he likes it, and that’s what I’m here to provide. Thank you and good night. You’ve been a great audience.

Singing the same song night after night is not nearly as tedious as it might seem. I tell myself I’m like Bruce Springsteen, closing every show with Born to Run. It’s my signature. People expect it. And like The Boss, I put a spin on it some nights, just to keep myself interested. Every great artist does.

Paddy loves the deeply-felt, almost-whispered version he gets on long summer nights just as much as he loves the no-nonsense version that he gets on cold winter nights, when the shadows are long, and our small front lawn is hushed and white with snow. Or when there’s a ballgame on TV.

After three years of constant crooning, I’ve gotten inside Danny Boy. Maybe I watch too much American Idol, but I feel like I’ve made a connection with the song. I’ve really started to make it my own.

Here’s what I’ve learned. At two verses, Danny Boy is the perfect length for bedtime: not too long, not too short. And it is a curiously touching song, especially so in the dark light of a child’s bedroom. Singing it every night as I do has more than once inspired real reflection on some important stuff: family and fatherhood, culture and Christianity, life and death.

Am I a sap? Yeah, a little bit. No more than the average Dad. I’ve been known to mist up when the kids hit important milestones, like taking their first steps or learning to ride a bike. No big thing, right? Happens to lots of guys.

But singing that song to my son, and watching as “the pipes” call his drowsy eyelids down the mountainside and into the warmer, sweeter clutches of sleep, I can get a little mushy. He is so fragile, so dependent on me, so helpless. The realization of this has focused my mind. It has caused me to reflect on just how fragile I am. Just how helpless I will one day be to stave off death.

Some day, I know, Paddy will outgrow it too. He won’t want to hear me sing Danny Boy. The day will come when he’ll look up at me and say “Not tonight Dad. I’m all set with this book right here. You can go on about your business, washing the dishes or taking out the trash and such.”

And then what will I do? Then where will I go for artistic fulfillment? Where will I turn to find that deeper to connection to life, love, fatherhood, and death that Danny Boy has become for me?

Maybe I’ll get lucky. Maybe it will be a Tuesday and American Idol will be on.

From the December 2011 issue of Fairfield County Catholic, the monthly newspaper of the Diocese of Bridgeport, CT.

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