Awkward Laughter

Because most things in life are humorous, even when they shouldn't be

How Roy Orbison Saved Me: 30:30 Somethings


It seems blaspheme to say this, but the combination of Osama bin Laden, football coach Steve Spurrier, and Roy Orbison reunited me with my father. Outrageous, yes. But before these men collided in unexpected ways, my dad and I hadn’t spoken in years.

Let me back up. Growing up, my father told me and my sisters many stories over, and over, and over again.

The time he grew six inches in one summer during high school. Or the time he scored a perfect 100% on Ms. Phipp’s two-hour calculus exam in a mere 15 minutes. Ugh! We couldn’t take another rendition.

By Jac. de Nijs / Anefo (Nationaal Archief)  via Wikimedia Commons

By Jac. de Nijs / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) via Wikimedia Commons

So when he told a different tale, about Roy Orbison, on my 30th birthday, I perked up. And the fact that I was listening at all reflected 10-year’s worth of redemption.

A decade before I wanted to give my dad the middle finger.

My parents split in 1995 when I was 20. Their marriage concluded with a less-than-happy ending – imagine police intervention, a restraining order, and perhaps you’ll get an inkling of the turmoil.

I never planned to speak to my father again!

My sisters and my mom forgave him long before I did. His attendance to anger-management classes, cutting back on his alcohol intake, and other apologies served as atonement for them. Not me.

Still, as the 2001 football season rolled around, I thought about calling him.

Both avid Florida Gator and college football fans, my dad always topped my mind that time of year.

Considered calling. Didn’t.

Then 9-11 happened. Fear and sadness permeated the country, which is why even the biggest Florida fans didn’t care when officials canceled the perennial mid-September game with Tennessee. We mourned real losses instead.

Recognized that I probably should call my Dad. Didn’t.

One month later, the Gators experienced their first loss of the football season. Auburn took us down.

As silly as it seems, I teared up. The upset simply caught fans, like me, looking for some level of normalcy off guard.

Thought about reaching out. Didn’t.

The Steve Spurrier-coached Gators responded by rolling through our November opponents, including our in-state rival FSU. I felt like a victor when officials in the South Eastern Conference (SEC) delayed the championship game by one week, allowing the canceled pseudo-battle between Florida and Tennessee to play out as originally planned for 9/15.

I exuded arrogance. Florida came into the game with 9-1 overall and 6-1 SEC record, tied with Tennessee. But Florida had dominated with an average margin of victory in its SEC wins three times larger than Tennessee. Sure we had players injured earlier in the season, but we had this in the bag, right?

Kickoff! The first quarter proved brutal – 14-0 Tennessee. Then vindication. We came back 20-14 in the second.

That half-time score prompted me to run to the nearby pay phone. I finally dialed my father’s number.

He answered to an unknown caller. Even after six years of not speaking, he knew exactly who was ringing his line

“Go freaking Gators, toot!” he said.
“Go Gators!” I shouted.

We celebrated a short-lived win that eclipsed the actual final score. The Gators lost 34-32.

But in that moment, he knew that I’d forgiven him.

This brief exchange led to many more conversations, to me relocating to Florida near my parents in 2004, and ultimately, to my father sharing his Orbison story.

By David Shoenfelt (OTRS) via Wikimedia Commons

By David Shoenfelt (OTRS) via Wikimedia Commons

In the early 60s my dad attended a concert that included Roy as one of the acts.

Roy left early and landed at a nearby bar. My father approached him, told him how much he enjoyed his music and asked if he’d like to split a fifth of whiskey. Roy said yes and sat down.

Dad refused to share exactly what they discussed, or perhaps he couldn’t remember. I’d love to think they chatted about “Pretty Woman,” after all, my mother was beautiful. But their encounter occurred several years before my parents began courting each other and Roy released that chart-topping song.

The reality: Roy and my father just bullshitted and got wasted together.

My mom, dad and I sat on her back porch as he recounted that experience. My parents had moved from married, to divorced, to best friends by then.

As the three of us feasted on fried catfish, baked beans and cheese grits, I asked, “Dad, you’ve told so many stories repeatedly in my life. Why in the hell did you hold this back until I was 30 to share such an amazingly cool one?”

He smiled, “Well, toot, I guess I was waiting until you were ready to hear it.”

And in that moment, I felt he’d finally forgiven himself.

“Well, the girls all think, he’s a real gone guy They all flip when he walks by.
Shanty clothes and cool white shoes, he’s ready to go and never sings the blues” Roy Orbison, Domino

When we buried my dad four years later, we dressed him in his favorite “cool white shoes,” circa 1960s Orbison.

Thanks, Roy!

How about you? Have you ever rekindled a friendship or relationship due to unexpected events or experiences? Or failed to do so, as in my case, as soon as you probably should have? This post was prompted in part by WordPress’ Daily Prompt: New Wrinkles.

4 thoughts on “How Roy Orbison Saved Me: 30:30 Somethings

  1. This one made me cry…! I never knew that John Dyke and Roy shared some space, whiskey and conversation. I do however remember his dancing shoes. Law how that man could and LOVED to cut the rug! And you’re so right….you’re mama is one beautiful woman.


  2. Kim!!! You are a WRITER. I must call my father. Well maybe not now, given that he goes to bed at around 8, but tomorrow.


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