Barry Saunders

Daddy gets a day, but few good songs. (Wayne Newton? Yuck!)

ehyman@newsobserver.com

Too bad I wasn’t headlining in Vegas when I made that joke last Friday.

(Appearing nightly: Shecky Saunders.)

Instead, I was in my car alone on Interstate 40 when I tried to figure out why there was so much traffic and where everyone was going at 2:30 p.m. on a Friday.

Has there been a fiery crash?

Is this a holiday weekend?

This, dear reader, is when I came up with the mother – father? – of all jokes: Perhaps, I surmised, everyone is headed out of town to spend the weekend with their fathers. It is, after all, Father’s Day weekend.

That’s when I burst out laughing at the sheer preposterousness of that supposition.

Had it been Mother’s Day weekend, it would have been extremely plausible that home is where everyone was going. But Dad’s day?

Do make me laugh.

A report on the website of the National Retail Federation showed that we spend on average $125 on dad on Father’s Day gifts, but $186 on mom for Mother’s Day gifts. While in Washington last week, I called three popular restaurants to see if they had reservations available for Father’s Day. All did. We ended up eating at home, but can you imagine calling a restaurant on Mother’s Day and finding seats a’plenty?

Years ago, you had to wait to call your mother on Mother’s Day, because – as the robotic operator voice would inform you when you first woke up and reached for the phone – all circuits are busy at this time. So many people were trying to call their mom at the exact same time that you couldn’t even get through.

By a show of hands, who has ever had that problem when calling dad on his day?

You’re right – that was another joke. Can I get a rimshot? Ba-dum.

Richard Spencer telephoned his absentee father years ago, but the call yielded nothing but heartbreak. Oh, and a hit song.

Spencer, of Wadesboro, told me in a 2013 interview and again two weeks ago about the time his musical group was playing a gig in Clearwater, Fla., backing up Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions, when he decided to call his dad.

“It was 1969. I was having really bad marital problems. It was one of those mornings I was feeling kind of bad. Even though he had rarely been there for me, I felt like I wanted to talk to my dad” that morning, he recalled.

So, what pearls of fatherly wisdom did Papa Spencer bestow upon his beloved son? I asked.

“I didn’t talk to him,” Spencer said. “His phone was disconnected.”

That frustration led directly to Spencer taking pen in hand and writing a Father’s Day perennial and Grammy Award winner – “Color Him Father.” It’s about a father who was there.

Cheesy? Sure.

Hokey? You betcha.

Nonetheless, it is a terrifically catchy tune.

Not only that, it is one of the few songs where a dad – in this case, the stepdad – is the hero and not some cad.

The great American songbook of life is full of songs about sweet, long-suffering selfless mothers who sacrificed for their brood. “Dear Mama” by Tupac, “I’ll Always Love My Mama”by the Intruders and “I Want a Gal Just Like the Gal Who Married Dear Ol’ Dad” are three stalwarts of the genre.

OK, maybe not that last one, since the dude who wrote it seems to have had some unresolved Oedipal issues. Tip to the ladies: If a suitor ever says those words to you - RUN!!!

Now, think of what comes immediately to mind when you think of dad songs: “Daddy Could Swear, I Declare,” about a man whose most endearing fatherly feature was his ability to curse a blue streak. Then there is “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” about a man who had two outside children and another wife and who, when he left them, all he left them was alone. (Or was that “a loan?” If it was and it was a low-interest one, then perhaps we can cut dad some slack.)

One dad who will never be able to receive any slack was the one that Wayne Newton sung about in “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast.” Laugh if you want, but the image of that little girl running after her absconding daddy used to have me reaching for a hanky – especially when she goes “Daddy, slow down some, ’cos you’re makin’ me run.”

Lawd.

Can someone please write a good song for dads by next year so Richard Spencer doesn’t have to bear the burden alone?

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

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