"You are my dad by choice because you are one of the greatest people I know."
How did he react?
"Well that must be a total of two people then, and the other one is you." He winked at me.
We laughed and hugged.
How did I feel?
We all have people we look up to. Now I'm not talking stars or the kid you always wanted to be in back in school. I am talking special people. Some call them mentors, I call them parents by choice. Or guardian angels. Or life's greatest gifts. Huh, what's all the stinginess? They're all of these at once!
If I think about who is going to walk me down the aisle one day I come up with a bunch of men (and women). They are the ones I'm most grateful for. They inspire me, they are crazily good at what they're doing, they are wise- but most importantly they care. They love. And while they support me along my way and want me to live my full potential they really mostly see my heart. I may succeed, I may fail- eventually it doesn't matter to them. They just want me to be happy. And to learn how to love. It's all they care about. Their teaching is loving me. Not for what I do, not for what I can but for who I am, for the heart that beats inside of me, and the shadows and the smiles I carry. And everything in between.
I know they read this blog and if you're one of them I just want to let you know this is how I feel about you. Think gratitude and love and the greatest joy you've ever known. And then double it. One of these dads by choice told me today: "Your heart is bigger than this room, no, bigger than a house." I turned red. And felt some tears creeping up my throat. My late response to him comes now and goes out to all you amazing parents: "Whenever my heart's as big as a house it's because you guys live in there. It's that kind of life that nourishes it and makes it grow. I love you."
The dad who said that is named Jiggs.
The man is alive. That's actually what I kept saying the second time I saw him, four years later, last fall. I bumped into him on the train. All I knew was that he'd been in the hospital, it had been serious. That day when I spotted him I went up to him and said: "Jiggs...? Oh my god it's you! I'm so glad you're alive!" And I was. Though I'd only met him once before and back then we hadn't really talked it was a huge relief to find him in good health. I couldn't stop repeating that last sentence. Meanwhile Jiggs, who's constantly surrounded by a ton of people, recognized me from years ago. Because he talks with people, instead of talking at them, even if it's just a brief encounter. He's there and so is his heart. And he remembers. Between countless flights and gigs and emails he has space for people. Because he knows (and preaches): Love is what it all comes down to.
A few months ago Jiggs helped me out when I asked him to. That's when I realized he doesn't only say a lot of nice and encouraging things but he actually cares. He took time. That's the thing about being a parent of choice: You don't just become it because a condom breaks. You earn it. By being one amazing person, by sticking around when other people are too busy. By holding hands and pushing backs, by believing in a kid when it doesn't, no matter how old it is. By seeing beauty and greatness in that kid. Long story short - sorry if repeat myself - by loving.
I know Jiggs has a lot of kids by choice because I've heard about things he's done and said to friends of mine that prove how much he cares. And there's no question we all agree on what I couldn't stop saying when I met him on the train: "We're so glad you're alive.".
He said: "Rosa, my dear, haven't I told you about the French philosophy before?"
"No, I don't think so... What is it?"
"The French Philosophy! The great- I can't believe I haven't told you."
"Well I sure can't wait to hear it."
"Here's what they say: Fuck it! ...Seriously though Rosa, let me tell you this: If you love what you do as much as I do it all doesn't matter. The airplanes don't matter, the jet lags don't matter, the aging doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is the music. The magic in the music is what keeps me going, wherever, whenever."
"I know Jiggs, I feel it, I see it. When I saw you up there tonight I thought 'This man is going to play until the very end, even when he can't walk no more, when he can't speak no more- he will be on stage, having the time of his life.' "
"Haha, you're absolutely right! I tell you what- I'll keep doing it even when I'm dead! Who cares? I sure won't stop!"
Jiggs, I have no doubt you will. And as long as you're playing, dead or alive, you'll inspire young men and women, pick them up where they are and help them spread their wings and fly. There is no way on earth that I and we could thank you for that. One last thing though: Don't you dare go to big band leader's paradise before my wedding! You promised to walk me down the aisle. Actually, I need you to. Because my wedding will be better than big band leader's paradise. I just realized I want a bad ass big band wedding. There will be no words, just tunes. The vows will be solos. So will be the minister's lines. And the audience is going to be the biggest rhythm section ever and they'll play, all the time. The whole thing will be one huge tune, continuously going on. Because, daddy, know what, I learn fast. You just taught me something I transitioned my dream wedding into: It now is all about fuck it, let's just play!