1. He just had these beautiful pipes. I might not have been so inclined to romanticize him if he hadn’t sounded the way he sounded. But he really did have this beautiful, almost Paul Robeson voice. And then when he wasn’t speaking, he was playing this new, incredibly exciting music. Every time I hear certain Stevie Wonder songs, certain Van Morrison songs, I can hear my father.

    But it was so frustrating to be a little kid. I didn’t have a relationship with him — but also, the radio provided this spotty access to him. So I was always trying to dial him in. I didn’t understand that he had a certain shift every day, so I’d sit out on the stoop and I had this transistor radio, and I was turning the dial excruciatingly slowly trying to find his voice, which really broke my mother’s heart. And yet she didn’t quite know how to step in and take the radio away from me.

    And then what was strange is that when he died in 2002, a lot of his fans posted their favorite shows. They’d saved recordings of some of his best shows, and so I was trying to download them on the Internet. And I was having trouble and I was getting frustrated and suddenly I just stopped and I had this complete flashback. I was doing exactly what I had done when I was a kid, sitting on the stoop, and I just had to turn the computer off and walk away. It was just too trippy, and it took a long time to unwind my sense that he was living this exotic party life — that really, he was a lonely guy projecting a false image through that microphone. It took decades to figure out that that wasn’t the truth.

    — J.R. Moehringer on listening to his absent father, Johnny Michaels, on the radio

  2. J.R. Moehringer

    Fresh Air

    fathers