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While he was away

Are you a hard-working daddy? Did you have a hard-working daddy? If either of those is true, I bet I can make you cry.

It will only take three minutes and 23 seconds. All I have to do is play the Zane Williams song, “While I Was Away.”

By the time I made it home, you were already in bed, chubby cheek pressed to your pillow by a bedtime book you’d read, and I noticed that you looked older than you did yesterday; you’ve been growin’ up while I was away.”

That first verse captures the feeling of fathers busy while their babies are sound asleep – the dads who have to work evenings, the dads who have to work graveyards.

I once worked 52 straight 12-hour graveyards, on top of having a three-hour commute. So I am qualified to tell you, they call them that for a reason.

The only thing worse than leaving every night is not coming home at all – like my dad in a submarine somewhere in the ocean when I was toddling around or my father-in-law working on towboats away from his family.

I spent five months in an Iowa warehouse, 800 miles away from my then 2-year-old son – which means I’m also qualified to tell you a hotel is a lonely place.

I sent “While I Was Away” to my brother. He has three children and works hard. I knew it would get him.

A few minutes later, he texted back, “Man, why did you do that to me? LOL”

The other night I told my wife I was going to learn it so I could embarrass him at a family function, but I hadn’t practiced long until I got choked up myself.

My wife laughed and said, “You’re gonna make who cry?”

The chorus got me again:

“For every dollar I earn, there’s a lesson you learn without me there, and every day I’m on the go, I’m prayin’ that you know your Daddy cared. The hardest part about workin’ hard ain’t the bills I gotta pay, it’s you growin’ up while I was away.”

An old man who had taken good care of his family told me to never expect a thank you for doing something that is your job to do in the first place. I agree with that.

So, I’m not writing this to garner praise for fathers, but I hope you’ll look the song up and listen. I hope you know what that chorus means.

It means your dad pulled on boots and punched the clock because he loved you. Every time he tied a tie and sat in a meeting, it was because he loved you.

The worst part wasn’t getting up at 4 a.m. It wasn’t the machines or the miles. It wasn’t the heat or the cold. It was you growin’ up while he was away.

Stults is a performing songwriter from Russellville.