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Richard Marx shares the story of finding — and losing — his best friend

Dick Richard Marx

Dick and Richard Marx

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Updated: June 18, 2013 10:08AM

I miss my dad.

He was the best friend I ever had. He “got” me, as I did him. We had much in common. The music. The Cubs. The same twisted sense of humor. The inability to suffer fools gladly.

He used to say to me, “You know, pal, God forbid one of us gets hit by a train tomorrow. But if it happens, it’s the single greatest feeling in the world knowing there is absolutely nothing unsaid between us. You know I love you because I’ve shown you, and told you, a million times.”

Whether writing ubiquitously catchy melodies for Kellogg’s Raisin Bran or Chicken of the Sea (“Ask any mermaid ya happen to see …” Yep. That one. You know it.), producing and arranging the iconic Ch. 2 news theme or bringing the still-played “Here Come the Hawks” song to life, my dad was the epitome of not just musical excellence but complete integrity and professionalism. He was never late. He was never unprepared. I revered him. But the truth is, until I was 13 years old, I didn’t really know him very well.

I was an only child, and the product of my father’s second marriage. He was in his 40s when I was born, and in his first year as a business owner in a field that was still somewhat new and just exploding: commercials. When I was in grammar school he was averaging three to four recording sessions a day. He’d leave our Highland Park house at 7 a.m., just as I was leaving for school, and be home around 7 p.m. So there was not much time to play catch or go fishing with me. But I totally understood, and my sweet and wonderful mother picked up the slack, despite being in on many of Dad’s sessions as a singer herself.

One day, when I was about 12, my dad was driving home on the Edens and “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin came on. The song brought him to tears, holding up a mirror to his relationship with his son, and what it would likely be in the future.

When he got home, I could tell from his face that something was up. He hugged me tight. He said, “I love you more than anything in life, son, and I don’t spend enough time with you.” I said, “It’s OK, Dad. I know you’re really busy.” He said, “It’s not OK. And I want it to be different.”

And with that, we began a new phase of our relationship. It wasn’t some cataclysmic change overnight. And it was only a slight moderation of things, like throwing a baseball back and forth. But there was more talking. More lingering at the dinner table. We started taking more car rides alone together, and as any parent can tell you, the car is often where great parent-kid talks happen.

Within a year, my father went from being a somewhat mythical figure to my best friend. He was the one who first played me “The Stranger” by Billy Joel and “Still Crazy After All These Years” by Paul Simon. I played him “A Night at the Opera” by Queen. We would sit in the basement and listen and talk. We watched Cubs games together, and never missed a Muhammad Ali fight on TV.

When I left home at 18 to pursue a career in Los Angeles, Dad accompanied me for a few days. We found an apartment for me, and Dad saw me sing on my very first recording session for Lionel Richie. We drove around at night and talked for hours and hours. I felt like I knew everything about him. He let me in. Completely. And what I learned only made me love and respect him even more.

I drove him to Burbank airport for his flight back home, and for the first time in my life, I saw my big ol’ bear of a dad completely lose it. He was a wreck, and within seconds, so was I. We hugged each other and sobbed like babies, and in that goodbye, became closer than ever before.

My parents moved to LA a couple of years later, and despite my constant state of touring and making albums, we spent a decent amount of time together, defying “Cat’s In The Cradle.” I got to tell my dad, before I told anyone else, that my wife Cynthia and I were going to have a child. I actually got to do that three times. As my career progressed, so did my life as a husband, father and businessman. And my father’s counsel, while never volunteered, was indispensable.

He was still active musically himself, and wrote arrangements on some of my hit songs (including the gorgeous string quartet chart for “Now and Forever”). He even performed with me in the mid-90s on “The Tonight Show “and “The Arsenio Hall Show” — more than once. We were still thick as thieves, and we talked all the time about how lucky we were to have this special bond.

And then, in 1997, he was gone. Just like that. No warning. No mercy.

My father died as result of a horrible single-vehicle car accident, while driving cross-country from LA to Minocqua, Wis. My parents had bought a summer cabin there when I was 10, and it was the one place Dad could totally decompress.

I was 33, and the father of three boys. But I still needed my dad. I went into an emotional tailspin that would last … well … it’s never really completely gone away. Now, at nearly 50, I find I feel just the same. I miss my best friend, and I miss my dad.

So when Father’s Day comes around, it’s a bittersweet day. I feel I’ve forged a pretty close bond with all three of my sons, and I’ve come to view Father’s Day from a dad’s perspective. But I never see it show up on my calendar without feeling a lump in my throat. I’d give anything and everything I have to spend one more Father’s Day with my dad.

So, hug your dad tight every Father’s Day. And hug him the other 364 days too.

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