In tune

My dad's mixtape was the most unexpected gift

9th March 2018

How do you grieve for someone who you can barely remember? This is something I’ve been battling most of my life. You see, when I was a toddler my father passed away tragically and suddenly in his mid-thirties. There were no signs this would happen and it felt like something nobody could have stopped. It left my mother with three young boys to raise alone, with her youngest struggling to comprehend what had happened.

How much do you remember from being a toddler? Like, really? I can remember my first McDonald’s Happy Meal, going to a bathroom store to look at sinks and visiting Mr.Blobby land. Three things. That’s about it. So trying to remember a man who was only around for four years of my life is incredibly difficult.

I can see how much he loved me by looking at photos or remembering my nan’s many stories, but I remember little aside from the occasional flash of my dad’s smile. Even then, I question whether my brain is imagining rather than remembering.

Because I was so young when my father passed away, I just didn’t have the maturity to fully process what had happened.

tom hobbs
I’m not sure whether I really remember my dad’s smile

For years, I expected him to walk back through the door. And as I observed my mother crying, I didn’t know how to help. Although it wasn’t their fault, every time my family would share stories or shed tears, it made me feel like less of a brother, less of a grandson and less of a son. I started to resent that they had clear memories while all I had was photos; it made me feel like I couldn’t compete. Sometimes, I felt like the outsider.

Over the last year, I’ve been going to therapy to deal with these emotions and analyse how they’ve manifested into random bouts of anxiety and depression as an adult. And although therapy has made a huge difference, nothing has helped more than the message I recently received from my father.

Don’t worry, this isn’t about to turn into some fucked up story about my dad being reincarnated as a pigeon who communicates with me from the windowsill. Promise.

Earlier this year, I looked through a bunch of my dad’s old things that I had kept after my nan’s death, but never got round to fully looking at. Among them was his high school pencil case, which was littered with graffiti confessing his love for Manchester United, Matt Busby and George Best. And buried deep inside it, hidden under a bunch of rotted pencils, was a tiny paper note.

This was the third in a series of cassette tapes he had made by recording his favourite songs off the radio. Instantly, my heart lit up

On it was a playlist from 1976, sequenced meticulously with my dad’s favourite songs; an activity he was obviously passionate about given the hand-drawn trademark symbol. This was the third in a series of cassette tapes he had made by recording his favourite songs off the radio. Instantly, my heart lit up.

Mixed Artists 1976, Tape III has helped me feel closer to my father

My dad loved Ray Manzarek’s distorted organ solo on Hello I Love You just as much I do — The Doors are my favourite band. He also had a penchant for feel-good ’70s bangers such as Show Me The Way by Peter Frampton and Love Hangover by Diana Ross. Imagining him stupidly smiling with his oversized headphones on, listening to these jams, gave me a mental image far clearer than a photograph.

When I saw my dad had included Another Day, the beautiful yet melancholic highlight from Ram, I started to cry

tom hobbs
It turns out my dad and I have pretty much the same taste in music

For years and years now, I’ve tried to convince anyone who could listen that Paul McCartney’s solo work deserves to be re-evaluated. That you would have to be crazy to doubt his genius. So when I saw my dad had included Another Day, the beautiful yet melancholic highlight from Ram, I started to cry. By the time my eyes saw Magical Mystery Tour, I was in bits, as here, via The Beatles, was a connection to my father I never realised I shared. Yeah, there’s also a sentimental stinker by Ringo Starr on the playlist, but I can forgive him for that one!

When I was a kid at school I would make regular cassette tapes titled Hobbsy’s Hip Hop Hits, littered with all the best new rap songs from the likes of Jay-Z, Nas and Eminem. Much like my dad, I had different volumes of this playlist and would share the tapes with some of my friends. When I realised my dad had done the same thing (well, minus songs that included references to guns and weed) as a teen, I finally got a sense of what the phrase “like father, like son” might mean.

Now, in my late twenties, I can finally say I am living my dream to write about music, with the discovery of this playlist giving me a reassurance that this career is something my dad just might have been proud of. Whenever I want to remember him, I turn on the playlist (which I have recreated as faithfully as possible with Spotify). Mixed Artists 1976, Tape III has helped me to finally process my grief. Thanks dad.

9th March 2018