Friday, November 18, 2011

Fatherly Connections

Ralph Mason (left) and Mike Rafferty (right)

Ralph Mason and Mike Rafferty were two very different men.  Ralph was my father, Mike was my flute teacher.  I began lessons with Mike in 2004, six years after my father died.  Over time, I found myself making comparisons between them.  A few similarities existed despite the fact that other things about them seemed to be reversed, just like their initials.

One hundred and two years ago today -- November 18, 1909 -- my father, Ralph William Mason, and his twin brother Roy were born.  They were descendants of Robert L. Mason, who came from East London, England, in 1775 to fight in the Revolutionary War.  Ralph lived his whole life in or near Indianapolis, Indiana.  Golf was his major passion. He died on February 9, 1998, at the age of 88.

Mike Rafferty was born on September 27, 1926.  While he had six siblings, he wasn't a twin.  He was born and lived the East Galway region of Ireland until he emigrated to the United States in 1949. Music was his passion, and I never heard him mention golf.  He died on September 13, 2011, at the age of 84.

Despite different heritages and circumstances, these two men bore a physical resemblance to each other. They were about the same height and had the same general body type. Both had a wide forehead, a square jaw, and rather large ears -- and they wore similar glasses. The resemblance was especially strong on the days when Mike wore his shirt with the vertical maroon stripes, so similar to the one my father is wearing in the collage above.  (Click the collage to enlarge it.)
(Photo by Kitty Kelly, used with permission)
Like Mike, Ralph was musically talented. In addition to singing in the choir of every church he attended, my dad also sang solos and duets. He had a lovely baritone voice.

Like Mike, Ralph didn't read music. As a choir member, my dad would always place himself next to the strongest singer in the bass section and, listening carefully during rehearsal, he would learn the bass part by ear. He got so adept at learning by ear that nobody realized he was only reading the words, not the notes, when he held up the music and sang.

My dad always encouraged me in all my music activities, but never in a way that created expectations or pressure. He was happy if I was enjoying myself. I always felt the same could be said of Mike.  The difference, however, was that Mike had a much deeper appreciation of how important music is to me. 

My dad was a watchmaker, but before settling into that trade he did his fair share of manual labor and developed strong hands. I remember family friends often commenting about his large hands and thick fingers. "Ralph, how can you manage tiny watch parts with hands like those!" they would exclaim.

Mike had a strong frame from years of working in the warehouse for the Grand Union supermarket chain. He too had well developed, muscular hands. I loved watching Mike's hands. Watching his fingers helped me learn the tunes, of course, but every now and then I would think of my father's hands and for a fleeting moment the memory would warm my heart.

My father worked as a self-employed watchmaker until the last decade of his life.  He also played golf all his life.  As he took in fewer watches, he played more golf.  Both activities were present throughout his life.

Mike, on the other hand, had little to no time for music when he was raising his five children.  He sometimes worked as a bartender in addition to his "day job" at the Grand Union.  His retirement from the Grand Union in 1989 brought a major change to his life.  Suddenly he could devote himself to music.  He taught at festivals here and in Ireland, he played regularly around the New York metropolitan area, and he made his first CD in 1995.  His music really took off when he retired.

So many differences, and yet I feel a very strong fatherly connection to both men.  Ralph taught me many things about life, and Mike helped me find a way to play the flute again.

Mike opened up a whole new musical world for me. He taught me not only tunes but, indeed, the essence of traditional Irish music and its central place in Irish culture. He showed me that one can strive to play really really well without the pressure and negativity I had experienced as a classical player.

Most importantly, though, Mike showed me by example that retirement can be a rich time of achievement and reward.  There is hope...

Rest in peace, Mike.
Happy birthday, Daddy.
I miss you both.

To see all my blog posts that mention Mike Rafferty, click HERE.

© 2011, Linda Mason Hood
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