“You look just like Jacques.”
I heard these words often, in the smiles and embraces of my mother when she would look at me in my youth and observe the ears, the nose and the likeness of my father in me looking back at her.
Those words were full of sweetness, beauty, pride and love. They made me feel safe and they made me feel connected to a man I knew as my daddy.
His name is James Copenny. He went by Jimmy. Sometimes Jacques. Most times Copenny. He had a twinkle in his eyes, a grit about him, a deep love for seafood and a resilience in him that refused to stop trying in the midst of life’s hardships.
He’s my dad. I have his ears. I definitely have his smile. I have his love for music and all things soulful. I have his heartbeat for Georgia and the beauty of a city that he loved to call “Ms. Atlanta.”
He gave me both my names, first and last. Melodie was how it was originally spelled on my birth certificate. I believe I’ve always been a song to him, inspiration for him, his only daughter.
There’s a pain and an ache that faithfully re-enters my heart each year. It comes a few days after the joy and exuberance of my birthday. It gently knocks on the door of my heart and sometimes I let it in, sometimes I don’t.
But it always comes, respectfully but insistently.
It’s the grief of celebrating another Father’s Day with the absence of your father. The older you get, you do gain something in the knowing and embrace of your feelings. But knowing why you feel what you feel – sadness, mournfulness, grief, change – doesn’t make the ache any easier. It just makes you feel a bit more grounded that those feelings are normal and it’s okay to be where you are in them.
I can write about a lot of things. Writing about my father is very personal and vulnerable. It doesn’t come easy. It’s labor and it’s arduous. It’s taken me five days to put these words into being. Our relationship at the time of his death was one that was in a new chapter of growth and new beginnings. I didn’t have him as much as I needed him in my early years. Because of circumstances in his life, he couldn’t be present and available and that hurt us both. But in my mid-20s we had the chance to try anew. It was good and it was hard but we were both in it, engaged and intentional. He was my dad and I was his daughter and we were becoming good friends.
Then death came as it often does – unexpected, unwanted and unrelenting. He passed away in his sleep at the young age of 56. His heart just stopped beating. I was 26 and when he died it felt like my heart stopped beating too. With his death went all the things I didn’t get a chance to do with him, say to him, the comfort of the expected in experiences and memories with people you assume will always be around, always be with you.
I miss the conversations that never happened. The ones we didn’t get a chance to get into. I would have loved to talk with him about music. He was a musician at heart. He played several instruments, including his voice. I believe my deep love for funk bands, soul and R&B comes directly from him.
There’s a song by the incredible band Maze ft. Frankie Beverly called “Southern Girl.” This song was released a year after I was born. It opens the way real good music used to: great instrumental intro and a bass line that lays down deep into your heart beat.
This song makes me think of my father. It makes me think of how a good song with the right cadence can make any day feel so much better. It reminds me that music really is a universal language.
Music will always be special to me because of my father.
I feel the happy of the melodies and I feel the sad too.
Both make me grateful for the gift of living and the experiences that come through it.