The First Time I Heard “Don’t Worry Be Happy”
Long before I’d ever heard Bobby McFerrin’s hit single ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, it was a phrase that was all too familiar to me. For more times than I could possibly count, I heard my Father say this to me over and over again all throughout my life. But, the significance of what he was really trying to say to me never quite hit home until after he lost his battle with cancer in 2004.
Dad had grown up in a very small town of Caroga Lake New York, and remained there until his passing. In its heyday, they had two amusement parks, restaurants and taverns, several mom and pop shops, night clubs and taverns, camping site facilities, both public and private, a small ski resort, a rodeo, boating marina’s on many of the lakes, and last but not least, the love of Dad’s life, Nick Stoner Municipal Golf Course. In fact, the Club House and the eighteenth green sit atop what once was the first tannery that gave birth to a county wide industry that would dominate the world leather market until the mid-1970’s. It is no small wonder that a young boy growing up in this magical little town would adopt the saying; ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’. For me it was a magical place as well, where anything was possible.
One of my favorite things to do in those days was climbing trees. The world was my playground among the blue and green canopy of the Adirondack Mountains. It was my very special place where I reigned supreme over my dominion. The first time I can remember Dad clearly telling me to ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ was as a result of being in a tree when I was told not to be. It was a gorgeous day in September of 1968 and Dad was off early that morning to play in the Annual Falling Leaves Golf Tournament on his home course.
Two months prior to this event, I had broken my right arm in two places at my little Brother’s 4th birthday party in July and was still wearing a cast. Dad had gone off to play in the tournament, while my Mother was attending the annual town clam bake at Kowalski’s Point, leaving me, my younger twin Sisters, and Brother with a babysitter at our home. I remember being heartbroken watching Dad pull away from the house that morning without me; I so wanted to be his caddy that day, because I knew he was going to win the tournament. Looking back now, I only know that any boy in my position would have felt the same way, because at that age you look at your Father like he is some sort of superhero that can do anything; “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!”
Anyway, since Mom had already left, I knew where I was headed as soon as Dad cleared the driveway and was out of site, my favorite pine tree. After settling onto to one of my favorite branches near the top of the tree, our babysitter appeared beneath me demanding I climb down from my perch all while reminding me that I was under violation of my Parent’s standing orders to stay out of that tree. “Hah, if you want me out of this tree you’re going to have come up here yourself and make me” I exclaimed while I was laughing at her. “Then I’m calling your Mother, you’re in big trouble now boy”, she yelled back as she stomped off toward the house! Just as I started to celebrate my triumphant victory over the babysitter’s demands, there stood my Mother looking up at me with both hands on her hips telling me to get my little butt 0ut of that tree immediately, or else I would not be able to sit down for a week after she finished paddling it. Back in those days, if you did not jump as soon as you were told to do so, you might as well maintain, and enjoy the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” mentality for as long as you could make it last, because when it was over, what was coming was going to hurt, and hurt a whole bunch!
After several attempts my Mother gave up and stated, “Since you won’t come down out of this tree, I have no other choice other than to pull your Father away from the tournament to come up there to get you down himself.” I really thought she was bluffing, so I stayed put right where I was. Then only moments later, my Father appeared below the tree shaking his head as he looked at me saying; “You just had to climb up there didn’t you? Well, I’m not going to come up there after you, but if you come down out of the tree you can caddy for me on the last nine holes of the tournament!” “Nope, I’m staying right here, cuz I know you are going to spank me when I get down” I said with unwavering resolve. “Listen Doug, I am in first place right now, and I came home to get you. I felt bad that you wanted to be with me, and leaving you behind this morning really has bothered me. I really want you to come along, and I promise I am not going to touch you, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy Boy!” That was the first time I had heard him say this now famous phrase to me, and would not be the last.
Years later, my Sister Lisa, and my Brother-In-Law Jed were married in Ocho Rios Jamaica. There was a small army of 45 well-wishers who accompanied them to attend the wedding including me, my Dad, Mom, Brother Greg, and Lisa’s twin Sister Lita. At the time Bobby McFerrin’s song ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ was very popular in the United States, and even more popular in Jamaica, verging on a National Anthem there. Well, my Father felt vindicated in the sense that his simple message, and credo he lived by, had been made into a song. He was absolutely intolerable for quite a while after the trip, because that was all we heard him saying in response to everything. In fact, it gave him the strength to battle the cancer he knew he would beat starting in November 2003. Sadly, after a heroic 8 month fight to beat his disease, we lost him in August 2004, 5 days before my 43rd birthday.
Like all Father’s and Son’s, Dad and I had our share of battles throughout our time together. There were times that we did not fully appreciate, or share our gratitude for one another openly, but there is no doubt in my mind that we loved each other. On this Father’s Day I wanted to share this story in honor of his memory, and say ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ Dad, I know you are in a much better place; I Love You!
Me And My Son On Father’s Day 2010
It Is My Wish For A Special Day To All The Fathers Of The World…
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