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It started out as a short-term solution to a temporary problem.  The girl couldn’t sleep, perhaps, wouldn’t sleep.  And she was adamant that based on her current state of agitation that she might never sleep.  Such was the effect of a little girl’s swirling, conflicted thoughts after a busy day.   So Neanderdad tried to calm his daughter down. He sat in her darkened room.  He spoke to her in soothing tones.  He tried to lead her mind to calmer waters with carefully crafted questions and mollifying observations.  And then, when that didn’t work, he decided to sing her a song.   

He had chosen Sweet Baby James because it was a lullaby, he knew the words, and because he could just barely manage to keep his creaky, croaking voice within the rough outlines of the song’s key and meter.   And his plan had worked.  The girl’s energy dropped, her protestations diminished and she eventually faded off to sleep. Neanderdad was then able to escape to dinner and enjoy some downtime of his own.  The solution had worked perfectly.

Unfortunately, it had worked too perfectly, because several nights later, when the girl was again over-agitated by the challenges of her life, she called upon Neanderdad to serenade her once more.

“Please daddy.  Just this once.  It will help me sleep,” she pleaded.

So Neanderdad warmed his vocal chords, like so many backfiring Harley Davidsons, and once again slaughtered the soothing melodies of James Taylor.  Magically, it worked again.  The girl stopped flopping around.  She lay there quietly and listened attentively to Neanderdad Radio, and when he was done singing she calmly accepted her bedtime fate.  Sweet dreams followed and Neanderdad again enjoyed a quiet evening with his wife.

Neanderdad wasn’t a fool though.  He could see a future wherein he would be constantly on call like a Vegas nightclub act.  So he wisely worked with his wife to put an iPod into his daughter’s room, complete with hundreds of tunes, including Sweet Baby James.   For a while, this worked.  Once the girl was in bed, Neanderdad would start the music and give the girl a soundtrack to sleep with.  But there was some ineffable essence missing from these recordings that the girl noticed.  Over time, she became restive.

“Daddy, could you stay with me for a bit.”  She would ask. “I don’t just like the music.”

It was hard to deny the girl. She asked them with such sweetness, though there was bulldog persistent to her requests.  So, he stayed with her and they listened together to the recorded music.  After a while, the girl sighed.

“Daddy, can you sing the song for me? I like your version better.”

So Neanderdad, touched by his daughter’s comment, coughed out his version of the song and the girl calmed down and went to sleep.    Thus began a sporadic phase in which Neanderdad’s daughter would sometimes listen to the iPod and sometimes request that Neanderdad sing when it was his night to put her to bed.  Because it wasn’t too often, Neanderdad found it difficult to deny his daughter.

Neanderdad knew he was in trouble, however, when the girl started requesting a song every night he put her to bed.  What had started as a request for special circumstances now became the routine.  Neanderdad would gather her stuffed toys, he would tuck her in, then he would sing to her.  And when Neanderdad tried to sneak out without singing, the girl was sharp with her rebuke.

“You forgot to sing my song, Daddy!” she would say, as if Neanderdad had suffered a brain injury.

And so it developed.  It was only when the girl started asking Neanderdad to sing to her on nights when her mother had bedtime responsibilities that Neanderdad tried to draw the line.  He explained that it wasn’t his night, that he wouldn’t sing.  The girl countered logically that his magical crooning would get her to sleep more quickly so she’d stop calling out to him and his mate.  But when Neanderdad didn’t budge she played her trump card and started to cry.

“Why won’t you sing to me, Daddy” she wailed?  “Its our special thing.  You sing to me. You’re there with me so I can go to sleep!”

And as she said this, Neanderdad awakened to the reality that his horrible singing was not the key element of her request.  It was his presence that she really desired.  She wanted her dear old dad to be there with her as she fell asleep.  She was comforted by having him in attendance.  With this realization, Neanderdad suddenly viewed his singing in an entirely different light.  And he felt ashamed for withholding it from her.  It was in this way that Neanderdad’s singing became an every-night tradition.  Some nights he had to rasp out a song through a work-dried throat.  Some nights the girl had to tell him to slow down as he rushed the song to more quickly get to his dinner.  Eventually, he even had to switch songs to John Denver’s Back Home Again, when the girl’s musical tastes rotated from Folk to Country.

Thus, Neanderdad became fully at peace with singing his daughter to sleep each and every night.  Then something happened that made him wonder if he needed to scrap the whole thing.  After all, there was only so much that a father can do, only so much that he could eke out of his primitive vocal chords.  The night had started normally. The girl had called out to him to come and sing to her.  Neanderdad had slouched slowly down the hall to perform his task.  The girl had given a small yelp of delight when she had heard him coming toward her room.  Then another voice called out to Neanderdad, as sweet and pleading as the girl’s voice had been.

“Daddy,” the boy said from the darkness of his room.  “When you are done singing to her, can you come into my room and sing me a song too?”