'I'm sorry, son, we don't have the money." These words crushed my 13-year-old spirit. It was 1964, and I wanted nothing more than to be like my heroes, The Beatles. With the right haircut and a good guitar, the only thing I lacked was an amplifier for a big "battle of the bands" coming up in our small Massachusetts town. In order to be a member of a local band, I had to have an amp. Or else.
So when my father told me we couldn't afford it, The Beatles song "I'm a Loser" became my personal No. 1. But as always, Dad had a solution. We could make one, he said, together in the basement. Make an amplifier? I was incredulous but worked hard to conceal my skepticism.
I had no other choice, it seemed. We began the project. Night after night, Dad sacrificed his evenings for me. We spent hours selecting wood, speakers, grill cloth, even glue, and I spent hours silently wondering how embarrassed I'd feel when my friends saw this homemade amp.
With the occasional help of a local electronics buff, we worked hard to get ready for the big event at the local junior high school. All the while, I was puzzled by this question: Why were we spending almost as much money on materials as I would have spent just buying an amplifier outright? I wondered, but said nothing.
When the day came, the amp was ready, and I was ready to learn a important lesson.
I rolled our amp onto the stage. A few friends and other competitors came over to our band, eyeing our stuff carefully. Finally, they fixed on the homemade amplifier, and I was beside myself with embarrassment.
One kid asked roughly, "What kind of amp is this, homemade or something?" Confession was my only recourse, so I straightened my back and replied, "Yeah, I made it with my dad."
To my surprise, his look turned from critical to envious, and he said, "Gee, my dad never did anything like that for me." With that, my embarrassment turned to pride for a father who had selflessly shared so much of his time with me. I saw him standing in a discreet corner, and we exchanged smiles.
Our band didn't win that day. Instead, it was another one with bigger equipment and slicker costumes. And my amplifier didn't perform too well; it sounded funny and wasn't powerful enough. But I didn't care as much as I thought I would. Our band had lost, but even at that tender age, I knew I had won.
Now that I'm a father, I asked my dad about this recently. He confessed what I had suspected. It was not entirely true that my parents didn't have the money to buy the amplifier. They had managed to buy things many other times that were important to us.
WITH a smile, Dad admitted that he'd really wanted to spend time with me. All those nights together in the basement, we learned about a lot more than speakers and wires. We learned about each other. We exchanged affection.
And of course he gave me far more than anything money could buy. While other fathers simply gave their sons the money to buy the flashy equipment they dreamed of, my dad gave me his time, his attention, and his love. They dreamed of equipment; I dreamed about a dad who cared.
The homemade amplifier is gone now, thrown out decades ago. I'd give anything to touch it again, but I am thankful for so many other things that can never be touched.
Today, I can still see it clearly in my mind, can still smell the glue, hear the first sounds of the music, and most of all, see my dad's smiling face - and the very eyes of love. To quote you-know-who, it is all you need.