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The Making of a Songwriter

by Jimmy Yeary

For some reason, I remember it being a Thursday.  With lightning speed, my dad’s callused right hand landed on my face.  I lifted my arms in a feeble attempt to block the next blow, but the left hand was also successful in finding its target.

This hadn’t been the first time. Not even close.  Neither was it the worst of our encounters.  Actually, it was one of our calmer battles…certainly more one-sided than most.   And despite being able to recall the day of the week, I can’t for the life of me remember what I did wrong.  But that’s not surprising, because I never understood any of it in the first place.

All I knew at the time, was that I’d been called “a problem kid”.  Mostly that was by my daddy and yeah, I did have a smart mouth.  Maybe that’s why, deep down inside…I probably felt like I had it coming.

That day though, for some reason, I started crying when he hit me.

I still don’t know why, ‘cause I damn sure didn’t want to.  Daddy didn’t like crying and I knew it.   He always said that crying showed weakness and that day, I guess he figured he’d make sure I knew it. 

He made his point by mocking me and doing it unmercifully.  Decades later, I still carry that picture in my mind…a full-grown man acting like the biggest, meanest kid in the 8th grade.  He was a bully.  My own dad was a bully.

In that moment, I felt more than a little helpless.  What the hell was I supposed to do?   I was just a kid.  I had a cheap guitar and a girl’s voice to go with it.  As it turned out, that was enough.   

I wrote songs and sang them in our bathroom.  Even today, I can close my eyes and hear the sound bouncing crisply off the ceramic tile in that tiny space.  “Acoustic perfection” I called it and I locked myself in there every chance I got.  It was where I created.  It was where I cried.  It was where I could be myself, by myself.

That little bathroom became my favorite place in the whole wide world.  It was my refuge.  My port in the storm.  And the time I spent there made me feel good again.

I realize now that the degree of “escape” I felt in that bathroom was intense.  Each day—no matter where I was—getting back to that sanctuary dominated my thoughts.  In a classroom, at lunch, or on the school bus as it took the long way home, I imagined myself alone in that tiny room.  And as soon as I stepped through our trailer’s front door, I’d hurry to my guitar. 

Using a sacrificed baseball card, it took a couple of minutes to construct a makeshift pick. A few quick steps down the hallway and I was in the bathroom where I would close and lock the flimsy door, protecting myself from the outside world.  Only then could I begin to retrieve the melody that had been in my head all day long. 

Despite the sometimes frantic pleas of family members desperate to enter for different reasons, the bathroom was my office, my recording studio, and my stage. 

I had discovered a source of joy—a way to get all the hurt inside me, out.  I wrote songs about loss and pain and love gone wrong. In reality, I couldn’t even get a girl to look at me, but if I could have, she would have broken my heart just like the girl in my songs.

Writing songs and singing them—even by myself in the bathroom—gave me a chance to express emotions that I would never dare show around my father again.

Today I write songs for a living and I love what I do. It seems as though it’s all I’ve wanted to do since that frightened young boy stood in that double wide living room, fighting back tears.

My dad was a good man. I don’t feel obligated to say that. I really mean it. My dad was broken. And he broke me a little less than his dad broke him, so in a dysfunctional way, I guess you could call that a success.

If my dad had been the father I spent years wishing he had been, I would not be a songwriter today. There would be no, I Drive Your Truck…   

He Don’t Know That Yet would have never been written.  

No one would have ever played I’m Gonna Love You Through It for their mama or whispered the words to More To The Story for a friend enduring a tough time.

How do I know this is true?

For the simple reason that I would have never gained the avenues in my heart necessary to walk down and retrieve the pictures needed for songs like those.

I’m certain I would not be the dad I am. I did not experience an abundance of love from a father, but because of that, my children will receive my full measure. 

Know this:  I am not bitter. I am not even sad, for I had the dad God intended for me.  He was necessary.  My father was perfectly broken.

I am who I am today because of who he didn’t know how to be.

I am able to give what I give because of what he had never been given. Yeah, I was unaware at the time, but the man was teaching me everything he didn’t know.

My daddy taught me how to be a songwriter.

— Jimmy Yeary

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