Frank Sinatra's Father's Day message

Story highlights

  • Val Lauder: Frank Sinatra generated as many headlines and stories as anyone of his time
  • His devotion to his children may have played a role in his wanting to write his Father's Day column, she says

Val Lauder, a former reporter for the Chicago Daily News and lecturer at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of "The Back Page: The Personal Face of History." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely hers.

(CNN)I remember when I first pulled the pages from the manila envelope.

And why I remember Father Sinatra.
    Not Father in the ecclesiastical sense. Definitely not. When Frank Sinatra played a priest in the 1948 film "Miracle of the Bells," the public outcry over his alleged Mafia connections was so great it brought an announcement that he would donate his $100,000 fee to the Catholic Church.
    The other kind of father. Biological. Or "Pop," as he put it in the column he wrote for Father's Day, which appeared in the Chicago Daily News June 21, 1947. And while the Daily News had a healthy circulation, I'm probably the only one who remembers it, because he wrote it at my request -- a guest column to run in place of my column. Mine being directed to high school and college students, and this being the bobbysox era, it was appropriate with a capital A.
    Val Lauder
    It was appropriate for another reason.
    Frank Sinatra generated as many headlines, stories, column items as anyone of his time. But nothing that did not speak to his being a devoted father. So much so that on perhaps the biggest night of his life -- the 26th Academy Awards ceremony of March 15, 1954, when he won an Oscar for his performance as Maggio in "From Here to Eternity" -- his "dates" were his children.
    Sinatra's love of his children and musical success came together in the song "Nancy" (With the Laughing Face.) Written by friends Phil Silver, the comedian who would go on to TV success with his hit show "Sgt. Bilko," and composer Jimmy Van Heusen, who would write one of Sinatra's biggest hits, "All the Way," the song was a gift for daughter Nancy on her fourth birthday. Sinatra recorded it at the time, 1944, again in 1945, then in 1963 and 1997.
    He apparently liked it. As did the public. It rose to No. 10 on the combined Billboard charts.
    Frank Jr. and Tina may not have gotten a song ... but they got the love.
    Sinatra's devotion to his children may have played a role in his wanting to write the Father's Day column. And his own experience, possible observations of other fathers and children, may have played a part in what he wrote. I know only that an aide told me he wrote it while flying in for the benefit that brought him to town.
    "Right now," he wrote, "everybody's kicking around the subject of Father's Day. But that's nothing new. The subject of Father's Day is used to getting kicked around.
    "That's why it seems to me that Father's Day ought to mean a lot more to you kids than just going out and buying Pop a sale tie.
    "Believe me, the tie your Father's interested in isn't one he hangs around his neck. He's more concerned about the tie that exists between you and him.
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    "He wants to know, if it's a little frayed around the edges, whose fault it is.
    "So after you've spent a fast buck and bought Dad 20 good cigars, give him what he really wants on Father's Day: a little understanding, and a little evidence of your appreciation that the job of being a father is --" Frank Sinatra's DNA was as much 2/4 time as double helix "-- no ad lib chorus.
    "It combines the simpler duties of The Cop on the Beat, The Parish Priest, The Local Banker, Judge, Jury and, above all, Scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in your life. No -- Pop's job is no pipe. ...
    "Pop's always 'to blame' for what you're not allowed to do and for 'butting into your business' when he sees you swerving into a wrong turn.
    "And when some genius move of your own finally runs you into real trouble, chances are Pop's to blame for not having warned you.
    "So this Father's Day, sit down and get to know your Old Man. Let him tell you how much he really is yours and that the word 'old' is actually part of becoming a man."
    Summing up:
    "I say, let the kids get to know their fathers. You kids can get an awful lot of high-class stuff out of Your Old Man if you treat him properly and pleasantly.
    "That's my hint on how to celebrate Father's Day to the best advantage. Get next to Pop for a change, and don't talk ... listen. Take it from a guy who's been both Kid and Pop in the past decade."
    He'd continue to be Pop for decades -- there for his kids when they needed him. Including paying the ransom when Frank Jr. was kidnapped in December 1963. The kidnappers demanded all phone calls be from a pay phone. So Sinatra carried a roll of dimes with him at all times. (And reportedly did the rest of his life).
    Frank Sinatra is best known, of course, for the music he gave us ... and left to his children, not only to cherish, but legally, as their inheritance. Music, someone said, that is the soundtrack of our lives.
    I heard my first Sinatra record the summer of 1940 before my first year in high school. I'd stopped at a friend's house on the way to the movies, and "All or Nothing at All" -- an early recording with Harry James -- was playing on the radio. The summer before my second or junior year (it was a three-year high school) I heard "I'll Never Smile Again" for the first time on the car radio as my parents and I drove home after dinner. The summer before my senior year, "I Guess I'll Have to Dream the Rest." After graduation, "There are Such Things."
    In college, I had a portable record player and an oft-played, old black 78 rpm Sinatra record "The Night We Called It A Day." Same record player, in the family apartment in Chicago, "Nancy" (With the Laughing Face).
    That was about the time I started at the Chicago Daily News. I was a copygirl. And I'd been there about two months when one Saturday, the city editor strolled over to me, smiling, swinging his arms in time to his bouncy step. "Frank Sinatra's coming to town today."
    "Oh?"
    "Yes. And if you're a good girl, I may send you along with the reporter and photographer to meet the train."
    Apparently, I was good, for I was sent along to the Dearborn Street Station to meet the Santa Fe Chief. Sinatra had gotten off at a stop a few blocks earlier, as was his wont, ducking the press. But, in the years that followed, as I progressed at the Daily News and started my column, our paths crossed often.
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    The years turned into decades ... that brought "Strangers in the Night," "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," "My Way," "Come Fly With Me," "New York, New York" -- played at Yankee Stadium after 9/11 and in Times Square after the ball drops New Year's Eve -- "I've Got the World on a String," "Witchcraft," "The Summer Wind," and ... and ....
    The music wasn't overlooked in The Charlotte Observer story on his death, on May 14, 1998. "Frank Sinatra, the best pal a song ever had .... cracked open his heart," wrote Tommy Tomlinson. "He took some of the finest songs ever written and used them as flashlights, exploring every chamber and crevice of romantic love."
    Robert Christgau, longtime music critic for The Village Voice, called him "the greatest singer of the 20th century."
    Or, as Bono put it: "He's the Big Bang of Pop."
    Precisely.