My Father’s Eyes

Eric Clapton was raised in a bizarre situation. He was only in his tweens when he discovered his sister was, in fact, his mother, and his mother and father were his maternal grandparents. And that older brother of his? Yeah, his uncle. Eric was literally raised to believe he was part of a different generation.

His blood mother, Pat, gave birth to Eric out of wedlock at 16 with no father in the picture. The deep secrets of his upbringings created a constant air of tension in the family. Eric sensed everyone walking on eggshells around him, but he figured that might just be due his age. In any case, the awkwardness took residence in him and is something he kept with him all his life, and that needed to be excavated in counseling much, much later.

But before the healing, Eric lived the first half of his adult life as an aspiring troudador, guitar on back, playing anywhere for anyone who would listen. As legend has it, his earliest work spawned large graffiti proclamations that “Clapton is God” for his handling of a guitar.

He gained fans from Muddy Waters to George Harrison, the latter whom invited him into The Beatle’s recording sessions for The White Album, notably taking lead on the Harrison-penned tune “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — in essence, one guitar hero had indoctrined a new guitar hero by memorializing him on one of the greatest albums ever made playing the greatest ode to guitars ever written.

Eric was never happy. The awkwardness of his childhood lingered and festered within him. He drank, snorted, injected, and smoked any drug he could get his hands on. He become a full-blown alcoholic and drug addict, in spite of his musical success.

In the second half of his adult life, Eric hit the last of his many drug-induced rock bottoms. Having born a child — a son named Conor — with Lory, his Italian model girlfriend, Eric had begun turning his life around, becoming increasing more responisble as both a person and a father. It took a few years, but he and Conor found a rhythm and established a real bond. Conor called Eric “papa” and the feeling it gave Eric would sustain him in sobriety as he eventually established unsupervised visiting rights.

You may already know what comes next. One morning, after Eric had put up Lory and Conor in a plush highrise London hotel, Conor inadvertantly ran straight out the window while playing hide-and-seek, plummeting 49 floors to his extremely unfortunate and premature death at the age of four. A custodian had been cleaning the windows and opened them for a moment. And it was just as he was letting Lory know the danger of the open window that Conor met his fate. Eric was not there at the time and had the saddening task of identifying his dead son’s body, which had landed on the fourth-floor roof of an adjacent building.

There’s are a few gems in all of this. For one, the tragedy healed Eric’s struggles with addiction. Staying sober, he reasoned, is the best way he can possibly honor Conor’s memory. And in his sobriety, Eric was inspired to establish the Crossroads Centre, a first-of-its-kind addiction rehabilitation program in Antigua.

Another gem, however, is something that happened before Conor’s passing. Eric never met his father, despite an unfruitful attempt to locate him later in life. But looking into Conor’s eyes, Eric could swear he saw his father’s eyes. Looking at those little marbles gave Eric a first-ever glimpse of his own dad, even if was a small genetically-inherited piece of him. He wrote “My Father’s Eyes” in response, which was written before his chart-topping tribute to Conor, “Tears in Heaven,” but eventually was released as the lead track on 1998’s Pilgrim.

My own dad loved that album. He played it on end as he was in the midst of separating from my mom that very year. He would say often how many of the songs seemed to have been written just for him, and I believe it.

It’s only now that I am realizing that Eric actually wrote “My Father’s Eyes” for me in an album of songs for my dad. I lost my dad in 2010 under very unfortunate circumstances. He never got to see me marry, buy my first house, make a career for myself, or meet his two granddaughters.

But I swear to you, I can look into the eyes of one of my daughters and see him. It’s startling and a little unnerving, but a welcome comfort nonetheless. There are many times I lament not having my dad around, if for nothing else, just to ask him questions. There’s so much I don’t know about being an adult man that I wish I could have acquired before he left.

But I have his eyes. Their not my own. And they’re not exactly his, either. But he’s in there.

✏️ Handwritten by Geoff Graham on February 23, 2024

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