Welcome to part III of a series on Spirituality of Eric Clapton’s music. During part I of this sermon series we established Eric Clapton as a Rock and Roll bad boy blessed with the ability to not only play guitar but to write lyrics true to his experience, an honest look at a sometimes-dishonorable life. We listened to two rock and roll classics, Cocaine and Layla. The first about the power, allure and harm of drug use and abuse, second Layla, written out of his obsession with Patty Boyd, the wife of this close friend, George Harrison.
In part II we listened as Eric hit rock bottom. His marriage to Patty Boyd was ending. His career was in tatters. A close friend had just committed suicide and he realized that he needed help to survive in the world without alcohol. In the song, Holy Mother, we heard Eric call to the maternal side of God asking for a hand to hold and arms to comfort him as he attempted to find his way of the situation he had created through his addiction.
In this sermon we will hear Eric desire and appreciate divine guidance from the paternal side of God in a song entitled “My Father’s Eyes”, but first some confessions on being a parent and some background on Eric.
Children are attuned to their own feelings and perspectives on the world and struggle at times to understand the larger picture. While I loved my parents dearly, I could easily see the mistakes they were making as parents and believed that I could and would do a much better job in parenting my own kids. In fact, I would be the perfect father to my children. I am glad they are here today so they can attest to my having achieved perfection as a father. (wait for uncomfortable laugh) What, not perfect?
Yes, parenting seemed easy to me until I became one — even though most of the time I was simply an observer to a growing individual. There were many times that I did not know what to do. Often in those times a funny thing occurred. I began repeating the words and actions of my parents, the same words and actions that I hated as a child.
Mark Twain talked about his father in this way
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”― Mark Twain
Twain’s tongue-in-cheek way of saying that he recognized the wisdom of his father as he grew older accurately describes many situations I experienced in my transition to fatherhood. I saw the wisdom in actions that previously did not make any sense. Additionally, there were times when I mindlessly did what my father did, even though I had little expectation of success. No, not because I saw the wisdom, but because I didn’t know what else to do. I simply followed what was modeled for me. This is how family culture, including dysfunctionality, is passed from generation to generation.
In parenting, much of what we do are actions that have been modeled for us. As a male I tend to look more to my father a role model and I believe that this is typical of men.
What would we do if parental modeling never took place? Who would we turn to if we didn’t experience a father? How would we act? How would we know what to do as a parent? When we don’t know what to do? We will return to this question later.
But now some back ground on Eric Clapton.
As Eric’s marriage with Patty Boyd was breaking up, he began dating Italian-born actress and model Lory Del Santo. According to an article based on an interview with Lory, she and Eric agreed to have a child together. Once she was pregnant, Eric’s insecurities and moodiness made their relationship very difficult for Lory. She reports that “It took six months for Clapton to adjust to the idea of becoming a father. It was very difficult to speak to him.” He was absent for much of the pregnancy, and at one point according Lory, Eric’s manager wanted her to end the pregnancy. She refused, saying,
“We took a decision together and that’s the way it is. . . I can disappear but there is no way in the world you can make me give up the baby.”
Lory’s insistence on keeping the child helped Eric come to terms with his alcoholism. Conor Clapton was born on August 21st, 1986, in Paddington, England.
The arrival was sobering for Eric. In his autobiography he writes
“It had begun to sink in that I was a father and it was time to grow up” . . . but the question was, How?. . . I had no idea how to begin with him; I was a baby looking after a baby.”
One critical aspect of Eric’s transaction into fatherhood was sobriety. He explained to Ed Bradley in a 60 Minutes interview this way:
When he was born I was drinking, and he was really the chief reason that I went back to treatment, because I really did love this boy. I know he is like a little baby, but he can see me and he can see what I am doing.
The song My Father’s Eyes captures Eric’s earnest desire to do right by Conor and his need for divine guidance as he raises his son.
Time references contained in the lyrics can be confusing. The verses of the song are written in present tense, while the chorus references are past and future tense. It seems that Eric is remembering vivid experiences with his son that are dated. Reflecting on those vivid experiences and summing up what he has come to understand. Conor should have been 12 when the song was released in 1998 . It contains 3 verses. Look at your handout for a copy of the lyrics. The first verse describes him waiting for his son, and the effect his son has on his spirit.
Sailing down behind the sun,
Waiting for my prince to come.
Praying for the healing rain
To restore my soul again.
Just a toe rag on the run.
How did I get here?
What have I done?
The last 4 lines of the verse talk about his son being a blonde and very active “toe rag on the run,” and then his amazement of being a father and his hopes for the future. In an interview Eric talks about how much he loved his son and how he had become the central focus of his life.
In the next verse he expresses his joy of being with his son and his apprehension of what to do, how to interact how to raise this child.
Then the light begins to shine
And I hear those ancient lullabies.
And as I watch this seedling grow,
Feel my heart start to overflow.
Where do I find the words to say?
How do I teach him?
What do we play?
Eric doesn’t know how to interact with his son Conor at a pretty basic level. He, according to Patty Boyd’s biography, has always been the child, a rock legend with people always looking after his needs while he simply does what he wants. Now things are different if he wants to properly raise his son. The next verse mentions the dark side of Eric’s life. He continues to struggle with alcoholism. He is sober in front of his son, but as soon as his son goes to bed at night, he drinks himself into a stupor. It could be that these first four lines may be speaking to that part of his life.
Then the jagged edge appears
Through the distant clouds of tears.
I´m like a bridge that was washed away;
My foundations were made of clay.
The last 3 lines seem disconnected: Is loss a failure to connect with his young son, and is the dying soul in the 3rd line his disappointment over his inability to connect with this child he deeply loves.
As my soul slides down to die.
How could I lose him?
What did I try?
Or it could be that the first 4 lines are tied to the last two. Remember when I said Conor should have been 12 when the song was released? He died in a tragic accident in March of 1991. So is this loss a reference to his death and the jagged edge a constant reminder of the event, which invades these happy remembrances. It is not clear from the song or the books I have read. But the contrast between the joy of his interaction with his son in the fist 2 verses and the dark despair of the 3rd verse is clear.
His need for guidance is mentioned in the last 3 lines of the 2nd verse but is really the focus of the chorus. I am not an expert in music, so this structure it might be common than I realize. The choruses also change over the length of the song. In the first chorus he asks a question.
How will I know him?
When I look in my father´s eyes.
How will he know his father? What is he talking about? You may remember that Eric never met his biological father, so he has never seen him and probably would not recognize him if he did. Note that this is written in future tense, how will I know him? And “when I look”, rather than “when I looked.”
In the second chorus he moves to past tense in his recognition of when he needs his father’s eyes. Here is a contrast in time that I spoke about earlier. The verses are written in present tense, while “realized” is past tense, so he is reflecting on earlier experiences and has realized something. He realizes that he needs a guide for how to interact with his son and he does not have one.
Eric never had the modeling to fall back on as a parent. His father’s eyes represent his father’s perspective He wants his father’s perspective on the world to guide him in the relationship because he does not know what to do.
Remember the second verse “How do I teach him, what do we play?” But why would he want the perspective of a man he never met? How could this serve as a guide for interactions with his son?
Bit by bit, I´ve realized
That he was here with me;
I looked into my father´s eyes.
It is in the third chorus where I believe the mystery is revealed. The verse mentions his death (“As my soul slides down to die”) and this chorus talks about his father being with him and how he “looked into his father’s eyes”. How could he look into the eyes of a man he never met? He isn’t speaking of his biological father. The perspective he sought and received was God’s perspective.
Bit by bit, I´ve realized
That he was here with me;
I looked into my father´s eyes.
- He cares deeply for his son.
- He doesn’t have a model of a relationship with his father to fall back on
- He is asking for God to show him how to interact with his son
- And in the process of reflecting on the situation, perhaps long after the death of his son, he realized that God was with him the entire time.
Thus far in this sermon series I have played original recordings of songs from the album on which they were released. Today I want to play a live version so you can experience some of the musical genius of Eric Clapton. His band mates once explained that Eric’s solo’s performances on tour are never planned, never rehearsed, they simply flow out of Eric; in fact he says that if he tried to practice and do it from memory, he couldn’t do it. So the band and his audience never really know what is coming when he plays. Listen to the opening of the song a short solo between verses, and then the long closing solo and realize that he has never played it like that before. He simply starts and plays what he feels.
Roll “My Father’s Eyes
I would love to be able to do anything as well as that man plays the guitar. But other than guitar playing, Eric is not so different from the rest of us. We seek God’s perspective in situations where we do not know what to do, situations that truly matter to us — when the stakes are high, when we need to grow up quickly. In times like these God is there for us.
When we need Gods guidance, he promises to be there for us according to Matthew 28:20
Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Go in peace!!
This message was delivered by Jonas Cox at Spokane Friends Church on June 24, 2018