Autumn is hard for dads who can’t sing.

My wife and my daughter didn’t sleep well the other night. They were deeply disturbed because during the day they had overheard me singing. Worse, I was caught singing “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter. Middle-aged men — especially middle-aged men who can’t sing — should not be allowed to sing songs usually sung by Daniel Powter. You have to look young and troubled if you’re going to pull off that sort of whine. And it helps if you can carry a tune.
Which I can’t. I couldn’t carry a tune if you lifted it onto a garden cart for me. To wit: Once when I was the lone adult in a Sunday School musical in my church, the person running the sound system recommended that I simply mouth the words in the songs because there wasn’t a way to turn off my microphone during the show.
So, why was I singing a Daniel Powter song?
Because it was the start of a gray autumn day in Vermont, and one particular lyric from “Bad Day” got stuck in my head: “You kick up the leaves and the magic is lost.”
And, just for the record, that is the correct lyric. Some people believe Powter is singing, “You don’t eat your peas and your mama gets cross,” but they’re mistaken.
In any case, it was the wistful reference to leaves that got me singing. It had rained during the night, there had been wind, and for the first time this autumn serious numbers of leaves had fallen onto our lawn. And there was a clump of them by the maple trees in our yard in precisely the spot where, over a decade ago, our daughter had flopped around in them before she could even walk without hanging onto the coffee table. I remember the day well. I took pictures. She was tucked inside a pink fleece sweatshirt and the sort of white pants that babies wear: They balloon around the tush because they have to fit both a baby’s bottom and a diaper the size of a couch cushion. It was a brisk autumn day, and the clouds were the color of gun metal.
It was the first time that I had raked batches of leaves into a pile for her to play in.
That was a long time ago. I don’t believe our daughter has jumped into a pile of leaves in easily five years. Maybe six.
And so when I saw those leaves in our yard the other day, instantly I was transported to a spot so melancholy that I was actually singing a song by Daniel Powter.
Fall can do that to a person. Any person. The days have grown short, the temperature has dipped, and the vegetable garden that was a carefully weeded world of plenty only five weeks ago suddenly looks like a jungle of inedible vines and Halloween-spooky corn stalks. The urge to cocoon for the winter, to nestle in, competes with the melancholy resignation that the world is either dying or shutting down for the season, and either way the first snow isn’t far behind. Another summer is over, your children are getting older, and you are increasingly feeble and ravaged by time. Soon you’ll be complaining that the print is too small on the Advil bottles, and actually talking about surgeries at dinner parties. If you’re a guy like me, you’ll practically need a comb for your ears.
Have I depressed you enough? Well, that was how I was feeling when I saw those leaves. My daughter really is growing up. She wears makeup now. She does her homework on her own. She goes to bed after me.
And so, forgive me, I allowed myself a moment with Daniel Powter. Cut me some slack. It could have been worse: I could have been singing James Blunt.
In any case, I promise I won’t do it again … at least until autumn returns next year, and once more I am reminded of a baby in a pink sweatshirt in a pile of leaves.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on September 24, 2006.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

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