In 1988, I was in my last year of primary/elementary school (you do the math). One of the greatest father-son songs released around that time was The Living Years released by Mike and the Mechanics (1989). The song written by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson enjoyed success in Canada, Australia, U.S.A. and in the U.K. It was also nominated for a Grammy in the Song of the Year category at the 1990 Grammy Awards.
The Living Years provides the lead vocalist with the opportunity to showcase their vocal ability in the later stages of the song with improvisation. I love the tone of the song, the subtlety of the dynamics with that range from the softness in the beginning to the full backing of the choral accompaniment and melodic interludes offered by the guitar and synthesiser.
The music video begins with a sprawling view of a mountain top reminiscent of The Highlander starring Christopher Lambert. The picture of the young son and his father shows a relationship that is strong and full of love. This is juxtaposed against the father's own relationship with his deceased father, where the lyrics outline the lack of harmony between the two with opposing ideals (the video shows a picture of the father in a military uniform) and the reason why they are on the mountain top - to visit the father's grave.
The song has always mesmerised me because I imagine that the lyrics would haunt even the most hardened heart of a son with regrets, regrets about his tattered relationship with his father. It serves as a reminder to me about the decisions we make when we argue or fight with our parents - especially if they have raised us and taught us values that helped to shape who we are, tried to mould us into mini-versions of themselves, even when at some point we didn't appreciate their pearls of wisdom or shunned the very values that we thought didn't represent who we were trying to become or didn't wish to be - because as the song suggest, bitterness can kick in and once words are said, sometimes they can be undone.
I am in no way suggesting that you should have a fantastic relationship with your father - because for some of us in the world - our situations might mean that we did not have healthy relationships with our fathers, grew up without men who were meant to be our fathers, maybe we weren't raised by fathers at all- maybe grandfathers, uncles, brothers, partners of our mother. In which case, the song can refer to that "whomever you call father" - the person who helped to raise you, guide you and taught you values and things we needed to know in life. If your connection with them isn't as strong at the present time, I hope you get to say all the things that you want to say to him this lifetime.
If your father has already left this earth, cherish those memories you have.
For those whose fathers live, make the most of their time.
Otherwise you might find yourself saying wistfully, "I just wish I could have told him, in the living years..."