Alabama's Randy Owen on His Father's Death: 'It Haunts Me'

From Country Living

In 1969, Alabama lead singer Randy Owen formed the country rock band with his cousins Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook. In 1980, the group signed a record deal with RCA and released their first of 43 number-one singles but, sadly, not before Randy's father, Gladstone Owen, died that year of unknown causes. Randy was 30 years old. On the band's latest album, a holiday compilation titled American Christmas, Randy writes about the heartbreak of missing his father during the holiday season, in a song titled "First Christmas Without Daddy."

The fact that my father never saw my success will always haunt me. He's the person who taught me how to play the guitar. He could thumb pick like Merle Travis and sing high tenor, harmonizing the way Don Rich would with Buck Owens. If he had lived long enough that I could've taken him to Grand Ole Opry, it would have been amazing. I feel like I got cheated out of all of that. He was just two weeks past his 59th birthday when he died. It haunts me but it's something I have to live with.

That first Christmas without my father didn't feel like Christmas at all. The day was there, it was the 25th of December, but it wasn't anything to be happy about. Daddy and I were about as close as you can get for father and son, and he was the spirit behind the happiness in our family. He was always singing, playing the guitar, telling funny stories, and laughing. That part of my life went away when he wasn't there anymore.

"He was just two weeks past his 59th birthday when he died. It haunts me but it's something I have to live with."

It wasn't until my firstborn, my daughter Alison, was old enough to understand Santa Claus and presents that I began to have fun with Christmas again. She was born on my birthday, Dec. 13, two years before her granddad died. The night my wife went into labor I thought, This is unreal, the baby is going to be born on my birthday! She weighed exactly what I weighed when I was born and was the same length too. And I tell everybody she looks just like me.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

She's grown and has her own life now but we always try to get together on our birthday. Once, when she was a child, we went to New York City for the weekend and spent a day going through the American Museum of Natural History. This year, I'll be on tour in Las Vegas during my birthday-it's the third or fourth year in a row that that's been the case. Sometimes people around me don't stop to consider that I really am a person with sentimental values. I prefer celebrating at home with family whenever I can.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

After my father's death, making the holidays special for my little girl (and, later on, my daughter Randa and son Heath) helped me find joy in Christmas again. Seeing their happiness reminded me of how much Daddy loved doing things for his kids and grandkids. When my sisters and I were growing up, he loved getting out on Christmas Day and playing football with us. We lived on a small farm and my parents worked all of the time because there were always chores to be done. They never took a vacation. I don't think Daddy even knew what vacation was; I never heard him use that word. Christmas was his only real break.

You don't realize what you actually mean to your children until you've been that kid that didn't have their daddy around. At age 68, as a grandfather of six, time with family is more important to me than it's ever been. My grandkids are too young to articulate how they feel about me, but I know they care. I can feel it because I've lived it.

This essay is part of a series, "My Favorite Christmas," featuring stories of beloved holiday memories and traditions from special guest authors. To read the others, go here.

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