My Dad, Johnny Cash

The singing legend's only son writes about the one thing that mattered to his father more than music: family. By John Carter Cash
           We were best friends. I miss him terribly.
           The film, "Walk the Line," is appropriately titled. Walking the line defined my father until the day he died, Sept. 12, 2003, at age 71.
           My dad never got to see the final cut, but he had great faith that Joaquin Phoenix, as both an actor and singer, could pull off playing him. He saw how Sissy Spacek portrayed Loretta Lynn in "Coal Miner's Daughter" in 1980, and he was greatly impressed. To have his own singing voice come out of Joaquin's mouth? That wouldn't feel honest to Dad.
           Dad lived in a complex balance. It would tear at our hearts to see him struggle with sadness and personal demons, all the while trying to be the very best father and husband he could be. And he was just as devoted to his music. On the way home from my mother's funeral, just four months before he himself died, Dad told me, "I have to get to the studio." And I understood why: Music was his healer.
           Contrary to his brooding image, my dad loved a good laugh. He was big on telling knock-knock jokes and funny stories about his family and friends. Dad would chuckle when he'd tell me how Bob Dylan acted like a silly kid when they first met. He burst into Dad's hotel room and began jumping on the bed, shouting, "I met Johnny Cash! I finally met Johnny Cash!"
           He walked the line with his public positions, too. He was welcome in every president's White House, from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush. And I was there to meet them all with him. When I was a baby, the White House staff allowed my mother to put me down for a nap while my parents talked with Nixon and first lady Pat. I have seen letters from all of these presidents to my father, each showing their respect and appreciation. Every one of them treated him with admiration.
           At the same time, I never heard him publicly endorse or oppose a war, or speak out as an anti-war activist. He supported the troops by performing for them. But I know that, privately, he never supported any war, including the current one. He was a deeply spiritual man. He always thought world leaders should come up with other ideas.
           My dad was known as the Man in Black. But he was not always so. He often wore denim shirts or brightly colored cottons at home. He began to wear black out of convenience. My mom used to kid him and say he only wore it because it hid the dirt stains! My father loved to be teased. Laughter was his response to life's pain and struggle.
           He was a great deal of fun. I played guitar on stage for him and often acted as a personal assistant. We'd travel the world for adventure. In Alaska and Canada, we would fish for salmon, trout and Northern pike. We went deep-sea fishing in Hawaii, Costa Rica and Australia. We were best friends.
           I miss my dad terribly. I can't call him when I need him, but I see Johnny Cash every day. He will live as long as the world is intrigued by his magical ability to walk the line - between peacemaker and patriot, between country boy and rock 'n' roll icon, between the man of God and the rebel he was. When Dad was asked what he would like to be remembered for, he said he'd like to be remembered as a good father. To his family, this is his greatest gift. And even though his greatest gift to the world may arguably be his music, I believe his faith and perseverance offer just as strong a legacy.
           John Carter Cash, 35, is a Grammy Award-winning music producer, and he's an executive producer of "Walk the Line." He lives in Hendersonville, Tenn., with his wife, Laura, and two children, Joseph and Anna Maybelle. (USA WEEKEND.COM)

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