Father’s Day to the Erlkönig

Erlkönig-the Elf or Fairy King (literally “Alder King,” but the meaning is essentially an other worldly king) in German. Here I have an image of Thranduil from The Hobbit Trilogy. While he does look pretty bad ass, I don’t think he is nearly sinister enough for the Goethe ballad, or the Schubert rendition of it that haunts so many. Image from https://lotr.fandom.com/wiki/Thranduil

Father’s Day is a month and a day away as of the time I am writing this, and for the last decade or so I’ve gotten moody around this time. Ten years ago I was blogging, and I ended up writing three “Father’s Day” posts, which I may link to if I find one that isn’t too badly mangled.

Right now though, I don’t have the heart to do much. As those of you who are closest to me know, I am essentially grieving over my son. My ex wife ignores court orders to allow me to share him, and the police don’t enforce it (so why bother with courts, or laws, at all…..?) I haven’t been able to think of a topic since my last post about female empowerment: https://wordpress.com/post/tiredmidnightblogger.wordpress.com/1711mostly my mind has just been rattling around between “how is my son doing,” “what can I do for my son when the very law is not enforced,” and “how am I going to fix the mess that is my life?” Along with all the other million thoughts that go through a modern mind.

So I’m just going to prattle in this post about my random thoughts of the modern difficulties fathers face.

“Erlkönig” illustration, Moritz von Schwind. Likely you are asking why the Tired Blogger is giving an art lesson…

There’s so much going on in my life, in my mind, I don’t really know where to begin. But I’ll begin here. Twenty five years ago or so I was a lonely young man who couldn’t get a date to save his life. It is amazing how much of a turnoff bitter poverty is. But I also had some truly amazing blessings in my life, the foremost of those blessings being that I had the most amazing friends you can ever imagine. And a few of my friends were music majors at the time, and introduced me to some things that I have treasured all of my life, like Phantom of the Opera, classical music, and simply appreciating (a little) the hard work a musician can go through to master their craft.

“Help me make the music of the night.” So many wonderful moments, so many heart breaking songs, and so many excellent voices have gone into the decades long run on Broadway, it is nearly impossible to make myself pick one image  Iranian born Canadian Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom and American Broadway star Sierra Boggess are in the 25th anniversary run of this iconic play. I identified so much with the Phantom back then.

But there were also many things I experienced and left behind. And I sometimes don’t even realize I’ve forgotten something amazing until the time comes when I hear the song again, or see the movie again, and then the haunting memory comes back, stirring the breath of old ghosts.

The other day I was talking to a new friend I have made at work, and we were sharing music, and he told me he loved Franz Schubert’s “Erlkönig.” (The lyrics are in English at the end of the post.) At first I thought it was something classical with which I was unfamiliar, but then the notes played, and I had visions of hoofbeats in my head, and for some reason I saw a man riding a horse holding a child close to him….and the German words played, and I understood them not, but I seemed to remember a story of a man racing a demon, or something, trying to save his son from the demon, but the demon came close and closer….and then…..

The climax of the ballad, Erlkönig, where the father arrives home only to realize his worst fear. This a woodcut from 1910 by Albert Sterner. “My father, my father.”

Suddenly the child in the song is crying out in the deep tones of the singer, “Mein Vater, Mein Vater!” And it all came back to me. I remembered my friends sharing a classical piece with me years and years ago. And the story of the child and the father racing an evil spirit, and I used to think “How hard that would be on a father.” I’d forgotten what it was like to yearn so much to be a father, and to fear I never would be one. And now here I am, more than 25 years later, a father….And those of you who know me best know that I have been racing a long time, hoping to save my son, and then he suffered heart failure…..

The Erlkoenig statue in the graveyard of Dietenhausen, in Keltern, Germany.

There are several experiences you can’t truly imagine till they happen to you. The first time you make love to someone. The birth of your child. Being abused. And while I’ve been lucky, so far my son is still alive, more and more the thought haunts me….I am terrified I will never see him again. And you can’t imagine how horrible it is to see your son in a coma in a hospital bed till it happens to you.

When I was maybe ten or twelve years into my marriage, I read the George MacDonald classic At the Back of the North Wind. It is one of the most confusing books I have ever read. The North Wind is a female spirit, a kind of a Fairy Queen who visits the child and flies with him on voyages throughout the world. The boy ends up badly sick, recovers, becomes a great comfort to his family, is told several fairy tales, and then at the end, the North Wind comes to him, and as the Spirit of Death, takes him away to Heaven. The only other person I know who has read it did not like the book, but I was told that they had a friend who had a child die, and that friend had told them the book explained perfectly how a grieving parent feels. I am thinking of picking it back up and reading it again. Some try to comfort me, telling me I shouldn’t dwell on the negative.

Illustration for a 1919 edition of At the Back of the North Wind, illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith.

Recently, I watched a Youtube video my son produced. That is the only way I get to see him. He didn’t look good, and I became very frightened that maybe I have seen him for the last time. His graduation was Monday. Each child was allotted eight tickets. I went online, hoping to get two. And there were none, my ex had taken them all. So I emailed the teacher, and they were kind enough to get me two. So I went.

My son was not there.

My favorite version of Erlkönig I can find on Youtube

Iconic statue of the Erlkönig. I also have the lyrics in English below.

Who’s riding so late, in the night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He grasps the boy in his arm.
He holds him securely; he keeps him warm.

My son, why do you hide your face so fearfully?
“Father, don’t you see the Erl-King there?
The Erl-King with his crown and train?”
My son, it’s a streak of mist.

‘You delightful child, come with me!
I’ll play wonderful games with you.
Colourful flowers grow on the shore.
My mother has many fine things.’

“My father, my father, don’t you hear
What the Erl-King said to me?”
Be calm, stay calm, my son;
The wind is stirring the dry leaves.

‘Fine boy, will you come with me?
My daughters will wait on you nicely.
My daughters will lead the evening dancing
And rock and dance and sing to you.’

“My father, my father, don’t you see
The Erl-King’s daughters in that gloomy place?”
My son, my son, I see it indeed;
The old willow gleaming so gray.

‘I love you, I delight in your beautiful shape;
And if you are not willing, I shall use force.’
“My father, my father, he has seized me!
Erl-King is injuring me!”

The father blanched; he rode swiftly.
He held the moaning child in his arms.
With great trouble, he reached the courtyard.
In his arms, the child was dead.



  1. NorthernOkie says:

    Any of my words fail. Yours do not.

    God Bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Curtiswselby says:

      Bless you brother


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