My Dad and Tony Bennett

Bryan Gruley
4 min readJul 28, 2023

Many years ago, my brother Mike took our father to see Tony Bennett at the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit. It was a big night for Dad, who almost never attended live shows (and rarely ventured downtown except for Detroit Tiger games). The crooner Bennett, maybe Dad’s favorite singer ever, performed with a stripped-down jazz band. At one point, he asked that the electronics be turned off so he could bask in the splendid Fox acoustics.

But something wasn’t right. Dad grew restless and dyspeptic. Lacking orchestral strings, woodwinds and brass, Bennett didn’t sound exactly as he did on the CDs Dad played endlessly in his Cadillac and at our northern Michigan cottage. In the middle of a song, he turned to my brother seated next to him in the eighth row and declared, “That’s not Tony Bennett.” Mike wasn’t exactly sure how to respond. Of course it was Tony Bennett. Just not to Dad. Which Mike, after a few seconds, understood completely.

This story, told and retold scores of times to laughter in the years since, again made the rounds of our siblings when news of Bennett’s death broke recently. I’m a little surprised that none of us smart alecks suggested someone check Bennett’s casket — Is it really Tony Bennett? — because it would have been funny, at least to my sisters and brothers and me. We love the story not just because of its transparent silliness, but because, like all the best jokes, it bears a bigger truth.

Once Dad liked a thing, he liked it the way it was and no other way. If the folks at one of his favorite lunch joints, Makovsky’s, added fennel to his Polish stuffed cabbage, they would have heard from Dad. My wife learned the hard way that vanilla wasn’t something Dad wanted anywhere near his coffee. When a doctor ordered Dad to change his ways after implanting metal in his arthritic spine, Dad promptly went on a fifty-mile jaunt on a spine-crushing snowmobile.

One morning, Dad and I were going out for breakfast. I asked if we’d be eating at his go-to, Nick’s. “No,” he said, looking at me as if I was crazy. “The food tastes like shit.” Only later did I learn Dad had gone there recently and discovered someone else parked in his preferred handicap space. That was the end for Nick’s. Or, as Dad was prone to say, “I cut him off.”

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Bryan Gruley

Storyteller since 2nd grade at St. Gemma Elementary in Detroit. Pulitzer winner, Edgar finalist, lifelong journalist, author of 5 novels. www.bryangruley.com.