Hey there, this is Teacher Ola Podcast episode 98: Learn English With Eric Clapton ‘My Father’s Eyes’

My name’s Ola and I am an online English teacher, I teach through one to one classes and I want you to know I believe you can eliminate your language blockade. I’ve overcome a massive blockade myself and I know how to do it. This podcast is for you if you’re an English learner who wants to speak English with more confidence and get rid of speaking barriers. You’ll boost your vocabulary, brush up your grammar, and improve your pronunciation.  Go to my website for full transcripts and worksheets to each episode. Happy learning!

Hello and welcome to today’s episode. It’s Father’s day today and whether you have good or bad contact with your dad it’s always emotional, isn;’t it? Maybe your father passed away, maybe you never had a father, I mean you never knew him. Maybe you had to cut ties with your father. Maybe your relationship is tough or maybe you’re best friends. Whatever your situation is, today is the day to kind of think about this bond. And I picked a really emotional song by Eric Clapton. Let me give you some song facts, then we’ll go through the lyrics, then practice speaking English by repeating the sentences out loud. Let’s jump right into the song facts. 

‘My Father’s Eyes’ was inspired by the fact that Eric Clapton never met his father, Edward Fryer, who died in 1985. Describing how he wishes he knew his father, the song also refers to Clapton’s son Conor, who died in 1991 at age four after falling from an apartment window.  

This intimate song was first performed at the taping for MTV’s Unplugged on 16 January 1992. Eric Clapton has said the song expresses the “upside” of losing his son. 

“He gave me something … what it might have been like to look in my father’s eyes … because I looked in his eyes.” He continued, “I had a kind of revelation about my son. It’s a very personal matter but I never met my father and I realized that the closest I ever came to looking into my father’s eyes was when I looked into my son’s eyes. So I wrote this song about that. It’s a strange kind of cycle thing that occurred to me and another thing I felt I would like to share.”

Eric Clapton has also said that at the time he wrote ‘My Father’s Eyes’ and “Circus” he didn’t have the guts to record them and thought it may have been an inappropriate thing to do. On top of that, he said couldn’t find a way to arrange ‘My Father’s Eyes’  – to put it into the proper setting – so it took him several years to believe that it was okay to present this song in a way that wasn’t going to embarrass anybody. “This was the hardest song to record on that album. ‘My Father’s Eyes’ went through five incarnations and I would veto it each time because at the time it was purely from an artistic point of view that I said, ‘It’s too fast. It’s too jolly. Or it’s too sad.’ 

Now I actually think, subconsciously, I just wasn’t ready to let go, because it meant — on some level — letting go of my son.” Clapton said it in 1998 for Guitar World.

Clapton was raised by his grandparents, who he thought were his parents until he was in his teens. Growing up, he never knew his father, who only contacted him after Eric was famous. Eric was born when his mother, Patricia, was just 16 years old, but she left him and lived in Canada. 

My dear listener, with this background, let’s now move on to the lyrics of the song. We’ll go line by line, aftereach verse we’ll stop to disguise vocabulary and grammar elements.Listen and repeat the first part of the first verse:

Sailing down behind the sun

Waiting for my prince to come

Praying for the healing rain

To restore my soul again

Sailing down – to sail. It means to travel on water using sails or an engine, to control or travel on a boat with a sail, especially as a sport. But there’s one more meaning of this verb and it’s to move quickly and smoothly in a particular direction. When it refers to people it means  that someone is moving in a confident manner. For example: She sailed past, ignoring me completely. She sailed past me, she moved past me in a confident manner. Let me give you one phrasal verb with the verb ‘sail’ and it’s to sail through, to sail through something. Something like an exam, a test etcetera. It means to pass, to be successful in the test. 

Healing rain – to heal means to  cure somebody who is ill; to make somebody feel happy again. To become healthy again or to make something healthy again. Common collocations with this word include: healing hands, healing potions, healing process, healing ritual.

To restore my soul again – to restore something means to bring back a situation or feeling that existed before.  To bring somebody/something back to a former condition, place or position. Here I think what he means is that he wants something that was lost or stolen back to him, his soul. 

Let’s come back to the lyrics. Listen and repeat:

Just a toe rag on the run

How did I get here?

What have I done?

When will all my hopes arise?

How will I know him?

When I look in my father’s eyes

My father’s eyes

When I look in my father’s eyes (look into my father’s eyes)

My father’s eyes

A toerag – Originally this word was used to denote a rag wrapped round the foot as a sock. It’s a British slang term used as a rude and offensive way of addressing somebody you don’t like or that you are angry with. A trump, a worthless person. Eric Clapton said he used the word “toerag” because he was trying to paint an endearing picture of himself.

On the run –  to be on the run – to be trying to escape or hide, especially from the police. The second meaning is to be very busy and continuously rushing about. Continuously active and moving around, in a hurry. She always eats breakfasts on the run.

How did I get here? – How did I end up here, what happened to me. It sounds like he was shocked, dumbfounded, or overwhelmed at where he is now. 

What have I done? – Maybe, just maybe you are asking yourself: wouldn’t it be correct to use past simple in this cane? What did I do? Why did he use the present perfect tense? What have I done? Both sentences, in both tenses are correct and, as always, context is everything. It navigates your tense choice. First of all let’s state that both those questions can denote ignorance, so I really don’t know, I need an answer: Tell me, what did I do, I really don;t know. Or in present perfect: Tell me, what have I done, I really don’t know. At the same time they can be denoting realization. So I know my actions very well, and I can’t believe what happened, or what has happened. Intionation has to change a bit, and it may sound something like this: Oh, now, what have I done?!? Or: O my God what did I do?!? 

Hopes arise – to arise means  (especially of a problem or a difficult situation) to happen; to start to exist. This verb to arise is irregular, so please listen and repeat past and past participle forms of it: arise – arose – arisen. What can arise? Opportunities arise, questions arise, problems arise, needs arise. 

Ok, we’re doing great, let’s not stop, and move one to the next verse. Listen and repeat:

Then the light begins to shine

And I hear those ancient lullabies

And as I watch this seedling grow

Feel my heart start to overflow

To shine – I thought that this verb reminds me of an idiom: come rain, come shine. I have a whole episode on weather idioms, I talked about this one there so if you haven’t tuned in yet go to episode 14. 

Ancient lullabies – I think that this word ‘ancient’ often comes with a struggle because of pronunciation. Let’s practice together then:  ancient. Ancient. Ancient means belonging to a period of history that is thousands of years in the past. Ancient Greece, Ancient World, Ancient Egypt.

I watch this seedling grow – seedling is a young plant that has grown from a seed. Our seedlings are also our children. He was then referring to his son. 

To overflow –  to be so full that the contents go over the sides. For example: The bath is overflowing!

Where do I find the words to say?

How do I teach him?

What do we play?

Bit by bit, I’ve realized

That’s when I need them

That’s when I need my father’s eyes

My father’s eyes

Where do I find the words to say? – He asks himself many questions in this song, but I want you to notice that all those questions contain an auxiliary verb ‘do’. So, please don’t forget that a vast majority of your questions need to have ‘do’ or ‘does’, of course there are indirect questions and subject questions, but that’s the idea for another episode. Well, Where does she work? What do you do? Where do I find the words? How do I teach him? What do we play?

Bit by bit – means gradually, a piece at a time. Bit by bit, I was starting to change my mind.

I’ve realized – to realize means to understand or become aware of a particular fact or situation. At some point I realised I don’t want to teach in a kindergarten. So I stopped. The second meaning is to achieve something important that you very much want to do. We all want to realise our dreams. 

Then the jagged edge appears

Through the distant clouds of tears

I’m like a bridge that was washed away

My foundations were made of clay

The jagged edge – jagged means with rough, pointed, often sharp edges. What can be jagged? Jugged peaks, jagged rocks, jagged pieces of glass to give just a few.

Distant clouds – distant means far away in space or time. When speaking about families it means related to you but not closely. He’s my distant cousin, a distant relative. 

My foundations were made of clay – Foundation. Oh boy, this word has like 25 meanings, and yes, I’m exaggerating. Let me give you just 4. foundation is a principle, an idea or a fact that something is based on and that it grows from. Like in this sentence: Listening is a foundation of a relationship. It’s also an organization that is established to provide money for a particular purpose, for example for scientific research or charity. Like in this sentence: I support one charity foundation. Another meaning of ‘foundation’ is a layer of stone, concrete, etc. that forms the solid underground base of a building. 

When you build a house first you need to lay the foundations. And when it comes to make up… foundation is a skin-coloured cream that is put on the face under other make-up. 

Now, we have one last verse left, let’s go through the lyrics:

As my soul slides down to die

How could I lose him?

What did I try?

Bit by bit, I’ve realized

That he was here with me

And I looked into my father’s eyes

How could I lose him? – How could you do this? How could you?  This phrase is used to show that you strongly disapprove of somebody’s behaviour or are very surprised by it:. Disapproving. An expression of shock, dismay, and displeasure. Here, he is disappointed with himself, how could I lose him?

He was here with me – His father was there with him through his child’s eyes. This is so emotional! What a song. Eric Clapton deals with his traumas, his traumatic life experiences through music. 

Here we are, done with the lyrics, and now I guess we should practice. So let’s do it. Listen and repeat 15 sentences out loud. Don’t skip this part, it’s kind of crucial. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. It’s time for you to speak English! 

She sailed past, ignoring me completely.

It took a long time for the wounds to heal.

We hope to restore the house to its former glory.

He’s on the run from the police.

I usually eat breakfast on the run.

How did I get here? 

What have you done?

What did you do?

We keep them informed of any changes as they arise.

The moment I saw her, I realized something was wrong.

The bath is overflowing!

I don’t have contact with my distant relatives.

Listening is the foundation of a relationship.

I support one charity foundation.

How could you do this?

Brilliant! Thank you very very much for being here, for doing all the work. Speaking of work. There’s homework waiting for you , it’s your worksheet. If you haven’t subscribed to my email list yet it’s high time to do it. Go to teacherola.com/98 and download the worksheet. This time it’s a gaped text, your task is to listen to ‘My father’s Eyes’ and complete the missing words.

Well. Finally let us list all the phrases and words we’ve covered today:

Sailing down 

Healing rain 

to restore my soul again 

A toerag 

On the run 

How did I get here? 

What have I done? 

Hopes arise 

To shine 

Ancient lullabies 

I watch this seedling grow 

To overflow  

Where do I find the words to say? 

Bit by bit  

I’ve realized 

The jagged edge  

Distant clouds 

Washed away 

My foundations were made of clay 

Soul slides down 

How could I lose him? 

He was here with me 

That’s It! That’s all I have. I hope you liked the episode, if you did, as always, please leave your rating in iTunes if you can. If you want to support this podcast there’s only one way to do it. Tell someone about this podcast and help me spread the message. 

Be here next, same time, same place we’ll talk about vocabulary. We’ll look at the difference between ‘to pick’ and ‘to pick up’. Thanks for listening,  take care. Happy learning. Stay fearless and say it out loud. Bye-bye!