Good Night, Moon. Good Night, Gil

Here's one father who made unusual use of Gil Scott-Heron's work -- as a lullaby for his daughters.

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They would pipe up from the covers about GG-Pop's cowboy books and how much they liked riding horses. And if it was a scorcher in August, or the holiday season after Thanksgiving, they wanted to hear Gil and me in a duet on "Winter in America," which, to adults, dealt with the Republican push-back against civil rights but to the kids brought cheerful images of snowy days and family gatherings at Christmas.

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And the concerts always ended the same way, with two melodies that signified that all was well: "A Lovely Day" and "Your Daddy Loves You." The first one said look to the bright side, for all would be well, regardless of what happened during the day:

On a clear spring morning
There's not a cloud in the sky
… when I see that old sun shining
Makes me think that I can make it too
Yes. And all I really want to say
Is that the problems come and go
But the sunshine seems to stay.
Just look around. I think we found
A lovely day.

And the latter, with its refrain: "Your daddy loves you. Your daddy loves his girls," simply meant that all was right in the world and Daddy would fix whatever was broken. For years, if they woke up in the middle of the night, shaking from a terrible nightmare, a brief concert of just those two songs would chase away the looming monsters. "A Lovely Day" would erase the shakes, and they would be asleep by the end of "Your Daddy Loves You."

The nightly concerts faded away as they became "big girls." But growing up does not eliminate nightmares, especially the real ones. At 15, Brie needed cancer surgery -- a prospect that would scare an adult and surely terrified a 10th-grader. Kir, then a college freshman, missed coming home for the surgery because she was in intensive care in a California hospital, where doctors tried to reduce the swelling of her brain stem from meningitis. Brie cried that she wouldn't live to graduate from New Jersey's Teaneck High School. Kir cried over the phone that the pain was unbearable and she wouldn't live to see tomorrow.

A day after her surgery, Brie was in bed, and Kir came home on a medical flight. As I prepared to leave their room, Kir said softly, "Daddy, would you sing to us?" So I got out the records and began the familiar duet of Gil and me until they were resting comfortably and I could ease out the door.

A decade later, Kir is married and raising a family in Virginia, while Brie is one of many civilian engineers working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan. It was after 10 p.m. on a Friday night in February, and my wife and I were at a reception for Jeff Johnson, a sculptor in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., whose latest show opened to critical acclaim. My cellphone rang. It was from Brie, and she did not sound good.

I found a quiet corner in Johnson's woodworking studio and asked what the problem was. "We're in Code Black," Brie said.

"What's that?"