This is one of Fogelberg's most personal songs. It's a tribute to his father, Lawrence Fogelberg, who was a band director.
The senior Fogelberg began his musical journey directing high school bands in his home state of Illinois, first in Peoria and then at Pekin. He married Margaret Irvine, a talented singer who directed her sorority chorus, in 1946, and the couple had three children. Dan was the youngest, born in 1951. By this time, his dad was the band director at Bradley University in Peoria, where the family lived. The band would play concerts and perform at basketball and football games; Dan often told a story about his father letting him "conduct" the band when he was four years old, standing in front of his father with a baton while his dad did the job behind him. "It was an amazing feeling," Dan recounted. "It felt both very magical and powerful. And I was fearless."
Fogelberg recorded this for his 1979 album Phoenix, but felt it was too sentimental for the album and didn't release it until 1981 on The Innocent Age. His father died the following year.
When Fogelberg wrote this song, he didn't hear it as a hit, but the song expressed something that many children have trouble articulating: a love for their father. The intimacy of the song actually broadened its appeal, and it became one of his most enduring songs and one that fans would often mention to him as one they connected with.
The line, "Thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go," is a reference to Fogelberg dropping out of college. He attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, but decided to leave in the middle of a semester to pursue music - not what most parents want to hear. Fogelberg's father was disappointed, but supported his son's decision, telling Dan to try it for a year. The music thing worked out well: Dan drove to Los Angeles, got a record deal, and became one of the top-selling solo artists of the '70s.
The song concludes with part of a performance by the UCLA Band of the John Philip Sousa march "The Washington Post" arranged by Fogelberg's father.