“Life goes by so fast/ And our story’s defined by how we spend that dash.”
— Branch & Dean, “The Dash”
Theron Branch didn’t get too many years on his tombstone, but his father chooses to focus on the dash between them.
“My son was my hero. He taught me a lot. You know, this world’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about everybody else and trying to help everybody else. It’s not about what I need, it’s about what everybody else needs. I’d have to say that’s probably the biggest thing my son taught me,” said Steve Branch, one-half of the country music duo Branch & Dean.
Branch and his longtime friend and musical partner Dean Scallan wrote their song “The Dash” in tribute to Theron, who died March 15, 2013, at age 23. The younger Branch struggled throughout his life with cystic fibrosis, an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States.
The song encourages people to live their lives purposefully, since none of us is guaranteed another day, minute or even breath.
“I tell people this all the time: We’re not talented enough to write that song. That was a gift, and it was meant to change people’s lives. And it already has. And it’s been in many ways a saving grace for us, too,” Scallan said in a phone call last week from Nashville, Tenn., where the duo are now based.
“‘The Dash’ is about life. It’s not a sad song at all. It’s something we all go through, and it’s inspirational — how are you gonna live your life? Music’s intended to change lives, and we just never knew when we wrote this one that we’d be changing our own life.”
“I’ll take every breath like it’s the only one I’ll get/ ’cause there’s only so much breath you get to take.”
— Branch & Dean, “The Dash”
After his son died, Branch reached out to the Cysticbold Fibrosis Foundation in the duo’s native Florida, while Dean contacted the chapter in Nashville.
“I wanted to donate something for the cause, ’cause I didn’t want any kid to be out there needing medicine or a treatment or a vest — you know, they need all these things, and I just didn’t want any family to wonder how they were gonna get it,” Branch said.
They have since become National Celebrity Ambassadors for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
“You know, my son was a gift to me. I think parents that have a child that has special needs, they were chosen to be those parents. Well, Theron was my gift, and my gift ... is still living through this song and through the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. And he’ll never be forgotten, and that’s a great legacy for him,” Branch said.
As ambassadors, the duo travel the country on behalf of the foundation, appearing at events, playing in hospitals and performing “The Dash” and other songs from their 2013 self-titled debut album.
They will trek to Oklahoma City on Saturday for the annual OKC Great Strides Walk in Route 66 Park.
Although sometimes the sense of loss overwhelms him — recording the introduction for “The Dash” music video was particularly hard — Branch said it has been therapeutic reading and hearing comments from people touched by the song, especially those whose lives have been affected by CF.
“People ask me all the time, ‘How do you get through even singing that song?’ And the truth is, I just feel like I put my feelings in the back of my head,” Branch said. “It’s a message that has to be delivered, and if I can’t deliver it, who can? I have to deliver that message out there, and that’s more important than my feelings.
“It’s tough. I ain’t gonna lie to you. It’s tough, and I have my moments, believe me.”
Coming to Oklahoma
“When it comes to love, you can never give enough/ So love like you mean it every day.”
— Branch & Dean,
The duo will perform “The Dash” and a few other songs at Saturday’s OKC Great Strides Walk, an annual fundraiser for the Sooner Chapter-Oklahoma City Office of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
The pair also will present the Hero Awards to people who are fighting CF but also go above and beyond to raise funds for life-saving science and research, said Celia Palmer, executive director of the local chapter.
She said Branch also will receive a Hero Award in honor of his son at the event.
“The Hero presentation is a very meaningful ceremony,” Palmer said.
“There’s just a common understanding, an unspoken understanding, often, between families that fight CF. Because Steve has lived that life and walked that road, it’s going mean so much to our families to have him here, and Dean as well. ... They’ve been lifetime friends, so they’ve both participated in that journey.”
More than 700 walkers are expected to participate in Saturday’s 1-mile fundraising walk, followed by a picnic and social gathering. Life with CF can be lonely because of infection control concerns. But an outdoor event gives them a better chance than an indoor activity of mingling without the risk of infection, Palmer said.
“It’s a heavy life in many ways, yet my families find ways to be victorious and stay hopeful and fight and raise money. And we’re making amazing progress — not fast enough ever, of course,” she said.
For Branch & Dean, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation events have become like family reunions.
“Gosh, you know, sometimes in life you can wonder to yourself, ‘Well, I wonder if there’s any good people left out there in the world, and man, let me just tell you, all of the CF Foundation — I call it the CF family — all of those people are just so great and will do anything in the world to help somebody else,” Branch said.
“These people, I don’t know, they just care about everybody else. It’s just been an eye-opener, because the entertainment business can be really tough, and it’s almost like our sanctuary we get to go to and be around these people,” Scallan added.
“You know, the music business isn’t the end-all be-all. It’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to help people, and we happen to have a vehicle and a platform where we can. And so we try to use that to the best of our ability.”
OKC Great Strides Walk
•Featuring: One-mile fundraising walk, Hero Awards presentation and mini-concert by Branch & Dean.
•When: 10 a.m. Saturday. Registration begins at 9 a.m.
•Where: Route 66 Park, 9901 NW 23.
•Information: 787-0056 or www.cff.org/chapters/okc.
About Cystic Fibrosis
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States and 70,000 worldwide.
A defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections and obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food.
In the 1950s, few children with cystic fibrosis lived to attend elementary school. Today, advances in research and medical treatments have further enhanced and extended life for children and adults with CF. Many people with the disease can now expect to live into their 30s, 40s and beyond.
I think parents that have a child that has special needs, they were chosen to be those parents. Well, Theron was my gift, and my gift ... is still living through this song and through the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. And he’ll never be forgotten, and that’s a great legacy for him.”