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When James Slater tells somebody that he wrote Martina McBride's hit "In My Daughter's Eyes," he's always asked: "What's your daughter like?"
James laughs. "I have to say I don't have a daughter," he admits.
The songwriter didn't draw on personal experience to create the touching ballad about the unique connection between a child and a parent. Instead, he relied on observation and his own imagination to translate the emotion to paper.
"I saw the relationship between my mother and my sister, and my brother and my niece, and I could see how powerful it was," says James.
But he did such a good job of capturing the bond that listeners believe he was drawing on personal experiences. James takes it as a compliment - especially when parents and children share with him how the song touched them.
"Parents draw as much inspiration from their children as the children do from their parents," he notes.
For James, the idea came out of the chaos of September 11. In response, he wanted to celebrate something powerful and intimate that couldn't be destroyed by terror.
"I just had this idea to compare the craziness around us with the peacefulness you would find in your daughter's eyes," he explains.
He knew he was onto something when he came up with the lyrics: Everyone is equal, darkness turns to light and the world is at peace/This miracle God gave me gives me strength when I am weak, I find reason to believe ... in my daughter's eyes.
Even though James was living in Switzerland at the time, and had never written a country song, he was sure he'd written a tune that would make a connection with the right country singer.
"I told friends I was going to move to Nashville, meet Garth Brooks and he'll love my song!" laughs James, a Panama native. "Garth has three daughters. I thought it would be perfect for him."
James did move to Nashville, and two weeks later he ran into Garth at a pancake restaurant. Garth liked the song but didn't record it. However, Martina McBride later heard it, loved it - and vowed to record it.
Martina's version became one of her best-loved, most-requested songs - and an inspirational song for many listeners. One West Virginia man told James that he hadn't spoken to his daughter in 13 years, but called her after hearing the song on the radio. Another daughter asked to put the lyrics on her father's tombstone.
"It really feels good to know you've affected someone's life like that," says the songwriter.
-- Jill Carlson