Father bother, Day 2

I’ve had a nagging feeling all day that I should explain last night’s debacle before someone calls the DSS. The blog made it sound as if I plopped my kids in front of the TV, then left them there so I could nap. That’s not true; I napped right there in front of them.

Hey, at least I tried to be part of what they were doing. But watching the Wii isn’t nearly as active as playing it, so I nodded off — and not before asking three times if they were ready for dinner, in case you’re remembering the whole “didn’t feed them” thing and still looking up the number for DSS. Sure, maybe a better dad would have forced them to stop playing and partake in some nutrition, but that allegedly better dad wouldn’t have been feeling guilty about having ruined their school holiday by making them go to the office for most of the day. So I let them spend their few hours at home doing exactly what they wanted — which wasn’t eating dinner until I’d drifted off to sleep in a Wii-induced trance.

If it helps, I woke up to the heartbreaking sight of two small faces peering into mine in anticipation. “You were snorting!” Matthew taunted.

“Sorry we woke you up, Dad,” said Christopher, “but could we have dinner now?”

Cue the guilt. As I stumble toward the kitchen in a groggy haze, my inner soundtrack treated me to some Harry Chapin. And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little Boy Blue and the Man on the Moon…

So I swore to do better today. Too bad we weren’t even out of our subdivision this morning before I’d messed up again.

I thought we could bond over music, like old times. When Christopher was Matthew’s age and younger, I was typically in charge of dropping him off and picking him up. We had a 30-minute commute together and I took advantage of the time to expose him to diverse musical tastes.

He so enjoyed hearing my iPod that he asked for one of his own, so we gave him a little Nano with some of his favorite tunes on it. He was the only kid at his preschool to go to sleep listening to the Clash, R.E.M., Warren Zevon, Fountains of Wayne, Midnight Oil, the Beatles, Barenaked Ladies, Red Hot Chili Peppers and They Might Be Giants — and I was proud of that.

Then he started asking if he could look at my iPod. It was one thing for me to control the songs from the driver’s seat, quite another to let him see what else was on there — song titles (“F*ck School” by the Replacements comes to mind), band names (it would have been difficult to explain what a Sex Pistol is), even my own playlist monikers (it would have been more difficult to explain the pun behind “Aural Pleasure”). But I thought I was safe with videos.

I discovered I was wrong the afternoon he asked if he could watch some videos on my iPod while I listened to talk radio. That’s what I get for listening to talk radio.

“Daddy, can I watch the Red Hot Chili Peppers?” he asked.

“Sure, I guess so,” I answered reluctantly, thinking there was no risk of him hearing offensive lyrics when he didn’t have headphones.

“This is funny — they’re painted silver!” he laughed. Now I was truly thankful that he couldn’t hear them, as the visual weirdness quotient of Give it Away is bad enough, but I didn’t want him hearing: What I’ve got, you’ve got to get it, put it in you! Reeling with the feeling, don’t stop; continue!

He moved on to the next video and it took me a minute to realize which one it was when he said, “Hey, cool! They look like they’re in a videogame!” [Uh-oh. Let’s just hope he didn’t notice the song title.]

“Daddy, this one’s called Californication!” [Crap. Why’d we have to teach him to read at such a young age?]

“What does that word mean, Daddy?”

“Umm…”

“Is it two words combined?”

“Well…”

“Because I think it’s two words combined.”

“What two words, Doodlebug?” [I might hate myself for asking this, but I have to know how much he knows.]

“It sounds like ‘California’ and ‘vacation’ smushed together.”

“Sure does!” [Whew!]

“I bet it’s about them taking a vacation in California!”

“I bet you’re right, Doodlebug!”  [Thank God he loves geography…]

“When we get home, I think I’ll make a book about a California vacation, and I’m going to call it Californication, too!”

“Okay…” [Where’s he going with this?]

“Do you think I could take it for show and tell tomorrow?” [Noooo! Think fast…]

“Er…well, Doodlebug, are you sure you want to do one about California? After all, we’ve never had a vacation there…” [Please buy this.]

“Hmmm. Okay, how about if I write one called Texacation?” [Yessss!]

“That sounds great!” [Just don’t remind him that we’ve never been to Texas, either….]

That was the day I decided to cut back his access to my iPod. I also adopted a “non-threatening bands only” policy, resulting in a lot of Wiggles and Beatles being played in my car. And even that was questionable. I still remember censoring the violent lyrics to Rocky Raccoon every time I sang it as a lullaby: Rocky had come, equipped with some gum, to chew bubbles right at his rival….

I eventually calmed down and figured some lyrics could be used as opportunities to teach — yes, this song talks about bad things, but what’s important is knowing that the things are bad. Rocky shouldn’t have come to town intending to shoot off Dan’s legs, Dan shouldn’t have drawn first and shot (as opposed to chewing gum a lot), the doctor shouldn’t have drunk so much gin and the Gideons have been in far too many hotel rooms.

So I loosened the knot of censorship once I learned that the answer is not to deny the existence of violence. Not so with sex; I was going to deny its existence to my kids for as long as I could. Which means they couldn’t hear any songs referring to sex or using words that have to do with sex.

I forgot this policy over time, as Kim eventually took over the drop-off and pick-up duties after various changes in school and job locations. Which brought us to this morning, when I foolishly thought we could bond over the “Aural Pleasure” playlist.

When Kim plays her music in front of the boys, she’s smart enough to skip the songs with questionable lyrics. I tend to not think about it until it’s almost too late — so rather than skipping a song I have to skip lyrics, which only serves to draw the boys’ attention to that particular song. The mute button, the forward key — clear indicators to them that they should find out what I’m hiding.

Instead, once I realize in a panic that a sex word is coming up, I have to employ some creative camouflage. At 7:30am, I’m not at my most creative, so this amounts to nothing more than loud distractions — coughs, sneezes or bumbling attempts at conversation. So when Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” was approaching critical mass, it sounded like this: Clearly I remember picking on the boy; seemed a harmless little MY GOSH, BOYS, LOOK HOW FOGGY IT IS OUTSIDE! but we unleashed a lion — gnashed his teeth and bit the recess lady’s I CAN BARELY SEE THE TRAFFIC LIGHTS AHEAD!

Next up was the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and while there are no objectionable words, I could only pray they wouldn’t ask me what trick he knows that makes her scream and that she wants him to show her, show her, show her. Prayer answered.

Then came “Song 2” by Blur. We were safe with that one, as none of us could understand a word that guy sings, other than Woo-hoo!

I was so busy rocking out to the guitar intro to Soul Asylum’s “Without a Trace” that I almost didn’t catch the prostitution reference in the first line: I fell in love with a CLOUD BANK! She laughed in my face. So seriously I took her, I was a disgrace….

I let “O Valencia!” by the Decemberists slide, even though it’s a disturbing story about feuding families, star-crossed lovers and untimely death. Nothing they won’t learn from Shakespeare, anyway.

“Brain Stew” by Green Day had their full attention, thanks to the stuttering, staccato guitar chords in the intro. “Dad, is this a song?” Christopher asked. “It sounds like the radio has a glitch.” I hadn’t heard it in a while, but remembered the f-bomb at the last moment: My mouth is dry, my face is numb. FOGGED up and spun out in my room, on my own, here we go….

Next came “Luka” by Suzanne Vega. Meh. It may be a horrid, depressing, first-person account of child abuse, but at least it doesn’t mention sex. Plus, it has a catchy melody.

By then we’d reached the school without them learning any new concepts, so I figured I’d fared pretty well on the dad scale. I had the Beatles playing when I picked them up tonight, but that will only hold them off for so long. Maybe tonight I can download some Harry Chapin.

I need to think of something, though — the weather’s supposed to be clear tomorrow.

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About Dan Bain

Dan is an award-winning humorist, features writer, emcee and entertainer from Raleigh, NC. His collection of humor essays, A Nay for Effort, has earned him fans from one end of his couch to the other. Why not join them and buy one? (You won't have to sit on his couch.) Dan will donate 10 percent of the book's proceeds to education. You can check it out at www.danbain.net; thanks!
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12 Responses to Father bother, Day 2

  1. Mary says:

    Dan, all the They Might Be Giants series for kids are good songs, educational and have awesome videos.
    I myself was reprimanded by my spouse for listening to Hip hop in the car. Fine, I said, we’ll listen to NPR. “victims as young as 13 were raped….”. It suddenly made songs about booths much more attractive.

    • Dan Bain says:

      Thanks, Mary. I’ve been meaning to look into their kids’ songs, although the boys already enjoy their commercial stuff. Each one’s standard response when the other is pushing him around is to sing, “You’re not the boss of me, now!”

      Btw, what are “songs about booths” — is that a typo? Not trying to be a smart-aleck; just genuinely curious about whether you were trying to type something else. Boobs? Bitches? Boogers? If not, then I fail to see what’s objectionable about booths….

  2. travelingmad says:

    LMBO. This was too funny!!
    I got caught in a similar situation myself. Last year family put me in charge of dropping two 7 yr old cousins off to school daily (since it was on my way to work).

    They asked in the back seat to watch some videos on my ipod touch. I only had 4 on there so I said why not. Of course the one they choose is Around The World by the Red Hot Chili Peppers! This is the uncensored version.
    I hear one of them say, “What is that? It looks like a person.”

    Oh crap!!! So I say calmly, “Let me see that.” I change the video to Days Go By by Dirty Vegas. I give it back and tell them it has some cool dancing in it that we can practice when they get home from school. They were excited. Thank God!
    I could’ve been banned from school transportation duty! whew

    Nice save for you with the weather. Idk what you’ll be able to do next. And as far as the food goes, kids will tell you when they get hungry. You don’t have to worry about them starving. They’ll let you know, even if they get hungry every hour!

  3. Scott Milslagle says:

    You know… for an old guy you have really good taste in music (excusing “Luka”)! Your boys are lucky to be exposed to the smarter side of pop culture. My daughter falls asleep to the children’s versions of the Clash, Bob Marley, and Led Zeppelin… pretty interesting stuff that I wish was around when I was a kid. Keep Rockin’ old man, there aren’t enough of us around!
    P.S. Don’t pull the trigger on the Harry Chapin!

    • Dan Bain says:

      Scott, I just knew I’d take a hit for the Luka reference. I’ve never understood why that song is so universally maligned. It has touching lyrics, a decent lead and, as I wrote, a catchy melody. But it’s still a laughingstock. Oh, well — chalk it up as my guilty aural pleasure….

      P.S. “old guy”?

  4. What a bizarre culture we live in, where people think it’s better to expose children to violence (which destroys life) than to sex (which creates it).

    • Dan Bain says:

      I agree, Andrea. In my case, I don’t think it’s good to expose them to violence; it just happens to be something they already know about. Not so with sex, and I’m not ready to explain it! Also, it’s important to note that some lyrics don’t exactly present sex in a positive manner, so they’re definitely not ready to hear that.

    • kate1211 says:

      As a mother and former promiscuous teen in an over populated world I just have to disagree Andrea. Most sex does not (or should not at the least) create life. Sex is healthy, I happily (well happily may be a stretch) buy condoms for my teenagers, but “swing that big butt round so I can work on that zipper” lyrics is really not a beautiful creation of life, or expression of love. At that moment I start hoping they’ll off the big butted girl so my kids don’t hear the sequel. ~cheers 🙂

      • While sex can be destructive, violence always is. The creative aspects of sex aren’t limited to procreation — sex is also an important part of reinforcing the pair bond in our predominantly monogamous species. I agree with Don that young children have an innate understanding of violence but not sex. Yet I don’t think that sheltering children from information about sex is likely to make them less promiscuous. I’m not advocating exposing children to pornographic lyrics — but then, I don’t advocate exposing adults to pornographic lyrics, either. I think “Jack and Diane” is a beautiful, poignant way to introduce children to young love and burgeoning sexuality. It’s all in how you frame it. I see the “hands between her knees” image as intimate and sweet with smoldering sexuality underneath it. You can talk about intimacy without getting into the sex part.

        Our society is schizophrenic when it comes to sex. The free expression of sexuality is so intricately woven into our culture that it’s virtually impossible to avoid exposing children to it in one form or another, as Don has demonstrated so well. Yet we still try. On some level, we fear that exposing children to even a hint of something that we as adults find endlessly fascinating will somehow do them harm. Why is that? I guess we all need to draw the line for ourselves between what constitutes the expression of attitudes about sex that are healthy vs. those that are unhealthy, confusing, corrosive, etc. But from a philosophical standpoint, Americans have a long way to go toward reconciling their attitudes with their behavior.

  5. kate1211 says:

    Too fuuny!
    After I ruled out ALL of my teenagers music falling on my youngest children’s ears, Modern rock, the 90’s I came up with a plan.. The eighties! Yes the eighties were fun and upbeat right? The go-go’s flashed through my mind Sirius played Jack and Diann and I knew I was beaten.
    Thank God for Jack Johnson who has at least saved me from Kidz bop

    • Dan Bain says:

      Interesting — you’re not the first to mention Jack Johnson after reading this. I’ll have to look into his music; thanks! Lolz re Jack and Diane — such a classic, but not kid-friendly. “Daddy, why does he have his hands between her knees?” Btw, thanks for subscribing!

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