This was published here a couple weeks back and I'm just now getting around to posting it. Sue me.
While the calendar claims that summer has crawled off into memory, I’m not convinced nor am I letting go gladly, clawing desperately to warm, long days and frost-free mornings.
I can be stubborn that way.
The ostensible change of season brought a busy week for me: six soccer games, preparation for parent-teacher conferences and, two days after the autumnal equinox, the twelfth birthday of Eldest Daughter. And like my refusal to let go of summer, I cling to my daughter’s childhood like a dear plushy, cradling that idealized vision of her nine years ago, bare feet beneath her nightgown and tussled, golden hair falling over her eyes, her soft hands holding a stuffed Simba close to her chin.
There are a few things I own and cherish but their value is meaningless compared to the significance of those memories. Although all I have is today, ultimately, the here and now is never a clean slate and possessing the memories of my children makes my being in the moment all the more sweeter. It is the treasure of those memories that remind me how important it is to hold fast to present.
Eldest Daughter is my Golden Child, the one consumed with doing the right thing, devastated when she disappoints daddy. She’s been like that ever since she was born. Whereas her siblings cavil and cry at the injustice of me telling them there’s something they can’t do, willful and obstinate imps they are, Eldest Daughter cries because her deep, inbred sense of shame tortures her with the idea that she has not done the right thing. It troubles her to the core, knowing she has displeased me in some way.
Although twelve and at the threshold of adolescence, she retains the innocence of her earlier years as she explores (treading lightly) more adult themes and concerns. Last year, she replaced her tween obsessions (Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, High School Musical, etc.) with everything “Twilight” — books, movies, soundtracks and merchandise.
I confess I haven’t read the books nor have I seen the movies. I’ve heard the books are innocuous, if inferior to the “Harry Potter” series and that the movies are definitely geared to specific, inchoate tastes. Nonetheless, she adores “Twilight” and I have no inclination to subvert her affection.
After all, my parents had no compunction against dropping me off in front of McNichols Arena, when I was about Eldest Daughter’s age, to watch Alice Cooper (my own preteen obsession) cause my ears to ring with his brand of nascent heavy metal and entertain his audience with mock executions and buckets of blood.
Indeed, if there is anything about the “Twilight Saga” that excites me, it’s the quality of the movie soundtracks. Populated with big names of the Indie Rock scene, it is not without undue alacrity that I’ve greeted her own pre-teen obsession given that she has been exposed to, and embraced, an entirely new brand of music in her preteen world.
To the credit of the movie’s producers, the soundtracks have included terrific cuts by some really exciting bands: Muse (providing songs on all three soundtracks), Perry Farrell, Iron & Wine, Death Cab for Cutie, Thom Yorke (wow), The Killers, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Sea Wolf, OK Go, Grizzly Bear, The Black Keys, Vampire Weekend (but, of course!), Unkle, The Dead Weather, Band of Horses — a veritable Who’s Who of College/Indie Rock.
Despite my desire to keep Eldest Daughter locked into the precious years of her childhood, I’ve learned to embrace the fact that she slowly, steadily marches towards adulthood, with baby steps (thankfully). Rocking all the way with a new found sophistication.
Thinking ahead to Eldest Daughter’s birthday and considering her new found affection for Indie Rock, I spent a few hours last week creating a new folder for her in iTunes. Somewhat inspired by the “Twilight” soundtracks but also filled with songs meant to say, “If you liked that, you might really like this!”
Boldly, I included a great deal of ’60s Motown, Soul, R&B, and Girl Groups in her folder, my rationale being that the pop tradition informing the type of Indie Rock that Eldest Daughter has grown to love. There would be no Death Cab for Cutie had there been no “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King, “Baby Love” by The Supremes or “The Way You Do the Things You Do” by The Temptations.
Unabashedly romantic and celebratory, the Soul Music of the ’60s perfectly captured the urgency of the teenage heart, that desperation of adolescent longing and unrequited love. While The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Jefferson Airplane, et al edged more and more towards adult themes and psychedelic excess, African-American music of the era remained firmly entrenched in matters of the heart — the redemption of a first kiss, the security of intertwined fingers and the exhilaration of a love note.
Yet, that music was anything but formulaic: the performances alone made the music transcendent while some of the finest writers and composers endowed the songs with an emotional power and timelessness that endures today. I would have been tragically remiss had I failed to include Otis Redding, The Four Tops or Martha and The Vandellas in Eldest Daughter’s iTunes folder.
Naturally, I included some new music as well. Ratting myself out here — if I’m putting these artists into Eldest Daughter’s folder, it means that I necessarily have those songs on my iPod — Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Cee Lo Green, Aaliyah and Missy Elliot, artists that get her and her sister rocking and singing aloud as we blaze down the road, “Turn it up, daddy!” they shout over music that’s already overly loud.
A guilty pleasure of mine from this summer was Robyn, playing Swedish pop at its best. Probably a little too twisted for American radio, Robyn’s music combines techno/electro beats with pop rhythms that could only come from Sweden.
During the summer, Robyn released two EPs from her “Body Talk” trilogy, a cycle of songs so infinitely danceable and incredibly entertaining, I would have been a bad dad to exclude them from the Eldest Daughter folder. Songs such as “Dancing on My Own,” “Fembot,” “Hang With Me” and “U Should Know Better” (with Snoop Dog), I knew I couldn’t go wrong introducing Eldest Daughter and her sister to the most fun I had this past summer.
However, it was Robyn’s song, “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” that was the essential inclusion into the folder. Full of bravado, attitude and adolescent snottiness, I may have stepped into something that I will regret somewhere down the road (although I somehow doubt that, given Eldest Daughter’s investment in being good). However, it is Robyn’s message that the pressure of society — and the expectations of being a woman in that society — that is both hilarious and compelling. Hoping to raise strong, self-sufficient women, ultimately, I hope both my girls carry that steel with them well into adulthood.
Robyn demanded a certain amount of Hip-hop in the mix and I was not shy including songs that will surely get Eldest Daughter censored if she’s blasting 50 Cent (“In Da Club,” of course) or Jay-Z (“99 Problems”) on the team bus.
Black-Eyed Peas and Outkast were easy selections to make — “Hey Ya” or “Pump It” are chaste enough to hear during an Aerobics session at the Senior Center — but I’ll confess to a brief pause (and sustained cringe) with songs such as Kenye West’s “Gold Digger” or Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop.”
Not one to censor what my kids listen to — if they don’t hear it from me, they’ll hear it somewhere else and with that will come a certain amount of subversive energy — I’ll nonetheless ask that the iPod stay home during sleepovers; not many parents understand my libertarian approach to music.
With well over 200 songs in the folder, Eldest Daughter has not had the chance to hear everything. And while the Hip-hop and old soul have been with some enthusiasm (“I love this song!” she cried when Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry Bout’ a Thing,” came on), most of those cuts were met with the resignation of, “Well, that’s just Daddy, he listens to all kinds of stuff!”
However, with the folder designated for her, she took new interest in the Indie Rock I had included, associating them with the music on her “Twilight” soundtracks. Thus, while “Beat Your Heartbeat,” by The Kissaway Trail or “Yellow Dress,” by Sore Eros might have slipped into the background of my pod set on random shuffle with Eldest Daughter’s attention turned elsewhere, the tunes took on a new significance as she listened intently to her special folder. Although “Actor Out of Work,” by St. Vincent, “Rill, Rill,” by Sleigh Bells and “Mexico,” by The Soft Pack had previously passed without her notice, suddenly she heard those songs anew, as if hearing them for the first time, placing them in proximity to everything she’d heard on her “Twilight” disks and suddenly deciding that she really, really liked those songs.
For the rest of my life, I will repay a debt (and never fully repay that gift) owed from the moment the delivery nurse pushed a bundle toward me, “Here’s your daughter, dad,” the nurse said as took Eldest daughter in my arms for the first time with a tremulous and uncertain embrace.
It was as if I had been touched by an alien and the knowledge of another universe had been telepathically transmitted to me. In that moment I became immediately aware that my own life had no significance in relation to the tiny life I held in my arms, that my own safety and well-being, my own aspirations and desires, were all secondary to the needs and security of the tiny person in my arms.
It was at that moment that I became aware of authentic love was — unconditional and nurturing and compassionate and dedicated to a higher purpose, serving something else beyond my own selfish appetites. In that moment, I realized that my own life held a purpose that would light my way forever.
That way continues to unfold in tandem with the evolution of Eldest Daughter as she glides seamlessly from her infancy into adulthood, a process that has occurred in the blink of an eye, faster than I had anticipated and could have ever wanted.
My debt continues to grow, gifted as I am watching her evolve and become the person she is supposed to become. If I can provide that process with my own soundtrack, bringing her the gift of music, I am ecstatic that my own gift is well-received.
As summer eases its way into fall and Eldest Daughter grows from toddler to teenager, I can only cling to the memories of what she was and these present moments of what she’s becoming. There is nothing I would trade to pass up those transitions.