"We blew up our T.V. threw away our paper
"Went to the country, built us a home
Had a lot of children, fed 'em on peaches
They all found Jesus on their own"
-- John Prine, "Spanish Pipedream"
When I was a teenager in the late seventies, I discovered the music of John Prine. Over the years, various songs have stood out as favorites-- "Hello In There," "Sam Stone," "Paradise," Angel From Montgomery," "Dear Abby," "There She Goes" and others have been favorites. I have always been in amazement that the same guy could write songs as heartwrenching as "Sam Stone," about a veteran who returns from the war with a heroin habit, or "Angel From Montgomery," about a marriage breaking down, and then do a song as unbelievably funny as "Dear Abby."
As I've gotten older, and become a parent, the song "Spanish Pipedream" has become a favorite. Here are the full lyrics:
She was a level-headed dancer on the road to alcohol
And I was just a soldier on my way to Montreal
Well she pressed her chest against me
About the time the juke box broke
Yeah, she gave me a peck on the back of the neck
And these are the words she spoke
Blow up your T.V. throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find Jesus on your own
Well, I sat there at the table and I acted real naive
For I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve
Well, she danced around the bar room and she did the hoochy-coo
Yeah she sang her song all night long, tellin' me what to do
Well, I was young and hungry and about to leave that place
When just as I was leavin', well she looked me in the face
I said "You must know the answer."
"She said, "No but I'll give it a try."
And to this very day we've been livin' our way
And here is the reason why
We blew up our T.V. threw away our paper
Went to the country, built us a home
Had a lot of children, fed 'em on peaches
They all found Jesus on their own
As parents, we think we mold our kids. But I think that the parents who read this will agree-- from the beginning, they start forming themselves. This weekend, as my son and I watched the very funny movie "Quick Change," and I saw my son laughing out loud, I realized that he laughs exactly the same way, with the same facial expression as he did when he was a baby.
One of the delicate balances that we, as parents, have to navigate is between providing the guidance we need to give as parents, while still giving them the autonomy they need to develop as people.
This started at the beginning of my son's life. Attempting to spare him the lifetime of despair I've felt as a Cub fan, I whispered to him, "Remember son: the Cubs are bums."
Unfortunately he didn't listen. He was a Cubs fan just as soon as he was old enough to pick up a baseball. He was about seven when he uttered those infamous words "Dad-- I think we're going to have to wait until next year."
When he was about eight or so, my ex and I were talking about music; both she and I love music, and he showed no interest in it. Soon, though, within a year, he started rabidly consuming music, plowing through the "classic rock" that both my ex and I love-- the Byrds, Beatles, Stones, Deep Purple and many others. I discovered that he was emailing Dick Biondi, a deejay my father had listened to in the early sixties to make requests on our local "oldies" station. I'm sure that he heard other music with his friends, but this was what he grew to love.
By the same token, my wife and I have always let my stepdaughter explore music. We've never tried to force the music we like on her. Nonetheless, we've seen her rapidly move from Kidzbop and Hannah Montana to the Ramones, the Replacements, the Kinks-- and the Beatles.
A few months back, she started listening to the soundtrack to "Across the Universe." While there are some nice covers of Beatles songs on the record, I felt like she needed to hear the originals. Despite being on a tight school budget, I got the cd sets for the red and blue Beatles "best-of" records for her. I'd grown up listening to the vinyl versions of those records. You've got to "let 'em find Jesus on their own," but sometimes you need to guide a little.
Of course, she added them to her itunes, and she and her friends listen to them and sing along to them. And now we're all eagerly awaiting the arrival of our Beatles Rock Band.
One of the other things my ex and I made a concious decision not to push on my son besides our music and athiesm-- we agreed to support him in any religious belief he developed, despite our lack of religious convictions (he identifies himself as an athiest, despite going to a Catholic high school) was politics. We'd been introduced by a mutual friend who knew that we were both involved in liberal Democratic politics. That was, of course, the only thing we had in common, as it turns out. I was a hard-partying Irish/German guy, she was a tee-tolling Chinese-American. I'd had a pretty busy romantic past, she'd only had one serious relationship. I was a punk-rocking madman, she was into more mainstream music. But we did love politics, particularly left-leaning politics. Despite this, we swore not to push our politics on our son.
I imagine that she, then, is as pleased as I am that he found his own way to enlightenment. I discovered that he's reading Paul Krugman's "Conscience of a Liberal" and his 1999 book "The Return of Depression Economics," where Krugman essentially predicted the economic crash that happened the last couple of years. We had a number of excellent discussions about both books this weekend.
Might I remind you that he's fifteen.
My father and I had a conversation years ago about parenting. He has expressed, at times, regrets about mistakes he made as a parent. He pointed out, though, that when your kids are born, you're not issued a manual. You do the best that you can, learning as you go.
In a few years, I'll be done being the parent of dependent children, and move into the world of having adult children. True, you never stop being a parent. But when you turn them loose in the world, you hope that you've given them enough guidance, balanced with enough leeway to have set them off on a lifetime of exploration, adventure, love and following their bliss. As I look into the future, into these last few years of this part of parenting, I'd like to think that if I did anything right, I taught them to follow their bliss. It's nice when some of that bliss overlaps some of your own. But it's important that they find it on their own.