Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Dad Hates the Beatles

[re-posted in honor of John Lennon, and the pending arrival of our third son, Langston the Lion.]

I can’t get over what a great rendition of ‘Stand By Me’ John Lennon does. It nearly makes me cry every time I hear it. Same goes for ‘All You Need Is Love’ and ‘Beautiful Boy’. What wonderful sentiments. The following lines tug at my heart especially hard:

“I can hardly wait,
To see you to come of age,
But I guess we'll both,
Just have to be patient”

They’re real tear-jerkers, for one because I know that Mr. Lennon didn’t get the opportunity to see his son ‘come of age’, and two, because I am anxious to be there for my sons as long as they need me, and I am very excited to see the men that they become.

I’m nearing the age of 30, and I’ve only recently discovered the Beatles. The reason for this is that my father had an active hatred of the Beatles as I grew up, and of all the other little iconoclasms I committed against his worldview as I struggled to become my own person, it never occurred to me not to disregard the Beatles. That is, until I had a son of my own.

One day, while my wife and four year old son and I were shopping in our local Meijer grocery store, the song ‘Free as a Bird’ came on the musak, and my son started swaying his head back and forth and singing along with the music. He said, ‘who is singing this, daddy?’ and the whole scene melted my heart. We immediately went over to the electronics department and picked up a copy of The Beatles ‘1’ album (the CD with ‘Free As A Bird’ wasn’t in the store), and it was an instant hit with my son. I recognized most of the songs on the CD, but hadn’t realized that they were Beatles songs. On one level, I was very happy that my son had found a particular musical group to be excited about. This was the most important level. On a second level (I’m a little embarrassed to mention it), I was excited to have found yet another way to rebel against my father, who loves me, who is mystified by my detractions and detestations.

My father has given me something precious that he may not realize. He may think that I've rejected all of his values, but this is not the case. Children learn what they live is the title of a famous book about child-rearing, and I have surely learned what I lived growing up in my father’s house. What I learned from my father is to ‘hate the Beatles’ even if I learn to love The Beatles. I learned to be skeptical of popular opinion and received wisdom, and to feel uncomfortable in a mental crowd. That’s why you’ll never see me in a tea party parade, gleefully hoisting a homemade protest sign with the world ‘soshulism’ scrawled indignantly across it. That’s why I’ll never be at home in church, because there’s just too much that you’re supposed to swallow without first chewing, and you know that none of what they offer you is FDA approved.

My father, a black sheep, taught me how to be a black sheep, and I believe that I’ve improved the art. When in school, I was led to believe that much of what my teachers were telling me was liberal bunk, and even thought that was the case, I was to remember what they were teaching and to spit it back out at them in order to get a good grade. So, going into school, an important authority group was already undermined. My family didn’t go to church until I dragged them to a local Baptist church when I was in third grade. We went there for a couple of years, and again, my parents helped me to understand that not even our pastor had a direct line to God. We left sermons with my parents making fun of my Sunday school teacher’s end time prophecies, our pastor’s complaints against Rock and Roll (my dad loved Van Halen, and was not letting that go, not even for Jesus), and the pastor’s wife’s exhortations against alcohol use.

It was also my father that introduced me to George Carlin.

So, it was only a matter of time before I turned my well learned skepticism of tradition and unbelief in the infallibility of authority against the conservative, modified christian belief system that I was brought up in. I regret that this period in my relationship with him was so messy, and I know that I was often unnecessarily inflammatory and less than respectful in my exploration of ideas at this point. But, so it goes. We’re in a better place now, but it took us a while to get there.

I don’t know if my dad sought out to teach me this skepticism and unwillingness to move with the herd, but it’s been an invaluable tool for me. I know he wasn’t the only one who helped me learn this lesson; I was very much not welcome in almost every peer group I sought out in school (partially for my unusual interest in ideas, and partially because I possessed a weird cocktail of interest in doing whatever I needed to do to fit in with that group and conversely doing anything I could to sabotage the group’s aesthetic at the same time). This experience in school surely helped reinforce my isolation and need to think for myself. But my father gave me the tool, whether he sought to or not, and I am glad for it. I hope my kids are able to learn skepticism and the value of being as fully themselves as they can easier than I did, but I want them to have it. I want them to hesitate when joining groups. I want them to probe their intentions if they ever find their entire worldview lining up perfectly with some party platform. I don’t want them to be fearful if they feel the call to dissent. But, I don’t think they should feel too terrible if their honest inquiry and passion leads them into a group or a community.

After all, we are communal animals. That’s one of the parts I have trouble with that I don’t want to pass down to them. I want them to be as fiercely themselves as they can be, but if they ever find themselves in honest awe of one of the various edifices that have been erected by our (or any) culture, like, say, The Beatles, I want them to enjoy themselves. Because, Christ. You know it ain’t easy.

cross posted at The Daily Kos

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