Our disappearing paths

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I bought this coffee mug in 2016 at the Glacier Point gift shop in Yosemite National Park to add to my collection of mug memories. My son and I were on day three of our summer trip to California. Printed on it is a quote from naturalist John Muir.

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

It was the perfect senitiment to capture this adventure of ours through central California. We’ve hiked a lot of paths together over the years, and more than a few of them have been dirt.

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PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT

September 19, 1985.

I was on the cusp of 14 the day that Tipper Gore testified in front of a congressional subcommittee on behalf of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) — a group formed to combat what they considered to be explicit lyrics.

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Photo courtesy of Newsweek

In their sights were artists that I listened to in constant rotation — Prince, Twisted Sister, Madonna, AC/DC, Def Leppard, even the quirky Cindy Lauper made the PMRC’s Filthy Fifteen. Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider — the front man whose image adorned my bedroom wall — paraded his shaggy blonde mane into that hearing to defend music, and became a rock n’ roll hero.

 

As a result of this national attention, and under the threat of government regulation, the record industry proactively issued PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT labels to be put on any record with lyrics that ventured explicity into sexuality, drugs, or violence.

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I can vividly remember buying my first albums with that sticker on it — the badge of rock rebellion. I’m not sure if the properly-dressed members of the PMRC realized that they were creating a marketing device in their protest. Seeing that bold, black and white label across a record store was like a lighthouse beacon in the fog to a 14 year-old kid pushing his boundaries. Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll wasn’t new. Now it was just easier to find.

Fast forward 33 years. 

I’m now the parent of a teenager whose central passion is his music. He immerses himself in it, dissects it, and creates it. He lives music. 

His two loves are electronic and hip-hop. The first is primarily lyric-less, the latter could make Tipper Gore and the PMRC predict the end of times. The lyrics of hip-hop circa 2018 are raw, violent, and explicit in ways that turn the artists of 1985 into teetotalers by comparison.

I don’t censor what he listens to when he’s with me. As a father, it can feel like a no man’s land filled with double-edged swords. I preach to him my strong belief that music is artistic expression, a reflection of the complexities of real life, and social commentary blended together to move us — physically and emotionally. I don’t believe it has boundaries. It is the expression through which we push boundaries. But … I worry that he will hear lyrics as suggestion rather than expression and reflection. I worry that he will be judged by the music he creates. I worry that my participation in his passion gives some sort of implicit approval of the explicit nature of the lyrics.

Most days, I quash that worry because music for teenagers is a time-tested way of distancing themselves from the saccharine nature of childhood. Provocation. Rebellion. Inspiration. Growth. I did it. He’ll do it. We’ll all be fine.

I brought my son with a few of his friends to see Logic in concert last summer. The other two dads in the group sat up in the comfy seats, but I wanted to be down in the crowd with the boys. I wanted to experience them experience this. His first concert. I stood a few feet behind them, trying vainly to be inconspicuous in a crowd where I was the oldest person by a couple of decades.

You know what? Logic is a phenomenal artist and performer. I knew him through my son, but his music became part of my regular rotation. As the sun went down behind the stage, I lost myself in the show. Yes, it was explicit. Yes, his words purposely provoke. When he launched into Killing Spree, the crowd, including my son and his friends, including me, echoed the lyrics into the throbbing air.

Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is all the things that I turned out to be
Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is everything that I like, like, like, like
Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is all the things that I turned out to be
Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is everything that I like, like, like, like
Real shit goin’ on in Lebanon
But I don’t give a fuck, my favorite show is coming on
Hashtag pray for this, pray for that
But you ain’t doing shit, get away from that
Blame it on black, blame it on a white
Blame it on a gun, blame it on a Muslim
Everybody wanna blame him, blame her
Just blame it on a mothafucka killing everyone!
Everybody wanna get high, everybody wanna live life like they can’t die
Everybody gotta be right
Everybody scrollin’, scrollin’, thru they life
I wish they would love me like I like they pictures
I wish I had bitches
I wish I had motivation to get money
Ain’t it funny, my rainy day would be sunny
If I had the vision of currency fallin’ above from the sky
Fallin’ above from the sky, listen up
Everybody looking for the meaning of life thru a cell phone screen
Everybody looking for the meaning of life thru a cell phone screen
Everybody think that the meaning of life is
Everybody think that the meaning of life is
Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is all the things that I turned out to be
(full song)

This song is offensive in its language. The socialized adult in me kept chiding you can’t sing this song along with your son. Tipper Gore would have included this song in her Filthy Fifteen, but she would have completely missed its central point. Listen to these lyrics. He’s telling all these kids to stop living their lives through their smart phones. Through the provocation, there’s inspiration. There’s redemption. There’s growth.

For Christmas this year, I created a canvas print of one of my photos from that concert during Logic’s performance of Take It Back — a song that takes direct aim at social injustice. Again, redemption. I overlaid the lyrics of the entire song, and emphasized the redemption.

Take it back / Take it way way back.

Understand the past.

Peace on earth is what I try to be / I just wanna spread the message of equality.

Improve the future.

Yes, there are a million songs out there where you’d have to split infinite hairs to find a shred of redemption. Sometimes music is simply provocation without the redemption. The best music does both.

The concert print hangs in his music studio. I hope it reminds him of the experience of that night. I hope it inspires him to create music that provokes in its words and redeems in its message.

 

 

Giving him the love and space to create his own future

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My son and I stood at the summit of Baldy Mountain, on what felt like the top of the world. He wanted me to take his photo sitting on the edge. I have no idea what was going through his mind as he sat there, looking toward the dissipating haze of New Mexico’s eastern horizon, but my spirit brimmed with the emotional memories of the day he was born.

In the months before his birth, I voraciously read every how to be a parent manual out there. I believed that parenting could be treated as an academic enterprise, just another subject to learn, an expertise to be acquired. When challenges arose, I’d just flip to the right page for the answer.

The day we went to the hospital to be induced, I felt confident that we had this thing under control. I’d put myself through Dad 101 and was ready to roll.

Then everything went to hell.

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Sipping a little memory each morning

Each morning I’m home, I follow the same ritual. I clean the coffee maker, grind the beans, fill the water reservoir, and press BREW. I reach into the cabinet to choose from double stacked memories, from coffee mug mementos that remind me of events, experiences, and eras of my life.

Aside from photos, I don’t keep many physical reminders of my past, but the coffee mugs are an ever-present exception. I wake up my brain and fuel my morning from these vessels, sipping from the emotions and lessons they still hold.

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Recipe: Creamy rotisserie chicken soup

When my son shared with me that cream-based soups were his favorite kind, I thought to myself, I guess I can always learn. All of the soups I’ve made in the past are chicken or beef broth-based and cooking with milk has always left me apprehensive.

I decided the best approach would be to treat the soup as broth-based to start, then add the cream near the end.

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An evolving hashtag

As I made my son an egg sandwich for breakfast this morning, I realized just how happy cooking for him makes me. It’s the breakfast he asks for the most, nothing fancy, just simple comfort food.

For the three years after my marriage ended, I’ve used the #singledadcooking to tag the photos of my culinary creations. That hashtag has served me well, and on more than one occasion I’ve run into people who’ve asked me when the SDC cookbook is hitting the shelves. Of late, I’ve realized that while #singledadcooking captures what I am when I cook, it doesn’t communicate why I cook.

I cook for the people I love.

When I’m on my own, I’m more apt to scrounge on leftovers. My inspiration comes when there is more than one plate set at the table.

The cookbook may still be in the works, but it’ll now be titled #FoodIsLove because that better captures the essence of why I create in the kitchen.

Over the threshold of a new year

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Back in October, K and I celebrated my 46th birthday watching Matt Nathanson and Matchbox Twenty perform at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline. Matt opened with the perfect blend of concert, revival, and comedy jam that energized the crowd for Rob Thomas and crew’s last stop on their 20th anniversary tour. The arena went completely black at the same moment a single white spotlight illuminated an empty microphone stand.

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Rebuilding myself

From July 16-27, 2017, my son and I, along with three other boy scouts and two other dads in Crew 716-J-02, backpacked 84 miles through Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmarron, New Mexico. This story takes place on Thursday, July 20, Trail Day 4.


We emerged from our tents before dawn in Copper Park. It was 5:30am, our earliest wake-up of the trek, but it was Baldy Day.

When we’d gathered months earlier to choose from among the 35 Philmont treks, our first order of business was to eliminate any trek that didn’t include the summit of Baldy Mountain. There is majesty throughout Philmont’s 140,000+ acres, but Baldy is the true pinnacle as the highest peak (~12,450 ft.) in the Cimmarron Mountains. Baldy is so famous in scouting circles, when you mention you’ve done a Philmont trek, the question you get is invariably … did you summit Baldy?

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A note of gratitude

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I am so thankful for the life I have right now. No buts. No conditionals. I am simply thankful. In less than an hour, the kid and I will be on the way to spend Thanksgiving with family in Connecticut. In a year where I learned that nothing is guaranteed or permanent, I will disconnect and wade through that imperfectly beautiful chaos that family often is, so that I can cherish those moments of perfection that only family can be.

I encourage each of you to do the same. Put down your phones and be present where you are. We’ll all be here to enjoy your photos and stories on the flip side.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. Know that I am thankful for the unique perspective each of you brings into my pretty amazing life.