I’m trying something a little different this week. For your listening pleasure (or, um, not), I’m providing a soundtrack with the theme, which is “Parenting From Afar.” I’m doing this because music is such a big part of my life that it feels like the natural thing to do, mixing music and literature.
As a side note, not all of these songs are favorites of mine, but they are all on my iPod, and I love them for different reasons. That’s right: I am a sucker for Bobby Goldsboro. This is its own form of confession, admitting to owning mP3s of some undeniably kitschy tunes that, for me, depending on my mood, are my mac-and-cheese comfort. Not all of them fit into this category, as you’ll see (I’m showing that I can still salvage my cool factor by throwing in a little Rufus Wainwright), but ask anyone who’s taken a road trip with me: coolness is not the dominant theme of my iPod, so here’s your warning that the scales are a little tilted.
These are all linked to YouTube videos, so, you know, you can get the full visual of Kenny Loggins’ beard. I also hope you’ll have a bit of fun in the comments section by telling me what song you would have added to the themed list. We might end up in a Battle of the Cheese, which, as battles go, would be crazy-awesome.
Raise your hand if your parents are divorced.
Right: that’s what I thought. A bunch of you.
If you’ve been reading my Atticus Review editorial annals, you’ll already know that, 1) I just laughed when I typed “annals,” and 2) I grew up mostly with my mother. Even before my parents divorced when I was eight, my dad was a working musician, always on the road. He was, honestly, seriously, the leader of the band, and the manager—the responsible one who would make sure the other guys would show up on time with their suits pressed and instruments tuned.
My brother and sister are seven and eight years older than I am, so they were teenagers by divorce time. They got to have a childhood that was somewhat intact, with memories of family outings (I sure as hell never got to go to Disney World), plenty of money, and a mother who was home when school let out. Their experience of my parents was an entirely different one, though I’m not saying the separation was at all easy for them. My sister became my mother, and my brother became the head of a household—roles that not too many teenagers can take on without at least a little bitterness.
My dad moved to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where he met his fourth wife. They had a swanky condo, and the one time I visited, I didn’t feel comfortable there. I was an outsider, a grubby kid who stained their white Formica countertops with red Kool-Aid. Things were different when the fifth wife came along. They at least had a pool.
The result of all this was that I didn’t really feel like my father’s child as much as I felt like a footnote. His distance worked in his favor, though: I idealized him, and I eventually came to respect him as the man he is rather than my father. He wasn’t around enough to screw up; he only screwed up by what he didn’t do. I can talk to him openly, such as when I called him after giving birth to my son. I was in a cabin at a former hippie commune, holding my newborn, and he said it was a silly thing to not go to a hospital to get an epidural. “That would be like squeezing a walnut out of my dick,” he said. “Not really, Dad,” I said. “Your dick was not meant to squeeze out a walnut, but my vag was designed to accommodate a baby.”
Another result is that I have been frozen in time. I am forever an eight-year-old to him, ordering a kiddie spaghetti and tomato juice at the Music Row Shoney’s. I represent memories.
Although I adore my father, and although I am so darn much like him that I’m not going to win my mother’s Favorite Child Award any time soon, I could not imagine not maintaining a presence in my son’s life if, for whatever reason, Dr. Minichillo and I went our separate ways. I take so much joy in knowing the little things about my son’s day—how many pancakes he has for breakfast, what he makes out of Legos, what shirt he wears to school, what song he asks to hear in the car. Nothing could keep me away from him. Even if I lived 3,000 miles away and had no money for a plane ticket, Skype would become my lifeline.
I could not not be there.
Rick Fellinger’s “Her First” is a multi-layered and charged story, giving space to a situation that must happen—surely it has happened before—but Fellinger was the lucky duck who thought to write about it. Young teacher beginning her life, confronted with a thorny decision on the same day as her first round of parent-teacher conferences. The dialogue is well-placed and snappy, and the surrounding narrative is economical and interesting. I love the writing as much as I love the idea.
In such a quick flash, Richard Hartwell’s “Jésus” gives a glimpse of a sacrificed man, a procreator whose life has been spent, and whose choices have been shaped by borders—some he created, and some he did not. He lives a complicated simple life, which looks up and then heads south, finally depositing him into a plastic mold he doesn’t fit. Hartwell’s keen way of introducing him through neighborhood gossip further drives home the man’s loss of identity.
“Emptiness” by George Ovitt is a plump little bird of a poem, fuller than it appears, with volumes of meaning riding on the tiny word “also.” Time ticks; hopes rise; feathers settle.
There is still, somewhere, an emptiness in me shaped like my father. A string that is tugged when I hear a new dad say he’s going to have to get out his shotgun when all the boys start showing up at the door. A splinter of jealousy when I hear a friend phone up her dad and ask him to help her move her furniture. And even a lump in my throat when I see my son riding on my husband’s shoulders. My kid knows his dad is there, can’t imagine a world without him. I hope he never has to.
Photo Source: Noelle Lynn