We were in the car the other day when my daughter told me,
“Mom says I should be honest with my feelings. Your singing is…less than perfect.”
I was impressed by how politic she was being, so I matched her measured tone. “You know, I used to be a singer in a band,” I replied, studying her in the rear-view. “People paid money to hear me sing.”
“They must’ve been rich,” she said.
I replied with what’s known as “an old-fashioned” look.
A better driving story is the time I was singing along with some song on the radio and my daughter panicked and started screaming like she was being attacked by dinosaurs. It took several seconds to calm her down while also not swerving into a tree and killing us.
I’ve never had confidence in my voice. I was in choir in school (to get out of gym), but when my older sister had been in choir, they went to Carnegie Hall. We went to some churches. Well, everyone else did. I skipped about half of them. (Afraid I’d burst into flames.) I was also never good at reading music; I just learned my part and tried not to stand out.
When I was a teenager. I started a band. At first, we were all too shy to sing. I finally volunteered out of desperation. I agreed to play bass for the same reason. But I was never confident. I struggled to find my voice, as it were. Also, when you’re no good at either, singing and playing an instrument at the same time is hard.
I won’t say that I’m tone deaf. I can be tone challenged. Tone adjacent.
But who needs to be able to sing in rock? I remember once, a band was making fun of a guy who wanted to be their singer because he actually sounded good. I fit right in.
My daughter won’t sing for me. Sometimes, I catch her singing quietly in the car. (Do I make disparaging comments? HARDLY EVER.) Every once in a while, she will sing loudly enough for me to really hear, but if I compliment her on it, or acknowledge it in any way, she stops.
Up until just a couple years ago, I sang her to sleep at night. I was never a big lullaby guy. I sang songs like, “Dirty Old Town,” by the Pogues and “Little Boxes,” by Malvina Reynolds — she would pick which colors the houses would be and make me sing it over so she could pick different colors. These are songs I’d played for her when she was a baby. When I sang “Old McDonald,” she would pick the animals on the farm, and we had all these inside jokes about the sounds they made, like giraffes (which don’t really make noise) would go, “lick, lick, lick” because she fed a giraffe at the Baltimore Zoo, and it licked her hand.
I would sing softly until her breathing changed. Then I’d sit with her a little while.
My sister has a great voice. My daughter’s mother’s whole family is very musical. I can do a mean Fred Schneider (from the B 52s).
When I was a kid, my brother always listened to music — records and 8-tracks at home, cassettes or the radio in his van. Lots of guitar solos; 60s and early 70s bands whose albums might have one long song per side. He sang over all the songs and expected me to know the words.
When I got older, he took me to a few concerts. Pretty quickly, I started to explore newer music, which he had no time for. Instead of sharing in my burgeoning interests, he was disdainful, interested only in the music he already knew.
It’s important to rebel against the things our parents — or, in this case, the surrogate parent, my brother — like. The shared moment of losing ourselves in music was formative, but establishing my own identity was necessary.
I don’t want to do that to my daughter, but it’s probably inevitable.
It’s hard, though. I’ve exposed her to several bands she likes — ones I wouldn’t listen to, otherwise. But it’s important that she finds her own, even if I don’t like them. Because if I do like them, she’ll probably keep looking until she finds ones I don’t like. And that’s awesome — of course, I won’t tell her that.
My goal, with her, in many ways is to teach her everything I can until this day comes. When she has metaphorically defeated me (by finding her own probably terrible music), then the pupil will become the master, who has to disdainfully teach the former master how to use whatever version of a CD player will replace streaming music.
The other day in the car, we were listening to a CD, and my daughter said the singer was singing too fast. A complaint I was not familiar with.
“It’s Operation Ivy,” I said. “They were like a ska band but without horns.”
I launched into a lecture, but she cut me off.
“Dad,” she said. “I’m 8.”
So there’s time, but not as much as I’d like.