I am probably the “worstest” dad ever, “worstest” being the word my daughter Madison called me when she was seven and I wouldn’t buy her a bale of blue cotton candy at a local festival. It’s not that I was afraid that it would rot her teeth, but rather I didn’t want her spinning like a Whirling Dervish for the next 5 hours. Call me selfish, others have. I don’t remember what festival it was or in what city, it seems there is a festival for everything nowadays; strawberries, apples, beets, radish, sauerkraut, garlic, pumpkin, goetta, bacon, goats. If you are a fruit or vegetable or pork byproduct there is festival named after you somewhere. I think they have even run out of fruits and vegetables and are now naming them after Harry Potter books. But they are all the same, lots of booths with red, white and blue crafts you don’t need and food trucks selling overpriced “novelty” food. It is American as Apple pie, which has a great festival in Vermont by the way. I don’t quite get the current obsession with food trucks. Does food taste better if it’s prepared in the back of a truck? My mother warned me about buying things sold out of the trunks of cars, I think that is sound advice. I prefer that my food be prepared in a nicely acquainted kitchen that is regularly inspected by the health department, by a skilled chef using clean pans and sharp cutlery. Not in the back of a truck, fried in vats of oil, with flies swarming around like buzzards eyeing a dead possum. I am not a foody by any means, but I do have standards, low ones, but I do have them.
But my failure to rent my daughter’s love with cotton candy 10 years ago is not the reason I am the “worstest” dad ever. Rather it’s the fact that I turned her into a hippy and encouraged her to become a groupie for a local rock band. What father with a reasoned and educated mind would encourage his daughter to become a hipster and rock band groupie? I did. Maybe it was for selfish reasons (I really liked the band and knew they wouldn’t pay attention to me), or maybe I wanted to relive my teenage years through her. I actually had fun in my teenage years, I just was too drunk most of the time to remember them. I have been a bit of a closet hippy over the years by necessity. I spent the better part of my adult life in the U.S. Air Force and they strongly discourage “hippy-like” behaviors. Growing your hair long and smoking pot are frowned upon in the sense that you would court-martialed if you did so. Being a liberal is frowned upon too, though not a direct violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice like smoking pot. I would estimate that somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-90 percent of the officers in the military are red meat loving conservatives. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you aren’t a vegetarian. So since I desired to get promoted to the next rank I kept my hippy tendencies and political leanings to myself. Occasionally I would let something slip, like the speech I gave when I ended my duties as missile launch officer at the 351st Strategic Missile Wing. The title and theme of my speech was Peace, Love and Happiness, and I quoted Martin Luther King and the Dali Lama. The speech was actually well received by my peers, not as much by the senior officers in the room. But I was leaving the base and switching career fields so I didn’t have much to lose, other than getting assigned to the North Pole.
But for the most part, I kept my mouth shut when my military peers rallied to invade Iraq or bashed Obama for being a fascist, communist, Nazi, (insert insult here). It reminds me of the line from Princess Bride when the character Inigo Montoya says “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Unfortunately, we may soon learn what those words really mean.
But I digress. Back to turning my daughter into a groupie. About two years ago my wife and I were being adventurous and decided to go see a local Dayton band called Wheels. They were a bunch of young kids playing Americana type music with banjos, mandolins, a stand up bass, and harmonies that sounded like heaven. I quickly bought a few of their albums and passed them on to my daughter with hopes that she would move past her fascination with Lady Gaga, who I actually liked but would never admit to publicly. Much to my surprise she loved them and soon we were traipsing about town wherever they played. Unfortunately, just as we were getting to know them on a first name basis they announced a final concert because they were taking a hiatus because several members were heading off to college. We went to their final concert and before the show I grabbed a few of the band members and forced them to take a picture with my daughter who was too shy to talk to them. It didn’t take too much effort to get them to pose with my daughter because she filled out her outfit in all of the right places. I even lent them a harmonica before the show. I was hoping that they would one day become famous and I could boast that I lent them a harmonica at their last show. It was my fleeting chance for 15 minutes of fame and I wasn’t going to let it slip by.
However near the end of the show they announced another last show at the local county fair and we couldn’t miss that, and another chance for 15 minutes of fame. Of course at the county fair there were plenty of food trucks and corn dogs, and tubs of blue cotton candy. Before the show I ate a bar of deep fried butter and a piece of chocolate covered bacon, reducing my life expectancy by 3.6 years. After the show we (I) talked to the band and I got my daughter an autographed drum stick. So, if they became famous someday I could say that I, well actually my daughter, had a drum stick from one of their last shows. Near the end of the show they announced a really last acoustic show at the Gentlemen of the Road festival the next day and without hesitation we went. I was running out of instruments to give or take, but if they did become famous I could boast that my daughter and I were the only people to go to all three of their last shows. It was quite the bonding experience for my daughter and I, though I think she was bonding with the boys in the band and I was bonding to the idea that I was not yet middle aged. This last show was really was their last show (for now) and my daughter did something really cool. As they were singing one of our favorite songs, So Fast, there is a line that says “Spun a dime across the floor”, and she spun a quarter on the ground in front of them. It brought a smile to the vocalist Sam’s face and well, how cool is that. Now if they become famous my daughter would be known as the girl that spun a coin in front of them at their last show and I would be known as the middle-aged stalker following a band of teenage boys wherever they played.
Afterwards, my daughter said, “Sir, thank you for taking me to the 3 last shows.” You see “Sir” is how my daughter referred to me. It’s not that I was a strict disciplinary, I was after all encouraging her to be a hippy. But once, years ago she asked me what people referred to me at work. I told her that since I was a Colonel in the Air Force people generally referred to me as “Sir.” Ever since then that is how she referred to me. “Sir, can you buy me an iPhone?”, “Sir, can I stay out late?”, “Sir, can you buy me tickets to this concert for so I can go with this guy named Danush?” I’ll be honest, the fact that she asked so politely and with such reverence (even if it was contrived), I usually said yes. My other daughter never learned this trick, she stayed with the normal “Dad”. “Dan can I have Mario Brother’s 12 video game”, “Dad do I have to clean my room”, “Dad can I drop out of school and live in the basement for the rest of my life.” My answer was usually no. Especially on the last one, I wanted to reclaim my mancave someday.
After the band broke up they formed two splinter bands which I honestly didn’t care much for, but my daughter became a groupie for both. This was a disconcerting trend that if continued would mean that my daughter would be a groupie of 32 bands within the next 4 years. I am a fan of geometric progressions if it concerns my investment portfolio, but not for the number of rock bands by daughter is watching play in seedy dive bars across town.
So we soon were going to every festival around town to see the bands play and one of our favorite festivals was the Cyclops festival in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Not sure why it was called the Cyclops festival, maybe they ran out fruit or vegetables or Harry Potter movies to name it after. Yellow Springs is the hippy capital of Ohio and quite the anomaly in this otherwise conservative state. When you stepped into the town it was like you took a wrong turn and ended up in Berkeley, California. Hippies with dreadlocks and tie-died t-shirts were everywhere, like zombies in plaid. Peace signs were on every shop door, and the smell of pot wafted through the air like barbecue at a football tailgating party. My daughter, who now wanted to move to Yellow Springs, “But Sir, they recycle everything”, insisted we go to every festival held there. Her favorite place was a little eclectic coffee shop called the Spirited Goat, which had open mike nights where you could sing or read poetry. I referred to it as the Drunken Goat because it seemed the patrons were rarely sober, but always entertaining.
So now thanks to my encouragement my daughter was a groupie following multiple rock bands, hanging out in the hippy capital of Ohio in a coffee shop with hipsters in orange hair, listening to some kid sing an acoustic cover of Blue Monday by New Order, while pot smoke drifted about. She was quickly getting a reputation at school of being a pothead hippy but I wasn’t too concerned because I had brainwashed my daughter since the age of 2 that smoking would kill you almost instantly. I also knew that my daughter was the most uptight hippy ever who fretted over every little thing and who studied past midnight every night because of an insane fear of getting a B on a test. Here GPA was in the 3.9 range and she was worried that it was too low. I did not let on that 3.9 was pretty good. She could slack off after she graduated from college, got a job, and moved out of the house, but not a moment before. Call me selfish, others have.
One of the benefits of having a hippy daughter is she occasionally turned me on to cool bands, and forced me to go to concerts that I would otherwise have been too lazy and old to attend. She turned me on to Dr. Dog, an indie band from Philly, and insisted we see them in concert. We did, and it was a great time. I spotted maybe 4 or 5 people around my age, the rest weren’t born when I saw the Talking Heads in concert in 1984. Back at work the following Monday people politely asked, “Sir, did you do anything fun this weekend” and I said “Sure, I saw Dr. Dog in concert”. They looked at me as if I was speaking in tongues, middle-aged “Sirs” did not go to concerts to see bands like Dr. Dog. But they didn’t know I was a closet hippy who made speeches about Peace, Love and Happiness, who once met Johnny Rotten and the lead singer of Love and Rockets, and had every Cure album ever made. Guys like that were living in Yellow Springs, hanging out at the Drunken Goat, reading beat poetry while flies circled harmlessly around their head.
I also shared my music with my daughter and occasionally she would listen to it. The Avett Brothers became one of her favorites, though she never took much liking to the 80’s bands that I still listened to on occasion. She did do a dance routine to the White Stripes song “Seven Nation Army” which is now played every 6 minutes at Pro football games. When I brought out the White Stripes CD to show her how retro cool I was her first comment was, “What’s a CD Sir?”, then after I played the song she just said “Whatever.”
My favorite band of all time is The National, I am quite frankly mesmerized by the baritone vocals, somber and insightful lyrics, and superb guitar and drum play. When I was deployed to Iraq I would listen to The National each evening to calm and soothe my nerves. They helped me forget where I was and the music drowned out the sound of the Blackhawk helicopters bringing in severely wounded men and women to the nearby C.A.S.H. Much like M.A.S.H that everyone knows about from the hit TV show, C.A.S.H. stands for Combat Army Surgical Hospital and it was their job to save the men and women who had just been dismembered by an IED attack, and keep them alive until they could be flown to Landstuhl hospital in Germany and eventually home.
Each night, the Blackhawks would come in at all hours and as they approached the landing pad adjacent to my dorm it was so loud it felt like there were going to land in my room. Much like the scene from Apocalypse Now where the ceiling fan morphed into a helicopter blade, it was surreal. The sound did not scare me, I knew our pilots were good and would land safely. But the thought that they were bringing in a mortally wounded son, daughter, husband, wife, father, or mother, deeply troubled me. I knew I would wake up in one piece the next morning, they might not, ever. To this day, whenever I hear a helicopter fly overhead I think of my time in Iraq and the Blackhawk’s landing at the C.A.S.H., at all hours of the night. I do not have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but I do have an appreciation of the sacrifices made by our military in these senseless wars. So when I hear uninformed politicians saber rattling about Iran or China, I get apprehensive. There is a much higher cost to war than dollars spent.
While in Baghdad I did get the opportunity to meet then Congressman Obama during his 2008 campaign. He was full of hope and I needed that. Years later, we still need someone who can bring us all hope but I do not know who that might be. Our current batch of politicians only bring fear and hate. It’s like they cloned Joe McCarthy. I recall the words of Abraham Lincoln who once said, “When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion”. Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t even win a primary now, he believed in doing what’s right and he united people. Those traits are gone in today’s Congress.
I still listen to The National, they speak to me like no other. My daughter gets regular doses of them when I am driving her about because they are always on heavy rotation in my car. She even likes one of their songs, Fake Empire, which begins with a line about “picking apples, making pies” which she finds infinitely amusing. Actually, the song is about a generation lost in apathy and disillusion. The lead singer of The Nationals, Matt Beringer, once said that the song is about “Where you can’t deal with what’s really going on so let’s just pretend that the world’s full of bluebirds and ice skating.” This song is ten years old but it is so apropos for today’s political climate.
Their latest album is fantastic as usual and their first single was a song called “Demons.” As I was listening to it one day I heard a line that caused me to immediately hit pause, then back, then play again. I would swear on a stack of bibles that at exactly 1:13 of the song they say a line that sounds like “Madison buzzards in the sky.” I played the song over and over again a dozen times and it sounded exactly like “Madison buzzards” to me. I played it for my daughter Madison and she just said “Dad, have you been hanging out in the Drunken Goat again?” When I got home I Googled the lyrics and to my dismay the words are actually “Passing buzzards.” But that doesn’t stop me from playing that song every time my daughter and her friends are in the car. They think I am crazy, but I am not, listen for yourself.
She hasn’t called me the “worstest” dad ever for a several years now, though she still rolls her eyes when I ask her to clean her room or when I play “Madison buzzards” on my car stereo. Last year she joined the Environmental club at school and became its president and organized an effort to pick up trash after the football games. So, even though I encouraged my daughter to be a hippy and rock band groupie, maybe I am not the “worstest” dad ever, after all. No sir.
Well of course this month’s song is Demons by The National. I triple dog dare you to listen at 1:13 of the track and tell me that the leader singer isn’t saying “Madison buzzards in the sky”