explorations of mindful fatherhood


Father’s Ode to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

ryan_lewis_macklemoreBecoming a father has changed my perspective on the world, for better and for worse. Sometimes a reminder of my youth is exactly what I need.

When I was young, I was self-centered.  I cared about how things affected me right now.  Things like politics, corporations, and the environment all took center stage because they affected my situation in the here and now.  Sure, I had vague notions of my future or the future of society, but I couldn’t quite see past my little bubble. After having my son, the impact of these massive forces shifted.  Now I recognize the impact politics, corporations, and the environment will have on my son.  Not only now, but in his future.

The problem is this: in spite of an increased motivation to care about things, my energy to do so has waned to near non-existence.

In my twenties I cared deeply about things.  I’d sit at tables collecting signatures for human rights campaigns.  I’d march in rallies or gay pride parades.   I’d do things to express my beliefs.  Perhaps there was a cynical side of me that believed these actions really had no impact.  Who cared about a letter?  Who cared about a march, or a demonstration, or a parade, then the forces out there were too big to do anything about.  But I did these things anyways, because it was what I could do.

Then I started working.  My time was taken up by my job, by paying the bills, by getting through week to week.  I didn’t have time to do all the things that had previously felt so important, things that had carried so much weight at one point in my life.  Plus, other, younger people were out there doing them, and wasn’t that good enough?

Then we had our son, and I seemed to have even less time and energy to get out there, to put my voice on the line.  But also, that cynical side crept up again, thinking that it really didn’t matter if I wasn’t out there.  Nothing changes anyways.  My political activity boiled down to voting, because it was the one thing I felt I couldn’t ignore.  I became more interested in what was on TV, who was winning SYTYCD, what was inside that next basket on Chopped.  My sphere of interest shifted from NPR to the TV Guide Channel.  And with that shift came the hazy stupor of media fog.  My ideals didn’t shift, per se, but I didn’t do much about them.  My political activity boiled down to a few dollars donated here and there to various causes.  I wonder if other fathers, fresh out of the fog of their children’s early years, find themselves in the same spot.

The problem was that I didn’t find anything inspiring.  Media had effectively deadened me.  Nothing seemed to get me vocal.  I’d watch some Daily Show, but it only served to depress me.  I’d turn on NPR, but felt too insignificant to do anything.  This might seem stupid, but I found a new burst of energy and motivation in what seems like a very unlikely place: in the music videos of a white hip-hop artist from Seattle.

It started with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s track Thrift Shop, which set them on the national stage.  The track was infectious, and its anti-couture agenda really spoke to me.  I was the kid in his 20’s who only shopped at thrift shops, and thought it was so much cooler than buying off the rack.  But the song that really made me stop and think was the the duo’s Same Love video, a track dedicated to embracing homosexuality and a rally-cry for gay marriage rights.  One of my friends mentioned hearing it, well before it hit the radio, confessing that the track brought tears to his eyes.  I was incredibly touched by the story of the song and by the images of the beautifully crafted video.  As time passed and I gave more thought to the song, my admiration for these artists grew.  Here were a couple of hip hop artists supporting people who are typically vilified by their own music genre.  They were also artists who were relatively new to the national stage, and yet were investing time and talent into producing a video and gaining play-time for a politically motivated song.  In spite of the backlash it might provoke, and the topic’s impact on their budding stardom, these artists chose to promote the song.

I started searching for more tracks, and found pieces that were equally moving, such as Wings, Macklemore’s childhood memories of his desire for a pair of Air Jordans and his realization that kids he knew got murdered for theirs.  There’s also Ryan Lewis’s Fake Empire, a short film that lambastes corporate silencing of individual voices.  As I did more searching, I was increasingly impressed by the depth of these men’s voices and their strong convictions, even when these convictions ran counter to what a lot of popularized hip hop glorifies: a hyper-hetero, hyper-masculine celebration of money and brands.

But it’s really hard to swallow artists who are super self-righteous in their approach.  Artists who take themselves so seriously that they become caricatures of themselves.  That’s another reason why I love this duo.  These guys are goddamn hilarious.  If you’ve ever seen And We Dance, you know what I mean.  It’s rare to see any male artist, let alone a hip hop artist, dress in gold lame and dance around in a blonde 80s hair-band wig.  Macklemore even plays the asshole neighbor that beats on the door.  Hysterical.  Then there’s the Can’t Hold Us video, in which Macklemore plays the frenetic hairdresser in a long blonde wig (again), cutting the hair of the featured artist on the beach.  Every time I see something by this duo, I’m blown away by the message, the humor, and the artistry.

And who would have thought, a nearly-middle-aged, suburban White dad would find inspiration from a pair of hip hop artists.  But yes, it has happened.  Seeing their messages embodied in their work has caused me to reflect on my own beliefs.  It’s made me realize that I cannot sit idly by any longer.  Instead, I have to get up and make my voice heard, even if it takes time and energy.  Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?

And yet why do I connect this ode to my fatherhood?  Because dads like me need wake up calls every once in a while.  I used to have the energy and the motivation to want to inspire change.  And yet at this time in my life, with a so much on the line, with a son who looks up to me and relies on me as a positive model of manhood, I have a tendency to sit on my ass.  I have a tendency to really on a younger generation of individuals to speak up and inspire change.  But I can’t do it any longer.  I have to keep up the motivation and the will to fight, because if I don’t, what type of a future will I leave for my son?  I’m thankful for the inspiration these artists have enlivened in me, and hope to keep the motivation alive and make my own voice heard.


Cleanly Explicit


First, I must admit that I’m obsessed with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” featuring Wanz.  When it comes to music, my wife is much cooler than I am, and she turns me onto music that I might otherwise overlook.  This was one of her work-out mix jams, and I totally stole it for my iPod.  I love every aspect of it: from the saxophone to the anti-couture lyrics.  It probably plays in my car a minimum of three times every trip.  On some of these trips, my son is my co-pilot.

My question is this: Is the “clean” version clean enough for my son’s young ears?  Thrift Shop is an explicit song, but whenever possible, we download the clean(-ish) versions of songs, and wouldn’t expose him to songs with overt swearing.  But even in our clean iPod version, the chorus is a thinly veiled: “I’m gonna pop some tags / only got $20 in  my pocket / I’m I’m a huntin’ / Lookin’ for a come up / This is ***king awesome.”

Luckly, my son’s young enough that he doesn’t yet know the f-word, so he can’t fill in the blanks. Also, all the “m-f’ers” and b-words are extracted as well, so it’s not explicitly offensive.  But some of the content is questionable, like references to R. Kelly’s sheets and lyrics like “up in her skirt”.  So, of course, I’m torn.

Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, my parents had lame musical tastes.  The only things I can remember my parents liking/listening to were Barry Manilow (my mom) and Jim Croce (my dad).  In my late 30’s, I can now admit that “Copacabanna” and “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” are awesome songs, but not when you’re 9-years-old.  Even in elementary school, I knew my parents’ musical tastes were stagnant, and due to the limited exposure to music at home, I knew practically nothing about music growing up.  For example, my parents had this big-ass turntable stereo and about 8 albums between the both of them.  I recall that in the 5th grade I won a contest in music class and my teacher offered to buy me any single that I could name. I couldn’t name one.  The whole thing played out in front of my class, so it was just the tiniest bit mortifying.

So, when I think about my son, I’d like him to have broad exposure to music.  At the heart of it, my wife and I want our son to have a positive relationship with music.  This means we pick songs that have upbeat choruses, goofy lyrics, or great dance beats.  But it’s mostly about the dance beat.  We started early with children’s music (Raffi, They Might Be Giants, etc.).  Slowly, my wife started introducing him to house music, hip hop, and rap.  I would come home and “Jump Around”, “Groove is in the Heart”, or “California Love” would be blasting out the stereo, and my wife and son would be bouncing off the walls.  By age 3, his favorite lyrics were “Whatcha whatcha whatcha want, whatcha want / You’re so funny with the money that you flaunt / I said where’d you get your information from huh? / You think that you can front when ‘revolution’ comes?”  Yes, he messed up the lyrics, but he was hilarious.

So, as he gets older (and we do), we continue rocking out in the car and kicking up the base.  I think the issue is this: as he gets older, in spite of the “clean” versions of the songs, he’s more likely to pick up on the suggestion or the content of the trashy lyrics.  When he was little, everything seemed fine so long as he didn’t hear a 4-letter word, because any of the innuendo was lost on him.  Now that he’s 6, he’s so damn perceptive.  I just worry sometimes.

But I think the outrageous-ness of certain lyrics are just that, outrageous lyrics.  If we use music for music’s sake, and don’t elevate it or deify the artists, it remains music.  Not a lifestyle, not an ethos.  Just songs to dance to.  If I play a song that’s a little wild, it’s just a song.  I think it takes the mystique and the glamour out of it when your parents put it on in the car.  On the flip side, I went through quite a metal phase in high school and was a huge Metallica, Megadeath, Ozzy fan for years, but it was all just rebellion against the crooners I grew up with.

I’m mindful of my song choices, just like any other media I expose my son to.  At the same time, I take an even-handed approach.  While overt swearing and sexualized themes are still things I want to protect him from, there’s sometimes a grittiness to the lyrics that I don’t mind exposing him to in small snippets.  Music, like all forms of art, is a means to exploring the profane and the fantastic, and if we can be good models of how and when that exposure is okay, we as parents can help our kids see that trashiness has its place.

Either that, or I’m training the next gangster rapper.  So long as he steers clear of those $50 Gucci t-shirts, I’ll be fine with that too.