The first time my husband (a professor of music theory, a U2 fanatic, and sentimental fool) made me a mix tape, we were in middle school. Today, he writes about the soundtrack of his first year as a father.
Daddyo here! I have always loved making mixtapes and personalized CDs. Unlike any other medium, music has the ability to capture the essence of the moment. So, for my first guest entry, I’d like to share some music. This post, a playlist of the music I most closely associate with my first year as a parent, has been more than a year in the making. Some of the songs have a direct connection to the ups and downs of those twelve months; others are on the list simply because that’s what I wanted to listen to at the time. In case you are unfamiliar with any of the tracks, I have included YouTube links for each; if you’ve got a Spotify account (it’s free!), the entire playlist is available here: Boyo’s 1st Year.
February 2013: “Hello” by Sugarbomb
Many of my friends and colleagues were surprised when I didn’t choose a U2 song for Boyo’s video and, frankly, I surprised myself. When the idea of making a video first entered my mind, I thought for sure I would use “Beautiful Day” or “Original Of The Species.” Weirdly, though, when I was making the video and editing the clips, those songs seemed forced; “Hello” just seemed a more natural choice.
March 2013: “Shake It Out” by Florence & The Machine
This has been Team Us’ anthem for a couple of years now because, well, Team Us has taken a beating. A lot of that has to do with my professional situation. In January 2013, a mere two weeks before Boyo was due, I interviewed for a dream job at the music conservatory of a big state school. I prepped for this interview for more than six weeks. I was ready for this. The teaching demos went well, the question/answer sessions went smoothly, and I seemed to have a good rapport with the faculty and the dean. I thought I hit it out of the park. I came back from the interview and Boyo was born, so that helped take my attention off the waiting game. A few weeks passed and I hadn’t heard anything. “That’s OK,” I thought to myself. “Don’t get caught up in speculation. At this point, no news is good news, right?” Then, I got news. And it wasn’t good. Needless to say, I was devastated. This was the second year in a row that I made the final three for an amazing job and got rejected. It was the second year in a row that Team Us had put our eggs into one basket only to see said basket slip from our hands and go SPLAT all over our Sunday best.
But I couldn’t wallow in self-pity or sadness. I had to keep on working for I wanted and for what I wanted to give my family. It’s difficult to shake off the shackles of self-doubt. “Shake It Out” helped me and the rest of Team Us keep dancing.
March/April 2013: “Carry On” by Fun.
In the midst of a shitstorm, when things are at their lowest, the big picture sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. At this juncture, our big picture was this: we were coping with the start Boyo’s Dark Days and I was struggling to find a permanent teaching position. To put it succinctly, we were knee deep in crap. And sinking. Then my wife reminded me of Winston Churchill’s advice: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I was blown away by the simplicity and poignancy of that advice. KEEP. THE FUCK. GOING. Do not stop. You cannot stop. Keep trying. Keep looking. Keep applying.
If you’re lost and alone
Or you’re sinking like a stone
Keep working. Keep learning. Keep believing. Because one day it will all pay off.
We are shining stars
We are invincible
We are who we are
On our darkest day
When we’re miles away
So we’ll come
We will find our way home
April/May 2013: “Believe” by The Bravery
But sometimes, no matter how much encouragement you try to give yourself, or no matter how much encouragement you get from others, you still need to let off some steam. I was angry. Actually, I was more than just angry. I was pissed. I brought my “A” game to that interview and still got rejected. At this point, I needed to be outwardly pissed. I needed to vent. I needed to be mad at the Universe for just a bit because I’d been stuck in the professional mire for such a long time that it was starting to take a toll on my personal life. I was searching for the motivation to keep applying for teaching positions in the wake of not getting much sleep and working in a job that had nothing to do with my profession. Not only did it feel like my career was beginning to stagnate, but it also started to feel less likely that it would ever get back on track.
So give me something to believe
‘Cause I am living just to breathe
And I need something more
To keep on breathing for
So give me something to believe
May 2013: “Wide Awake” by Katy Perry
(Yes, I like Katy Perry. A lot.)
I needed something else to think about, something to take my attention away from my discouraging job prospects and Boyo’s Dark Days. So, I signed up to run my first 5K. Endurance running has never been my forte. I’m a sprinter by nature (tennis was my primary sport), so I excel at quick bursts of speed over short distances. When I decided to run this race, I set one goal for myself: run five kilometers without stopping. For experienced runners, this is not big deal. But I was out of shape and mentally exhausted, so this was an challenge for me.
Besides my Katy Perry crush, “Wide Awake” is the perfect tempo once I’ve hit my running stride. It’s a quick pace but a sustainable one after I eclipse that difficult (for me) first mile. Beyond running, however, I was now beginning to wake up to the challenges of my current life situation. I was wide awake to the fact that being a good father while also being a supportive husband and the primary breadwinner is hard ass work. Before Boyo came along, I did as much mental preparation as I could to get myself ready, but practice and game time are two completely different situations. I was starting to realize just how demanding parenthood is, and it was proving much more difficult that I had ever imagined.
I am trying to hold on
God knows that I tried
Seeing the bright side
I’m not blind any more
May 2013: “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk
Deep down, in my gut, at my core, I knew it was going to get better. It had to. The Universe couldn’t possibly be that unforgiving, could it? I admit that I thought about alternatives and what-ifs and how-longs, but my faith in the improvement of both my professional situation and my family life never wavered. I always believed in my heart of hearts that we would catch a break.
We’ve come too far to give up who we are
So let’s raise the bar and our cups to the stars
Someone once said that luck is “preparation meeting opportunity.” I don’t know how else I could have prepared for those two job interviews, so in retrospect, those weren’t the right opportunities for my family and me. I didn’t know that at the time, of course, but I never lost faith. I never stopped looking and applying for jobs. I never stopped preparing to seize the opportunity, should it present itself.
June 2013: “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake
I was sorely disappointed that I was going to be out of town and away from my family for my first Father’s Day as a father. Of course I was disappointed not to spend that day with my son (you know, the whole reason I celebrate Father’s Day as a father). What was most upsetting for me, however, was not being able to help my wife. I felt awful that I had to be out of town for such a long time (nine days) during such a rough period.
For some reason, I woke up that Father’s Day thinking about “Mirrors” after not listening to it since JT’s performance on SNL a few months prior. As I walked the streets of downtown Cincinnati that morning, I couldn’t help but listen to the song over and over and over again. I must have played it a least a half dozen times on the way to and from Starbucks and then another dozen times or so throughout the day. First to hook me was the beat, but the lyrics kept me coming back. JT’s words reminded me of the convoluted roads that my wife and I took to finally end up with each other. Listening to the song helped me reflect on just how lucky I am to have found her. She and I complement each other and work really well as a couple and as parents. Both of us are products of divorced parents, so we know firsthand what a fractured home can do to a child’s psyche. Before Boyo was born—and on several occasions since—we made a commitment to always prioritize our marriage. We firmly believe that a loving and communicative relationship between husband and wife lays a solid foundation for healthy familial relationships. As thankful as I am that she is the mother of our child, words cannot adequately express how grateful I am that I am her husband and she is my wife.
June/July 2013: “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” by U2
Nine days was a long time to be away from my wife. Add an infant son into the mix and those nine days felt like an eternity. But that time away wasn’t for naught. On just the second day of that trip, I had a phone interview for a one-year teaching gig. It must have gone well because the day I got home, there was a message waiting for me. I was offered the job! It all happened so quickly that several emotions were bubbling up at once: elation, vindication, pride. Of course, I was ecstatic about getting a job. And of course I felt like getting a new gig helped wash away a lot of the bad taste in my mouth from my previous institution. And of course I was proud of my wife, Boyo, and myself for making it through some rough times. But most of all, I felt a great sense of relief. Professionally, I was back in the game. Even though it was only a one-year position, there would be a search for the permanent job, and I was going to use my “home-court advantage” to my, well, advantage. Personally, this meant that I had a set schedule every week and I could have a better balance work and family life. That’s still a work in progress, but having a summer break is allowing me to connect with Boyo on a whole new (and tremendously exciting) level. Getting this job meant that a lot of other pieces of our lives could start falling into place. What. A. Relief. Whew!!
August 2013: “Roar” by Katy Perry
Oh, Katy. My “KayPers.” She did it again. She made yet another song that I could not get out of my head. But “Roar” was different from her other hits, at least for me. It was different because of its timing. The school year had officially started for faculty, and being a rookie, I had tons of meetings and orientations and training sessions to attend, in addition to planning lessons and getting my office ready for the year. Things were moving fast. But I was ready. I knew what I had to do to turn this temporary one-year job into my permanent job. I was motivated. And I wasn’t going to lose.
I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter,
Dancing through the fire
‘Cause I am a champion
And you’re gonna hear me roar
And, apparently, Boyo was ready for something new, too. After the big cross-country move, a brighter, happier version of his personality began to shine through. I was finally getting a glimpse at who my son really was. It was amazing. The Dark Days were officially behind us, and a bright future was staring us right in the face.
October 2013: “Awake” by Tycho
For me, music has several functions. It can be inspiring or deadening. It can be in the foreground or in the background, contemplative or motivational. “Awake” served as an escape hatch. There are no lyrics in this track; rather, it’s a wonderfully subtle electro-ambient arrangement of instruments and layered effects. It’s engaging yet incredibly peaceful. It was the ideal type of music to listen to in the midst of a busy semester. So, there’s no groundbreaking or revealing truth attached to this song. It’s on this list simply because it came around precisely when I needed it to. It allowed me to escape the craziness of the semester, if for only five minutes at a time.
November 2013: “Ordinary Love” by U2
We can’t fall any further if we can’t feel ordinary love
This was U2’s first new single in years, so naturally I played it virtually nonstop for weeks. The song, which was featured in the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, is about love in its various guises. In addition to romantic love, eros, Bono also sings of brotherly love, or agape. Romantic love is wonderful and necessary, but the world falls apart without mutual respect, without agape. In light of the various social movements happening right now, the message of respect, decency, kindness, and fairness is particularly apropos. And it’s a lesson I hope my son learns early and practices often.
December 2013/January 2014: “Between Us and Them” by Ulrich Schnauss
It was the day after Christmas 2013. My wife was off having a day to herself, so I was with Boyo for the majority of the day. Up to this point, this was a rare occurrence, not because I didn’t want or like spending time with him, but because that’s what our schedules dictated. This time was not only a brief respite from Mommy duties for my wife, but it was also an opportunity to spend some quality alone time with Boyo. Admittedly, however, I was nervous. I talked with Mommy before our day started so I had a general idea of what to expect and how I should handle this time with him. It was a good start, but I was still quite anxious.
Since Boyo loves it outside, I decided that day’s “Grand Adventure” would be a walk to a local coffee shop. As I was getting him ready to leave, I started to think about the music I would listen to on the walk. I was in the mood for electro-ambient tunes, so I settled on Ulrich Schnauss. I first discovered this music in graduate school while writing my dissertation. It was the perfect “white noise” music to have on in the background while I wrote. But it’s also great foreground music for contemplative moods. It turned out to be the ideal soundtrack for my walk with Boyo. This song, in particular, was the perfect antidote to my feelings of insecurity and trepidation. Schnauss paints a broad sonic canvas here, which helped me relax. A sense of calm came over me as we walked to The Grind. It was the first time in Boyo’s life that I felt like I could do this “Daddy” thing. I wasn’t worried about what anyone else thought I should do. I didn’t worry too much about “the right way” to parent. On that walk, I concentrated solely on how best to interact with Boyo as his father. And you know what? His smile that day let me know that our interactions thus far had been just fine:
Between you and me, Daddy, you’re doing just fine!
February 2014: “Invisible” by U2
I hold grudges. And I hold them for a long time. If I feel someone has slighted me, they immediately go on my blacklist and remain there pretty much forever. These slights (perceived or otherwise) provide me with extra motivation to succeed. Without a lot of help from my wife, I have realized, however, that is not the healthiest or most constructive way to deal with anger, and I’m working on it so that I can teach my son a better way to handle rejection.
I’m more than you know
I’m more than you see here
More than you’ll let me be
I’m more than you know
A body in a soul
You don’t see me, but you will
I am not invisible
I first heard this track as an angry song. Then I heard it as a song of defiance, then pride, and (finally) vindication. But the more I listened to it, the more “Invisible” spoke to me as a parent. I’m a family man now. Therefore, I’m a family man first and foremost. Everything is secondary to being a good husband and a good father. For those who choose to have a family, raising (a) child(ren) properly is the single most important job in the world because, ultimately, it’s what parents leave behind. Our children are our most important legacy. Which is why I don’t understand all the “do-it-this-way-or-else-you’re-a-shitty-parent” “advice” floating around the interwebs. It’s a toxic stew of vitriol and judgment that can do more harm than good. Day-to-day parental operations—Is this what he’s supposed to have for lunch? Is it too little? Too much? Should I let him try to calm himself? Why isn’t he talking yet? Is it too early to think about potty training? Where should we go this afternoon? What tone should I take this time? How can I better teach him colors? Numbers? Letters? —are hard enough without some stranger in my face telling me I’m doing it wrong. Parenting is a team effort. It’s effin’ hard, y’all, so we need to take it easy on each other. There’s lots of good advice out there, and that variety has revealed this truth to me: there is more than one way to be a good parent. One correct empirical parenting method does not exist. What works for your children may not work for my Boyo and vice versa. And that’s OK, because in the history of the universe, there has never been a Boyo. EVER. That’s what makes the hard part of this parenting thing so damn difficult. But that’s also what makes the high points even more amazing. So, I’m going to the concentrate on being the best husband and father I can be. I’m trying every day to let go of grudges and live in a more positive light. Parenting is not a competition. We’re all in this together, after all.
There is no them
There’s only us