Monday, December 19, 2011

Father Daughter Bonding Time

December 19, 2011 – Father Daughter Bonding Time

After a week and a half of working and socializing I am exhausted. I go hunt my mom down to get a hug from her.
“Nothing’s wrong,” I tell her with my cheek against her shoulder. “But I could use a good cry.”

We pour some red wine into our glasses and go sit in the living room in preparation for the TV show watching end of the day ritual. She and I chat while we wait for my dad to get his food and ale and come join us.
“What’s going on?” My dad asks, pausing in the doorway on his way to the kitchen.

“Nothing,” Mom says. “We’re just talking about good cries. Amanda needs one.”
“Do you want me to slap you?” Dad offers.

“That might work,” I say. I imagine a hand-print welt embedded on my cheek and all the subsequent explanations. The scenario plays out something like this:
“What happened to your face?”

“Oh, this old thing?” I touch the mark on my face. “My dad slapped me.”
“WHAT? Why?” my friend-stranger-family member asks as they pulls out their cell phone to dial child protective services.

“I needed a good cry. Ain’t my dad the best?”
Mom turns the TV on. There are about five different remote controls and she presses buttons until everything is on and at the right sound level. Being a dinosaur-age technology child, I’m uber impressed. Somehow I didn’t get the cool High Technology Gene in my personal DNA makeup even though both my parents have it. This seems unfair. I still write on actual pieces of paper, listen to records made in the 1970s, and read books with bindings. HD? DVR? TIVO? That’d be all Greek to me--only I can actually read Greek (however, I will say that understanding it is a whole different story). Forgetaboutit.
“Sometimes anger works better than anything for releasing emotion,” Dad says.
“That or a good workout,” I say. I don’t do anger much.
“You could do that AB workout we’ve been meaning to do all week and your mom and I could watch.”

I give him that “Dad, don’t be absurd” look.  

My mom points, clicks, selects and scrolls. “We should watch that last A Gifted Man episode we have saved,” she tells my dad. “It’s sad. That’d be good for a cry.”
So we do. At first I’m not emotionally attached to these characters. They’re rich and snooty and behaving unrealistically. Yeah, yeah, it’s a television show, I know. But then at the end as the character who’s dying of rabies is being rushed to the hospital for a last-chance experimental procedure and the hippy-priest guy marries her and her rock-climbing boyfriend, and then the doctor frantically tries to revive her and can’t and the music swells and dies and then when the newlywed husband kisses the temple of his dead wife and says, “Goodbye my beautiful wife,” my throat tightens up and those tears I couldn’t summon on my own finally spill out.

I don’t even bother wiping them secretly from my cheeks because I hear my dad sniff his own tears away. I smile through the mist; my dad and I are two peas in a pod. Two negatively charged subatomic particles occupying the same orbital field. I’m a chip off the old block, cut from the same hunk of wood, an apple that didn’t fall far from the tree. In other words, he and I are a lot alike. Often times I envision myself as a little girl with curlicue ringlets (as I used to be) treading behind him, fitting my feet in the patterns of his footsteps, walking in his shadow. I love this.

If my mom is crying she’s doing so with ninja-stealth tears. We all want to be just like her.

After we watch the ambulance scene one more time for good measure and cry just a little bit more, Mom heads off to bed. She has to be up early to go to work. Me and my dad don’t. I’m unrepentantly unemployed (more or less) and he doesn’t have to be to work until around nine o’clock. We can afford to stay up. Dad pulls up a music video of Goyte’s Somebody that I Used to Know so we can watch it again on the giant flat screen. He’d shown it to me the other day on my mom’s computer. It’s a hauntingly beautiful melody and an incredibly artsy video. We’re both a little obsessed with the song. I’d heard him playing it on repeat the night before from his study while I read in my room. I’d been playing it on repeat all this morning myself.  

We watch it at least once. Then we go from there on a musical journey. Somewhere along the way we arrive to the Blues; Johnny Winter, Stevie Vai, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones, Stevie Ray Vaughn.

It’s floodin’ down in Texas. All the telephone lines are down.
“I saw Led Zeppelin in concert,” Dad says at one point.

“You did?!” I exclaim. “I’m going to have to tell that to my ten year old student Joaquin. He’ll be so jealous.” My status as the coolest tutor in the world will go up to infinite levels after I convey this to Joaquin. Led Zeppelin is his favorite group. I’ll take that cool status even if it’s not really earned on my own merits. I have no shame.
“I saw them at the Lewisville Pop Festival in 1969.”

He also saw Janis Joplin, Leon Russell, Ten Years After, BB King, Iron Butterfly, The Rolling Stones, Poco, Joe Cocker, The Doobie Brothers, Spirit, The Allman Brothers, Traffic, Steve Miller, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jimi Hendrix twice. It’s kind of sad to realize your parents are way cooler than you are. But I’ve lived with this knowledge for a long time and, in reality, it makes me more proud than anything else.
While Dad is trying to find our next selection, we see a video called Noah Takes a Photo of Himself Every Day for Six Years.

“Hey, go back one. Can we watch that?” I ask. My second to youngest brother’s name is Noah and I’m suddenly both nostalgic for the days when he lived with me and intrigued by what would drive someone to start a six year photo project.
Six Year Photo Noah
We watch the entire thing. We’re impressed and awed. I have so many questions. Why did Noah do that? Why six years? Was it a school project? Of six years? Did his friends and family tease him for being such a narcissist? Why did he choose not to smile in the pictures? Did he ever miss a day of photo taking in all that time? Six years is a long time. I get hung up on that. While my mind is trying to create a believable story to answer that WHY, Dad keeps us singing on.
We watch Leon Russell sing A Song for You which logically takes us to Elton John and Russell’s version of If it Wasn’t for Bad I’d be Good. Then we listen to what is possibly Elton John’s best song of all time: A Little Word in Spanish. I’m not sure if it’s me or my dad who says, “This song makes me cry every time.”

I get Leon Russell mixed up with Joe Cocker when I think of With a Little Help From My Friends and Masquerade.

“That’s Joe Cocker,” Dad says.
“Oh yeah,” I say. I really did know that. “I think I like The Carpenter’s version of Masquerade best.” Musically I got (contentedly) stuck in the 1960s and 1970s. I’m a flower child at heart.

“I’m not gay,” Dad says, “But I do like the Carpenters.”
“Let’s find Masquerade,” I say.

He starts to type Carpenters into the search engine to find it and we’re watching the results as they appear with each letter he puts in. He’s gotten to CARP when we both burst out laughing. The first video option says Love With a Fairy Carp.
“I’m sorry,” Dad says between guffaws, “But I’ve just got to see what this is.”

I do too. Although I’m a little frightened of what we might see. I hold my breath and Dad presses play. It’s a Chinese Yueju Opera and we watch just enough to satisfy our curiosity. I let out my breath. We look at each other and snicker.
“You have to fight the fairy carps to get to the masquerade,” Dad explains.

So we fight them quickly and get our Carpenters fix and eventually Turn, Turn, Turn along with The Byrds. 
There’s a fine line between Rock ‘n Roll and Country and we cross it long enough to listen to Montgomery Gentry’s Hell Yeah and Tim McGraw’s Indian Outlaw. “The thing about Country,” Dad says, “is they don’t get embarrassed by anything. They do whatever they want.” So we listen to Carrie Underwood sing Before He Cheats just to prove that point. This song for some reason reminds me of James Taylor and Carole King and I once again mix up my artists. “Didn’t Carole King write that one song about James Taylor? You’re so Vain?”
“No. That was…” Dad thinks.

Then I recall from watching How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days who sings it and we say “Carly Simon” at the same time. The clip we view has a really strange video of a guy who looks like a Hasidic Jew. He dances around parks and down stairs like he’s pretty darn happy, and really and truly doesn’t care that Carly thinks he’s vain. I’m pretty sure this guy does think that this song is about him.

“Oh god,” Dad says. “I think we found who she wrote this song for.”
“Who?” I ask, pulled from my musing. Does he mean the music video dude?

“She wrote it for the Indian Outlaw.” The Indian Outlaw video we’d seen several songs ago had kept us both in stitches, and of course the lyrics sing for themselves on the humor scale. I’d heard this song for the first time decades ago when I got to sit up in the moving van cab with my dad while we were driving from Vermont back to Texas. The musical ties between us become like a three-cord strand which can’t be broken; at least not easily. When the song first came out some people got their hair all tied up in knots “due to its stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans (Wikipedia)” and Indian Outlaw was actually banned from some radio stations. My dad and I don’t worry about controversy or political correctness--this is a no holds barred musical night. Besides, as Larry the Cable Guy says, “I don’t care who you are, that’s funny right there.”
How the heck we end up watching Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow after all that beats me. But we do.

“Oh,” I say. “If you’ve never seen this little girl sing that same song then you’ve got to type in Connie Talbot.”
Connie had been on Britain’s Got Talent and I’d lost my heart to her when I used to watch You Tube Videos all day to entertain myself at work. Her rendition of this song stirs me even now and I get more of the soul-cleansing cry that I’d been needing this night. I start to believe again that all the dreams I dare to dream really do come true.

Moved by that emotion, I tell my dad to search for another name I’d seen off Britain’s Got Talent. I hold my breath once more (though for an entirely different reason from earlier) while Paul Potts sings Nessun Dorma as if he were offering his voice up to Apollo as a musical libation. I’m glad my dad and I can wipe our tears away shamelessly in front of each other. It’s the combination of the song itself and Potts’ performance that makes me feel that the world is good and that love is real and that we all can live our lives to their fullest.
A little drunk off that idea I say, “Okay, we’ve got to watch one more from Britain’s Got Talent. Just wait. She’s terrific. I love her.” I search for a word to sum her up. But I can’t find one. I find two. “She’s cheeky.”

Our last song of the evening is Susan Boyle singing I Dreamed a Dream. This dowdy woman who paradoxically believes in herself and dares to sing about unfulfilled dreams makes me laugh and cry. Her performance is stunning, surprising, and unexpected. Her words reverberate through the auditorium, through the TV screen, into my psyche:
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living,
So different now from what it seemed...
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed...

Although the lyrics aren’t as hopefully inspiring as Over the Rainbow, through Susan Boyle they infer the opposite of what they say. What I take away is this: Life ain’t hell. Life is different from what I expected it would be. But better. Not always beautiful, not always clean, but breathtaking and astounding. Life can’t kill the dream I dreamed because dreams are already ghosts waiting to be wisped away or made solid, breathed into, brought to real-boy Pinocchio kind of life. Music salves, and there’s always a dawn after the darkest night, even if it comes at two AM on a December morning in the living room of the house at 1222 Carroll Drive. I know from experience that a good cry or solid night’s sleep can usually cure my emotional build-ups, but a hug from my mom and time with my daddy seem to work just as well too.

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