Many adult daughters talk about their relationships with their fathers differently than the ones with their mothers, because the dynamic between a father and daughter isn’t fraught with the baggage of being a woman in this world. In my case, both parents deserve a hearty pat on the back for abstaining from throttling me in my sleep. But as it is Father’s Day, I will aim my thematic tribute where thematic tribute is due.
I was, to put it gently, a Difficult Child—defiant, rebellious, and, as became apparent around the age of 12, prone to some not-insignificant mental health hiccups. Both my parents dealt with me, their eldest and only girlchild, in stride. The steered me toward the things they thought would save me, some that worked (music lessons, endless books), and others (pill-happy psychiatrists, Catholic school) that didn’t. When I announced at 17 that I was applying to university in Canada—an impulse, a whim, a clean slate—they made their objections clear. But they didn’t try to stop me, because they knew they could not.
It was around this time that I started making a concerted effort to pick myself up and put myself back together. Over the past three years, I’d gone from a straight-A student who’d sung in three choirs, played violin in the orchestra, acted in numerous plays, and occasionally defeated opponents on my high school’s tennis and debate teams, to Ally Sheedy in the Breakfast Club. But this university I suddenly really wanted—needed—to attend didn’t care about my past. If I performed really well in my last year of high school, I stood a decent shot of getting in. So, I tried to start over.
The mission was clumsy but earnest, and while my mother totally lovingly suggested I pursue a practical life—in-state college, a line of study that would amount to something—it was Papa who quietly encouraged my wacked-out plans. For whatever reason, Papa had faith.
Then, there was the Yo La Tengo concert.
I don’t need to explain what music means to a 17-year-old. Anyone reading this has either been there or is on its precipice. Anyway, being the kind of kid that I was, artistic temperament* and all, music was a Very Big Deal. And, again, being the kind of kid that I was, it was very unusual that a band I was super into would find its way into Brew City, U.S.A.** When I discovered that Yo La Tengo was hitting Wisconsin on its Summer Sun tour, I announced to my father that I was going to take a bus to Madison “and sleep on someone’s couch” (Whose? Who cared!) to catch their weekend performance. Papa, ever so wisely, rejected that proposal. Instead, he offered an irresistible alternative: he would personally accompany me to their Monday night performance at Shank Hall, an intimate 21+ venue in downtown Milwaukee. Though I was under age, with my father in tow, State of Wisconsin law allowed the predicament of my youth to slide.
Did I mention that this was on a school night?
Most of my adolescence no longer resides in my memory. The vast bulk of it’s been relegated to a pit at the base of my sternum, wilfully forgotten or buried away for self-preservation. Dancing up against the stage to Yo La Tengo in frenzied, sober exhilaration, is not one of those. I remember Ira Kaplan’s glorious New Jerseyan sweat droplets flicking onto my own with better clarity than the events of even this morning, and the way it felt when I turned to Papa—wearing the same black-and-white Chuck Taylors as my own, in a size 13—and noticed he was dancing, too.
“These old guys aren’t bad,” he mused.
We were the only two people in the whole joint who weren’t too cool to dance.
He may not remember this event, and I’m not sure he even reads this blog, but it’s one of those moments I’ll never forget–and definitely my favourite concert experience, ever. Nothing so perfectly encapsulates the kind of Papa I grew up with: the kind, patient, and slightly nerdy wind beneath my freak flag. I love him desperately and am grateful to have his influence and his genes–even the ones responsible for my chin.
*This is the way nice people say “mentally unstable asshole.” I am not a nice person and would therefore just go ahead and say “mentally unstable asshole,” but I want to feign some semblance of self-esteem here.