[A DAD’S POINT-OF-VIEW] Tattoos, Rap, and Saggy Pants

The journey from child, to teen, to young adult to parent seems to have similar stops along the way for most everyone. When I was in college, during the “age of stupidity” (as a man I greatly respect refers to the ‘60s and early ‘70s), as a love-child and soon-to-be yuppie, I was thoroughly convinced that I would be a different parent to any children I might have than my parents were to me.

Naturally, I had all the answers. My parents’ tastes in music, fashion, and politics, my Mom’s “helmet” style hair-do which required weekly visits to the hair salon, were all stupid, old-fashioned, and ugly. It was inconceivable to me that they didn’t dig or see how groovy The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, or The Stones were. The fact that most of them died of drug overdoses escaped me at the time (e.g. Brian Jones of The Stones in case you think I’ve missed something). The fact that Mick Jagger and his remaining crew still perform when our generation famously said not to trust anyone over thirty is also a lost irony on most of my AARP-aged contemporaries now.

So, when I became a parent, I was sure I’d appreciate and respect my children’s tastes because they’d probably be just the same as mine.  I’d enjoy their music, their hairstyles, their fashions, etc.  Of course, my brilliance and confidence about how I’d parent turned out to only be a repeat of my own parents’ experiences with me! As with most expectations, they disappoint.

First, there was rap, then tattoos and piercings. And, my favorite, wearing pants that fall down to the bottom of their butts.  While my teen is not allowed to have tattoos or piercings, he makes up for it by coming home with tattoo sleeves penned at school, in class, by various of his friends (Bet you don’t know what that term means. Okay, I won’t make you search on Google, as it won’t be in your dictionary… hmmm, when’s the last time your kid looked up a word in a dictionary, or you did, for that matter?  A tattoo sleeve, as the word “sleeve “implies, is a tattoo that covers the entire arm, up to the shoulder).  Now, as a parent we all know that we have to pick our battles, and my teen son knows that tattoos and piercings are not going to happen in our house.  In spite of it being against our religion, he’d love to have a tongue piercing, a death skull tattoo, or, at the very least, huge pierced earrings, as many of his teen friends have at ages as young as 14.

We all watch different screens, in our respective rooms or wherever they happen to be. They can watch movies on a 2-square-inch mobile device. Homework is done while multi-tasking, between texting friends, watching YouTube, and playing guitar.  Ultra-violent and horror movies are among their favorites; anything in black & white is unacceptable.

Watching my teen son pull up his pants to cover his boxers, non-stop, truly mystifies me. Is this really an inevitable part of life’s cycle? I suspect yes. There’s no doubt that parenting today has greater challenges than for my parents’ generation.  When I was in elementary school, in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, they could trust that I could walk to and from our nearby public school with total safety, that the music I’d listen to then (before the ‘60s began in earnest) would contain lyrics that wouldn’t corrupt my youthful ears, that the movies I’d go to would also have values and heroes and villains that reflected a traditional sense of right and wrong.  We watched the same television shows together, as the three networks were our only option, so when The Beatles first appeared on Ed Sullivan, I put up with the opera singer, the Broadway singer, Topo Gigio, and the guy who spun the plates on a stick before I finally got to see The Beatles and their shockingly long hair. But, even with The Beatles, occasionally my parents would appreciate them, like when Paul would sing a song like “Yesterday.”

As for my kids’ music, most of the band’s names alone make me crazy.  I’m sorry, but it’s hard for me to appreciate songs by groups or singers called Napalm Death, T-Pain, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Cannibal Corpse with song titles such as “Crack A Bottle,” “Hammer Smashed Face,” “Evisceration Plague,” “Chopped ‘n’ Skrewed,” and “Stanky Legg.”

What happened?  I was supposed to be the hip parent where all my kids’ friends would confide in me and say to my boys, “Wow, your dad is so cool.”  I’d play for them music that they’d never heard (and they’d think it was so terrific), discuss classic movies and television, and have deep political conversations. Not a chance.  I get the same rolled eyes and glazed over looks that I gave my parents.  I guess it’s karma, it’s payback time, and it’s the inevitable generation gap.

Image credit: Paul Peckham

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