A Bigger Gig

Dads - Be the Only F Word for Your Kids

Harry Chapin created his song “Cat’s in the Cradle” in 1974. The lyrics can haunt any generation of fathers:

"When you coming home, Dad?" "I don't know when /
We'll get together then, son; you know we'll have a good time then."

Engulfed in Chapin’s wake were the 70s, 80s, and 90s punk rockers who lived the reality of those lyrics.

In the 2011 documentary “The Other F Word,” several musicians who grew up without fathers bear witness to the imperative of another F word: Fatherhood. As one aging rocker, Duane Peters of U.S. Bombs, attests, “These kids need you man. ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ is so real.”

Sometimes reality issues a wake-up call. It certainly did for these punk rockers who became dads. Punk rock spouted lyrics like, “I don’t care what you think, No, no, no, no, no values,” which Jack Grisham of the band T. S. O. L. translated into:

Willfulness with a bit of insanity . . . going against the grain when everyone else tells you ‘no’ – that’s punk rock.

Punk rock was supposed to be about no responsibility, no rules, I’m going to do things my way.

But then Hoppus of Blink 182 spoke for everyone when he said, “Having a baby totally changed that.”

Some may consider punk rock to be passe, gone from the scene, no longer relevant. But the truth is, what was being expressed in groups like Black Flag, Descendents, and Circle Jerks in the 1970s is communicated in one way or another in every generation whose children are in rebellion and whose fathers are absent. Jim Lindbergh from the group Pennywise spoke for many, saying:

When I was growing up my dad had to wine and dine clients. He missed out on baseball games. Once I pitched a two-hitter; he missed it. I wanted him to be proud of me. To this day it sticks with me. I don’t want that to happen to my kids asking, “Where were you?”

“My dad wasn’t there.”

Listening to the traumatized still-rockers, now-fathers, you hear many of them say something like, “I ran away from home when I was ___” or “My dad left us when I was ___” or “My dad didn’t want anything to do with me” or “I really got angry at my dad when I had my first child.” You can see the sadness in their eyes tinged with anger in their voices. But the end result for each father was, “It made me want to be a better dad.”

Art Alexakis of the band Everclear explains in graphic detail his own personal trauma when his father left the family. Alexakis regularly visits a therapist, still trying to overcome the awfulness of his childhood:

My parents weren’t present. They weren’t focused on the job at hand. That’s what parents are supposed to do.

Listening to these men, they are taking the responsibility of parenting to heart, some descending into tears explaining how much their kids mean to them. Unsaid but clearly stated was, “I wish I meant to my parents what my kid means to me.” Art Alexakis continued:

When my daughter was born, I felt this weight, like an elephant sitting on my chest. And I swore that she would never experience the pain that I felt.

Art Alexakis sings his autobiographical song “Father of Mine,” one of the most popular songs in 1997. Each line, each word, expresses another agonizing tear in his soul. Heard in his voice with only an acoustic guitar, the lyrics are excruciating:

Father of mine / Tell me how do you sleep?
With the children you abandoned / And the wife I saw you beat

I will never be safe / I will never be sane
I will always be weird inside / I will always be lame
Now I'm a grown man / With a child of my own
And I swear, I'll never let her know / All the pain I have known

Daddy gave me a name / (Then he walked away)
My daddy gave me a name / (Then he walked away)

On tour, Tim McIlrath from the group Rise Against sings about teenage desire for autonomy. Yet, there is a scene in the documentary where he and his daughter are conversing. The child says, “I can do whatever I want,” to which the rocker states, “I think mom and dad make the rules.” The inconsistency between music and life is left hanging in the air. Lindbergh of Pennywise states the obvious:

This kid is the most important thing in my life. I’m supposed to be this model citizen for my kid and I’m exactly the opposite.

The Punkest Thing of All: “I will be there.”

Ron Reyes of Black Flag fame literally left the punk movement and music in the middle of a concert. He just walked away. Upon reflection, Reyes realized that when he had kids he had to provide food and health care and a home. After leaving Black Flag, Reyes moved to Vancouver. He has worked in a print shop ever since. He beams at his children in the back seat of his car as he says:

I have three teenagers in this house. They’re still here. They haven’t moved out. That’s a crown.

Nato Thompson, creative curator at Creative Time says, “Everyone at some point reaches a crisis and realizes they have to put food on the table.” Josh Freese left Nine Inch Nails strictly because he needed to be around his kids more. Hoppus from Blink 182, looking at his children states, “Your whole world becomes this right here, the most amazing thing ever.”

Flea (Michael Peter Balzary), famous for his days in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, is seen playing the piano with his teenage girl. Tears fill his eyes as he states the profound truth, “This is the most important job a man can have, that of a parent.”

Social science research underscores what punk rockers have lived: "A growing body of research supports the importance of father involvement in children's lives." Modern research often ends up stating the obvious: fathers are important.

None of this is new news. Wisdom literature from Proverbs shouts the importance of fathers in the home. Dads need to be invested in their kids' lives. Parenting isn’t just quality time, it’s quantity time. Kids need to be heard, allowed to talk, played with, be encouraged by, and be in the presence of their dads. This is not rocket science. Fatherhood is day-in, day-out participation in a child’s life. It is no wonder that from the earliest Hebrew stories we hear the phrase, “When your children ask, fathers are to say ...” When questions are asked, dads should be there with answers.

At the end of the documentary, Lindbergh from Pennywise quits the band. The last words of the documentary apply the wisdom of the ages:

I didn’t want to miss the piano recital or the soccer game. I wanted to be there for my kids.

Maybe the way we change the world is by raising better kids, by being more attentive to those kids. I want to be there for my kids when they want me to be there. I think that’s the punkest thing of all.

Dads, don’t be the “other F word.” Be the only F word for your kids.

has taught junior high school through PhD students over four decades, in both Christian and public education contexts. He has a Master of Theology in Old Testament, PhD in Social Science research, and just finished another Master’s in English. He is a book review editor for Christian Education Journal. Mark has written or contributed to nine curricula and books. He has also authored scores of peer-reviewed journal articles and encyclopedia essays, and maintains online writings at www.markeckel.com.

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