MY LIFE IS A STEREO
I am blessed to have two great sons who are 14 years apart in age. At this writing Matthew is 32 and Josh is 18. Squeezed between my boys (not what you’re thinking) is my beautiful daughter Meghan who is 23 years old.
I realize now that part of my Grumpiness and my burgeoning insanity is the fact that I have been dealing with teenage children for twenty straight freaking years. No wonder my hair is gray and I have more wrinkles than an apple doll.
What I discovered is that I have written about the same topic concerning my boys exactly 14 years apart, one in 1997 and the other in 2011.
I have inserted each of these pieces in a back-to-back presentation here. I’ll warn you, it is a long read and you may want to skip to something shorter. But if you’re a dad, and you have raised teenaged boys, you might just get a kick out of this.
At the very least, I might just generate some sympathy for myself.
TEENAGE MUSIC PUTS ME OVER THE EDGE (Written in 2011)
There is only one behavior that puts me over the edge when I’m driving – NOISE! This could range from the rush of air from an open window, talking loudly or incessantly or a blast of loud music that is foreign to my soul. Too much volume puts me on edge and drives my personal “Road rage” meter to the max.
Grr-rrrr-rrr-ouchy I quickly become.
Most recently it has been the 15 year old’s choice of music that frays my nerves. You see there is this booming bass that pounds on your brain even at low volume.
“Boom-da, boom-da, boom-da-boomba-BOOM!” goes the bass, over and over again like tribal drums being played inside an oil drum which has been placed delicately over your head. Played at high volume this is commotion is akin to sticking your head into the exhaust port of a jet engine.
“Boom-da, boom-da, boom-da-boomba-BOOM!”
That’s the car next to me. We both have our windows closed tight. My vehicle begins rockin’ to the beat as sound waves as big as Tsunamis slam against my car. I grind my teeth as my clenched hands squeeze the life out of the steering wheel.
I soon escalate from Mr. Grumpy to psycho senior with all the accompanying hand gestures and cuss words.
“Chill will ya, daaaad! GEEZ, the dude’s just listening to his music!”
Years ago, I spent some of my summers working in a heavy manufacturing plant. Management saw fit to provide us with earphones. Even at that I remember laying my head on the pillow at night and still hearing the crash, bang, boom of the shop floor still echoing in my brain. These tunes must have been recorded in heavy manufacturing plants because their annoyance level is industrial strength.
But even more annoying to this old “rock n roller” is the repetition of both musical and lyrical phrases, that go on and on, over and over, again and again, ad infinitum. Finger nails dragged across a chalkboard sound symphonic compared to the agitation I feel when a word or tag line becomes the entire focus of the song.
Case in point:
“Halo, halo, halo, halo, halo, halo, halo, h-ay-ay-ay-yay -lo, halo!
Hello, that’s enough “halos”, already! I get you’re point.
That song (we counted them) had over 60 halo repetitions in a less than three minute song. We didn’t even count the “halos” repeated by the background singers, echoing the original “halos” in the chorus.
When that song comes on the car radio I’m usually ready to drive my fist into the console, scream like a little girl or reach for a handgun (if I had one) and blow the radio to smithereens. And, Lord knows, there are so many more of these songs. A water boarding session would be like a spa treatment compared to this annoying racket.
Then it dawns on me that, my God, I’m becoming my father in another significant way. He hated the stuff I wanted to play on his car radio just as I dislike the stuff Josh plays. There would be a constant battle to switch stations whenever we drove anywhere. To top it off, my father was a whistler who whistled constantly when the radio was turned off. His high pitched shrill whistle could have been recorded and used in Cold War brain washing sessions, I’m sure.
“Stop the whistling. I give in. Comrade, I am at your beck and call.”
All of this brings me to, Josh, and our little sessions of nerve wracking repartee as we drive merrily down the road. It usually goes something like this:
As soon as Josh slips into the “shotgun” seat (his sister is protesting vehemently from the back seat) he snaps on the radio, spins the dial away from my all sports station and cranks up the volume.
“Boom-da, boom-da, boom-da-boomba-BOOM!”
My initial reaction is to avoid the escalation of the situation (He is my third teenaged child) and simply turn down the volume a tad.
“I can’t hear it, dad, GEEEEEZ!” he’ll protest.
“That’s why you have an I POD, son. You can listen to your own tunes and as loud as you want!” I’m thinking, “What a great friggin’ invention!”
Josh will have none of it. “But, daaaad, my batteries need a charge and I wanna listen to the radio.”
You have to believe me when I say that his whine is the decibel equivalent of a cat having its tail run over by a bicycle. I wanna say, “Too bad, so sad!”, but, I avoid the temptation. I remain stoic and totally in control.
Inevitably, Josh will reach over and move the volume up a notch, trying once again to regain testosterone control.
“Boom-da, boom-da, boom-da-boomba-BOOM!”
I answer with a quick thrust and flick and the dial returns to just above mute. It becomes Alpha 1 dog versus Alpha 2 dog at 60 miles an hour. The thrust and parry goes on until I finally blow a gasket and turn the radio off with a snap.
“GEEEZ, dad, you’re so . . .old,” Josh concludes as he crosses his arms, throws his hoody over his head and sulks. That’s when he usually decides to begin whistling his tunes in a high pitched, shrill manner accompanied by some foot stomping bass lines. He’s becoming my father, “Old Whistling Joe”, as he was affectionately referred to by his co-workers. And, 45 years later, the effect is just the same – mind numbing, nerve agitating GRUMPY rage.
“For the thousandth time, STOP THAT DAMN WHISTLING!”
Really, I’m feeling as if I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t!
But, let’s not stop there because it’s the channel surfing that gets to me the most; that constant dial twisting intermittent changing of stations.. We hear parts of several songs, beginnings, middles, and ends, in no particular order.
My boy constantly spins that dial or punches the pre-sets, ad nauseam. While all of this is happening, my blood pressure spikes and that little voice in my head screams, “It’s gonna blow, it’s gonna blow! Stand clear of the arteries!” Nobody wants to have a stroke at highway speed, least of all me.
“Leave it on one station, will ya!” I plead.
“But, GEEEEZ daaaad! All of these songs suck!”
Our eyes meet and the stare down we initiate is more perplexing and wilder than anything you’ve ever seen on a WWE or WWF Smack Down or on UFC 999 , for that matter. At that moment I remember the advice my eldest son gave me when he was 25. “Dad, why don’t you unzip your vaginas and let your balls fall out!”
Bingo. The radio is turned off and it will stay off!
Listening to a science program recently I discovered that some of MY problem is scientifically explained. In fact, as we age the problem I’m describing is a common one.
Here are two explanations for my behavior.
As we age our brains have been thoroughly programmed to “accept” certain patterns of music and reject anything else that doesn’t fit into that pattern. In essence, music of certain types can annoy us, just as certain repetitious sounds are agitating. The New Music becomes just plain noise to we “geezers”, acting as an irritant that can drive a person over the edge.
We use our entire brain to listen to and appreciate music. There is no particular music centre. In fact, our brain constantly tries to predict where a tune is heading, based on a lot of existing patterns. If our brain’s prediction is confirmed, we like the music; if not, we don’t. My brain doesn’t predict: “Boom-da, boom-da, boom-da-boomba-BOOM!”nor does it expect 60 or more “Halos” in a repetitious row. Indeed, there’s nothing I hear from “The Boy’s” playlist anywhere near to my experience, hence my developing psychosis.
And you know, I remember writing a piece very similar to this one about my number one son over ten years ago. I’ll place the text of that one in this blog space (if I can find it) and you’ll see the comparison. Matt, the 29 year old, now is a fan of country music. After those Death Metal, Marilyn Manson, Gangster Rap years, who would have thunk?
So there is hope. There may, in fact, be a light at the end of this tunnel. Until that time, I’m sure I’ll be playing tag with the volume dial, taking part in stare downs and taking my blood pressure medicine in multiple doses. Either that or I’ll be presented with my, “Halo, halo, halo, halo, halo, halo, halo, h-ay-ay-ay-yay-lo, halo!”, a lot sooner than I ever expected.
On second thought, I’ll probably get horns and coal shovel.
REWIND 14 years and I wrote this about oldest son Matthew in 1997.
Speaking of memory, the topic of my first born, Mathew Eric, brings a smile every time. He was the master of forgetfulness. In fact, in his early twenties he started taking gingko bilboa, the natural memory enhancer – becausecollege exams, studying and memorization were giving him fits.
So I asked him, “Hey, Matt, how’s the gingko Bilbao going? I mean is starting to help that memory?”
To which he answered, “I’m not sure yet, dad. Ya see, I keep forgetting to take it!”
Now, at 28, he carries a Blackberry wherever he goes. Now, he even remembers birthdays and the like!
Boom or Bust: Life With An Echo Boomer (Written in 1997)
What stands six feet tall, consumes twelve to sixteen meals a day, washes occasionally, and inhabits a room best suited for an aftermath scene from the movie Twister? If you are somewhere between the ages of thirty-five and midlife-crazy, this description has caused you to bite your lower lip. Yes, I’m talking about your very own personal copy of the echo boomer; that teenage life form who threatens your sanity while you cruise through your personal mid-life adventure.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a card carrying boomer dad and proud of it. But there are so many ups and downs in this journey, that the whole experience makes a roller-coaster’s triple loop seem as tame as a Merry-Go-Round. Believe me, I’m not trying to steal Henie Youngman’s material when I plead, “Take my son, please!”
Let me invite you to drop by our humble abode? You can be a fly on the wall and observe the goings on. I’m hoping you might see parallels that reflect some of the dynamics of your situation. If not, maybe I should be seeking professional help.
The first thing you should know is that in our house most conflicts boil down to problems of memory and logic. The following real life dramas illustrate a profound deficiency in both.
It’s cold. It’s January. The whole family is confined to barracks.
“Matthew, you’d better start bringing your binder home so you can study for exams,” the good wife suggests to the fifteen year old.
Seeing that this is his second day back to school after the Christmas Break, and exams begin in two weeks, her bold suggestion sounds like a prudent course of action to me.
“Ya, right,” the boy announces. A swash of hair dangles across his face concealing his eyes. His posture can best be described as post dinner slump.
Somehow this response fails to convince me. Now, there has been any number of excuses regarding the unavailability of this binder. It’s become a kind of a Find Waldo Puzzle to us. I think it’s about time to put on my father hat and do some pontificating.
“Matt, you know you’ve got to get those marks up.” My voice is a low authoritative drone. “I want that binder home tomorrow.”
“Uh, I got kind of a problem there, dad.” He replies sheepishly.
“Why wouldn’t you be able to bring your binder home tomorrow?” I try to leave all sarcasm, innuendo, and downright pessimism out of my voice.
“Well, uh, I can’t get my locker open.” Matt’s eyes tell me that wheels are frantically spinning inside that mop head of his.
“You’re telling me that you can’t open it?” I ask. I might as well toss the ball back into his court and see if it rolls.
“Ya, you see I forgot my locker combination over the Christmas Break,” the boy replies with a smirk.
Mother, always one to get her two cents in asks, “So how did you get your work done in class today?”
“Easy, I just borrowed some paper from my friends.” The broad smile on the boy’s face beams triumphantly. He’s obviously proud of his problem solving skill.
I pause to ponder all of this. Each time I see that binder, papers are jammed in helter-skelter with their tattered edges protruding from all sides. I can picture Matt binder less. His pocket is bulging with rolled up mass of loose leaf paper. Iwonder how long he’ll wait to get help with his little problem. Heavens, I can see him leaving that binder in solitary confinement until the night before his first examination.
“Now listen Matt, when I was in high-school the custodian would cut your lock off if this happened.” I decide to offer a constructive alternative.
“So it happened to you too, eh Dad?” My how the boy picks up on the obvious. I choose to ignore the question.
“Listen, you get that lock cut off tomorrow.” I speak in full autocratic mode. ” And get that binder home!”
“Okay, okay! I’ll do it tomorrow. Chill will ya!”
I can feel it coming. Here’s where I transform into a parachuting parent. It’s bail out time. The words fly out of my mouth like speeding bullets.
“Matt, I’ll pick up a new lock for you on the way home from work tomorrow.”
“That would be cool, Dad.” He pats my back for effect.
Gawd, I’ve shot myself in the foot again.
Let’s fly forward twenty-four hours. I’m driving home, kind of in a stressed out stupor, when “zap”, I remember the lock. I put the van into a three-sixty and hustle off to the hardware store. Yes, that’s where I bought the last lock that the first born needed; the lock that was a replacement for the one that mysteriously disappeared in December. Egad, that’s a whole other story though.
Swinging into the driveway, I look through the front window to see the lad bouncing up and down in air band mode. It seems he’s found a use for that old six string in his room. I’m relieved that he remembered his house key. I’m sure he could write a book called 50 Ways to Break Into Your Own House.
Bounding through the doorway with lock in hand, I’m ready to confront the boy with the big question. I might as well go for the gold.
“So, did you get your lock cut off today?”
“Hey, Dad, you got the new lock, eh!” he replies. “But guess what?”
“No guesses, just tell me.” I goad. You see, I’ve been down this road before.
“See, I got my lock open today, Dad. I just stood there spinning the dial until…wham, it hit me. I remembered the combo!” The broad smile he offers is infectious. “Isn’t that great, Dad?”
“Ah, ya, that’s great.” I plunk the new lock down on his desk. “So you’ve got the binder then?”
“Well no, ya see, I put my binder in Dustin’s locker at lunchtime, and he had to leave early for the dentist, and. . .ah . . .I forget to get it out before he left.” The look on his face would bring tears to the eyes of Attila the Hun.
“You did what?” I moan. The boy has managed to put my blood pressure on medic alert.
“Just kidding, Dad,” he blurts. He holds up the elusive object at just about eye level.
I’m ready to throw my hands up in exasperation when “foot-in-mouth” disease strikes me again. My mouth opens to spout these profound words.
“Well, you keep this lock in case you need it.”
Somehow I know these words are prophetic. His final comment ices the cake.
“Okay, Dad, I’ll take it to school tomorrow and put it in my locker.”
I think the current music scene best illustrates the gap I’m experiencing as I attempt to relate to the new pop of this echo boomer of mine. Join me while Matthew, hovering over the stereo, transfers some of his CD’s to audio tape.
“Gee, Matt, I kind of like the sound of that group,” I say. “What are they called?”
“Ya, they’re called Chicken Lips, Dad.” he responds.
“Are they some kind of new group?” I ask.
“No, Dad, they’re an old band.”
I pause to ponder this. Now does he mean old as in the age of the group members, or old as in the length of time the band has been recording together? I think I’ll try the direct approach.
“You mean the guys in the group are old, or do you mean that the group has been around for a while?” I ask.
“Ya, Dad, like they’re old. This is their second CD.”
“So, what you’re saying is they’re really kind of new.” I prod.
“No, Dad, they’re old you see, cause most groups disappear after their first CD.”
“Oh!” I blurt.
And to think I still have my original copy of the record, “Hey Jude”, hanging on the rec room wall.. Didn’t the Beatles recently release a new tune? Now a group that’s been around for thirty years seems like an old group to me. I can’t imagine a music scene made up entirely of one-hit -wonders.
Now, you might think that there are a whole variety of differences between this teen phenom and his father. We’re always bumping up against one another in one way or another. Yet through the trials and tribulations of our relationship, once and awhile I’m struck with a profound revelation.
We’re traveling by car to one of his basketball tournaments in the early spring. I’ve made a deal with Matt. We listen to the Beatles Anthology on the way there, and to his “alternative” music on the way back.
“Dad, you really know all the words to those old songs, eh!” he says. I’ve been singing along to the tunes as we drive along the misty highway.
“Ya, we used to sing along with them at parties,” I comment.
“Wow, that’s cool dad!” The look on his face tells me he is genuinely impressed. Perhaps I can make a point here.
“Can you picture yourself in twenty years driving along with your son and singing some of the songs you’re listening to?” I ask.
“Sure, dad.” he responds.
“You mean like,’She’s lump, she’s lump, she’s in my head. She’s lump ,she’s lump she might be dead’, ” I sing jovially.
He pauses to reflect on this one.
“Somehow I don’t think so,” I chuckle.
“But dad, didn’t the Beatles sing that song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds!”. I notice his eyebrow’s are just about touching his hairline.
“Uh, ya,” I stammer.
Okay, maybe we’re really not that far apart in our musical experience. The songs and the groups may be different; but the way each of us looks at the music culture we are experiencing is remarkably the same at any age. The music is a backdrop to our life. Matt I live in the same movie, it’s only that our soundtracks are out of sync.
You know it just might be the music has helped me retreat from my state of denial. You know, Is that kid in the next room biologically mine? You see, like it or not, genetics have played an important role in all of this. I have to admit that Matthew’s teenage years parallel my own experience in many ways. I had psychedelic rock; he has his alternative music. I dressed like a flower child; his wardrobe is definitive grunge. I let my hair grow long; he shaves the sides and back of his head into a buzz. I had locker problems in highschool-ditto for Matt. I drove my parents crazy; he follows suit at Formula One pace. It is becoming more obvious to me that in many ways our experiences are more alike than they are different. Perhaps it is our like-mindedness that is the catalyst that so often causes us to clash. You see growing up is, and has been, a tough road for both of us.
So what do we do as parents?
Researchers tell us that echo boomers have been earmarked by marketers as a focus group for advertising. USA Today reports that the sons and daughters of baby boomers are even becoming the target of infomercials. There is much money to be made in the 95 billion dollar North American teen market. Have you checked your bank balance lately?
We must, as parents, avoid getting caught up in all this media hype. You see folks, your kids are probably quite normal. They reflect your existence in more ways than you care to admit. Try looking at your child through the lens of your own teenage experience while continuing to provide them with a fertile environment to live and grow.
Your child may become as annoying as those dandelions on your front lawn but, if you put away the weed spray and let that flower reach for the sun, junior will probably turn out as well as you did.
Hey, the only thing you have to lose, is your sanity.