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Sunday, August 17, 2008

And Make It Better

I climbed the stairs from the parking garage, emerging onto the street-level sidewalk next to the theater and walked toward the entrance.

Hey Jude, don't make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better.

I heard her singing and when I turned to look directly at her I wondered how I had missed her in the first place. She was standing behind an open guitar case, smiling with the nervous confidence that only a 12 year old girl can muster: acutely aware of the attention, but also immortal.

Remember to let her into your heart.

She was singing "Hey Jude" with that same self-aware immortality: her voice was pitched loudly enough to carry down the sidewalk, but it cracked, and popped a little. Unwilling or unable to stop singing she rushed across those nervous notes, the sound warping a little as she fought to articulate the words in spite of the grin that took over her face.

Then you can start to make it better.

Her hands were clasped tightly behind her back, and she sang without swaying, her neck arching and chin dropping as she came over the top of the high notes, powering through long phrases by singing from her gut, not her shoulders. She had worked hard for this, to sing, wherever it was. Tonight it was behind an open guitar case.

Hey Jude don't be afraid. You were made to go out and get her.

Not alone. The man to her left in the denim shirt, the ponytail of greyed hair pulled back from a deeply receding hairline, strumming the guitar formerly housed in the mostly empty guitar case, and gazing at her with smiling eyes as he hit harmonic points, was clearly her father. He had the confidence of an old performer, but one who was enthralled by the experience of seeing someone he loved, helped, created, step up and perform on her own. He loved his Sidewalk Star, and his pride in her was infectious. I was proud of her myself.

The minute you let her under your skin

I was leaning against the wall outside the theater, Tweeting or reading an e-mail on my Blackberry as I waited to go inside and drop $20 on a movie on one of my rare nights off. And I was listening, raptly, as were so many of the people on the sidewalk. But I wasn't just listening to the song; that wasn't what was keeping my attention. I was experiencing an aspect of parenthood that I've only had small tastes of, so far: pride in choices, in hard work, in effort, in caring.

Then you begin to make it better.

I see a lot more of these father-daughter moments now, it seems, these little previews of my future with Erin. I don't know if I will ever be able to pull off a pony tail or denim shirt (well, another denim shirt; I've had my fair share, but it was the 90's, and in Canada), but I can certainly see myself strumming the strings, literally or metaphorically, in a soft accompaniment to whatever it is she has chosen to do. Showing her off to the world for the woman she is promising to be.

A woman stood up from where she had been sitting against a lamp post nearby. She stepped behind the case, next to the girl, and added her alto voice, smoothing out the slight choppiness of the girl's soprano with a mother's loving confidence, knowing that the girl could sound even more beautiful if she believed it, and knowing that believing it meant recreating those times when she believed it most, at home, before dinner, before the television was turned on. She was the sensible counterpoint to her husband's shining, blind enthusiasm.

Don't carry the world upon your shoulders.

And listening now to that family, created for me out on the sidewalk as I was on my way to see a movie, I had to do something to let them know that their song, their evening, their intimate sharing, had not been lost on me.

Well don't you know that it's a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder.

So I walked over to them, pulled my hand out of my pocket, and dropped my twenty in the guitar case. Not because I thought they needed the money or had earned the money or because I wanted to patronize the busking arts, but because I knew that she would know that she had done something special, and she would gush about it with her father, and he could be proud of her all over again because he knows, from experience, how rare it is for someone to do more than toss a couple of quarters in the case.

Hey Jude don't let her down. You have found her now go and get her.

I dropped the bill in because I saw Erin standing there, and I saw myself standing there, and I saw Emily standing there, and I wanted to do something for our future selves. It's probably a good thing that I wasn't carrying a hundred dollar bill with me, because Erin's voice, that voice I hear in my head when I think her, was directing all of my thinking.

And don't you know that it's just you, hey, Jude, you'll do, the movement you need is on your shoulder.

"Have a good night, guys," said Erin's voice through my mouth as I released the bill and turned to walk into the theater.

Guitar cases don't accept credit cards, but movie theaters do.


Mojavi said...

ok I am about to go to bed, crawl in with my just brand new 2 year old as of yesterday and hug her while she sleeps, because of everything you said and didn't say.. for all those moments I am going to be able to experience in the future and all those moments I have already been so lucky to have already felt.

made me tear up a little...

Mr Lady said...

You will feel that when she designs, constructs, and launches her first lemonade stand, I swear to god you will.

I give you a lot of crap, but yeah, you are an excellent father, mister. I really hope you know that.

Unknown said...

Wow - thank you for writing such a beautiful post. I hope there are wonderful people like you around to show support for my children as they grow older, and to share the beauty of such a simple moment with everyone.

SciFi Dad said...

Nicely done, sir. Nicely done.

Just a warning... as she gets a little older, your scope of awareness widens too. Eventually you'll notice petulant teenagers and have thoughts like, "I swear to God if she does that, I am going to lose my shit just like that father did. I don't care if mall security comes for me."

Or, maybe not.

Anonymous said...

Ok, way too deep for me this early.

Nicely, nicely done, BPD. Both the $20 drop AND the post.

pam said...

Thanks for a good tearful memory lane Monday morn. And to SciFi Dad, Ha - Truth!

Nancy said...

WoW ... well written, but more so, a truly from-the-heart moment. My minds eye is there.

And yes, I concur with Scifi-Dad

Carolyn...Online said...

Oh yeah. I would've emptied my pockets. said...

What an absolutely lovely post...

And passing along a bit of kindness to a child is always money well-spent.

Amy Watson said...

beautiful post, BPD. your writing is heartfelt and heart-warming... and interesting because you can capture and explain not only what happened, but why it mattered to you... and you turn that personal relevance into something that others can relate to. that is *not something that comes easily-- i certainly haven't been able to do it! so thanks for the inspiration!

Mary Beth said...

Just one of the many reasons I don't carry a lot of cash with me. It's true that the more you experience, the more you place yourself in others shoes. I think it's great you gave that little girl such a boost!

Ali said...

you are awesome. really. the world needs more guys like you. i think it's so great you gave her that $20. a small gesture that meant a whole lot for both of you.

Mom101 said...

That's absolutely lovely BPD and so are you. You did good. And one day, as karma works (or so I believe) your own daughter will get that $20 back in some positive, wonderful way.

Anonymous said...

I can't think of anything worth saying to compliment you on such a lovely post. Perhaps one of your best.

Oh wait. Thought of the perfect word.


Mandy said...

that's a great post and a nice gesture on your part!

Lost In Splendor said...

I'm way to sappy and emotional to read something like that. Lovely.

My father and I have a difficult relationship that seems to be getting easier over the years and as long as we never ever talk politics.

I think it's beautiful that you can see yourself being this supportive of your daughter.

That sounds like $20 well spent to me.

(Found you via Loralee, btw)

Issa said...

Oh jeebus man, you made me cry. Amazing post.

for a different kind of girl said...

You are so awesome. I will tell you that constantly, and you know this. What I can't wait for is the day Erin tells you that. I'm sure you get a sense of it from her, but when she professes it, the bright world will be much more so.

This was such a great post. Your writing is truly wonderful, a pleasure to read. I'm glad you're sharing it with us.

Also? That goal we talked about last night? I think it's safe to say mission accomplished! I mean, mine are still intact, but still...

Oh, yeah, you're still awesome. :)

Anonymous said...

Well done, both in the act and the writing about it.

Anonymous said...

We were at the beach yesterday and a Mom was lying on her towel and her daughter ran towards the ocean...and then came back and put her arm around her mom and laid with her. And played with her hair. That's how your post made me feel. Like I can't wait to be a Dad.

Anonymous said...

This was beautiful. Thank you.

Matt Johnson said...

You nailed it, that's exactly the feeling I get watching my daughters grow up. Well done and thank you for sharing this.

Swirl Girl said...

You always manage to capture the essence of a moment. How beautiful.

Miss Britt said...

Wonderfully done. You've captured perfectly that mix of pride and awe that comes from watching your child.

Loralee Choate said...

Not to go all John Mayer's "Fathers" on your blog but I get this gut feeling that the world would be a profoundly less fucked up place if every girl could have someone like you as a dad.

Elisa @ Globetrotting in Heels said...

oh, you big softy. There's nothing like a child expressing themselves in a constructive way to make any parent proud, even those who aren't her parents.

If it was me standing there, I would have probably had to fan my eyes a bit while walking into the theater.

Tootsie Farklepants said...

This is just the sweetest.

Anonymous said...

You've very sweet to think of that girl. I was totally going a different way, thinking her parents were using her to make them some cash. Jeez, I'm cynical!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that 'girls and their daddies' thing is potent.
'Girls and their moms' is wonderful too, just a little more complicated and not quite as unconditional...

So I'm thinking that what you just wrote comes under the heading of "Yet Another Reason Erin Won't Get Knocked Up At 16 Because She's Looking For Some Male Affirmation."

TheFunkyFeline said...

As a brand spanking new mommy, I've discovered I have a fragile little heart when it comes to all things daughterly. And that post just cracked my little heart in twain. Going to fix my mascara and hug my bean now...

Anonymous said...

Will you be my daddy?

No.... but seriously....

moosh in indy. said...

the moosh just wrote her name for the first time a few months ago. A week ago she figured out how to put on her own DVD.
Prepare for you life to become beyond full of these proud little moments with Erin, and good hell write them down. Along with stuff like this.

PsychMamma said...

Couldn't leave without commenting on how beautiful and moving this post was.

Thanks for sharing a little bit of your heart and reminding us all to remember what's important and that it's sometimes just under the surface.

crazymumma said...

Where? What? Which Theatre?

Scifi. Those times are fast coming. Denim shirt and ponytail or not. Song or not. There will be that moment when you stand there and say, with your eyes. My daughter. Look at her. i love her.

shit. my throat is getting tight. must have a cough. ahem.

RhoRho said...

What a gorgeous story to lift my spirits tonight. Lovely.

RhoRho said...

P.S. I wasn't being a smartass.:)

Anonymous said...

I could use $20. I'm someone's daughter. Cough it up.

Anonymous said...

Wow, now I know why all the women at blogher were raving about you. What a great post!

Maura said...

That was beautiful.

You know, I read a lot of posts about parenthood and other people say it made them cry, but while it might be touching, I don't find myself feeling that emotional about it.

This made me cry. Maybe because I wish I'd had a chance to have a moment like that with my father and I'm so happy that you'll have them with Erin.

Anonymous said...

You've probably heard it before, but...I'm banking on the old adage, "A son is a son 'til he takes a wife. A daughter's a daughter for the rest of your life." I've got my two girls, and I sure hope it works out that way with them.

Loved this post. And with that, it's time to get some shut-eye. Sheesh.

Tina@ SendChocolateNow said...

This is the best thing I have seen you write, Shawn. Truly. Your love for Erin fair shines through it. I now have a lump in my throat.

...then you can start, to make things better.

I loved it.


also appreciated because I sang this all through high school. My brother still hates the song because I ran it into the ground.

But mostly, I just loved what you were saying about Erin. And you are right, there are many such moments yet to come for you both.


sam {temptingmama} said...

Absolutely fantastic.

You make me wanna squeeze my boys and hold them tight.

Insane Mama said...

Have you been to S.M. Promenade? Stuff like this everywhere, families sharing their talent and love with the public to judge or not to judge. This is beautiful

BOSSY said...

Thank gah she wasn't performing the drug-induced Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. This post would have had a whole different flavor.

anymommy said...

BPD, sometimes, I think I love you. Not really (I mean, it's just a blog), but I did love this post.

Robin said...

awesome :-)

Anonymous said...

This is such a beautiful post, tenderly wrought and moving. Just lovely...

Anonymous said...

Best 20 bucks you ever spent.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow,sweet, sweet, sweet experience.

CaraBee said...

That was so sweet. Perfectly expressed.

Backpacking Dad said...

mojavi: tissue is on the way.

mr lady: you do give me a lot of crap :}

superrelish: there are always wonderful people around.

scifi dad: oh, I'm disowning her as soon as she turns petulant.

carmen: well, if you weren't such an early riser this wouldn't be a problem. :}

pam: you're welcome.

nancy: so that's who is looking over my shoulder.

carolyn online: yeah.

tracey: yep.

mamachiro: that is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said in this space. Thank you.

mary beth: she gave me a boost.

ali: if the world had more guys like me you'd be off reading their blogs instead :}

mom101: I hope so. Because I'm not going to give her an allowance and she's going to need her own money for smokes and liquor.

redneck mommy: see how expressive that is? :}

mandy: thanks mandy. I'm totally stalking you on Twitter now.

sparkliesunshine: I love the people who find me via Loralee. By transitivity, then....

issas crazy world: Thank you. And don't call me "jeebus". :}

FADKOG: I know, right? I'm up to my neck over here :}

fishygirl: thank you :}

papa: it's going to be the most amazing experience.

megan: thank you

matt johnson: I'm glad I'm not alone in my sappiness :}

swirl girl: well, when someone just leaves the essence of a moment just lying around like that it's pretty easy to pick it up :}

miss britt: pride and awe. yes.

loralee: but then they'd all look alike. Oh, someone like me. Not me. Gotcha :}

elisa: I'm not a softy. I'm a sappy bastard.

tootsie farklepants: no, you are.

fairtalesandmargaritas: crack me up. :}

babybloomr: here's keeping my fingers crossed....

the funky feline: aw, congratulations.

corina: I have my hands full at the moment. call me in 16 and a half more years :}

moosh in indy: Oh, I can't wait until she can put her own damn movies on instead of handing me the remote and signing at me. Lazy kid.

psychmamma: or right there out on the sidewalk.

crazymumma: the Redwood City Century theater.

rhorho: thank you.

attiton: I'm tapped now :}

merlotmom: nah, it wasn't the blog; it was the vodka.

maura: that is a very sweet thing for you to say. thank you.

molly wendland: my fingers are crossed so hard they are losing circulation.

tlc: what? better than when I sent everyone over to Catherine's blog? Because I thought that post ("Hey, go read this thing") was pretty good myself. :} Thanks TLC :}

sam (temptingmama): never let them go. Except to change underwear and shower and mundane stuff like that.

insane mama: no, I don't know where S.M. Promenade is. What city is it in?

bossy: I can't even imagine, thankfully :}

anymommy: I bet you say that to all the sappy dad bloggers out there :}

robin: no, you are.

tina: thank you :}

bejewell: I once blew $20 playing a video game at a pizza place. That was a pretty good twenty bucks. But yeah, this may have been better.

that girl: yeah it was.

carabee: thank you :}

kittenpie said...

I can tell you you made that girl's night. Her whole weekend, most likely. It's funny how being a parent, I am swallowed up in pride often enough for someone else's kid as much as my own, whose accomplishments thus far are, of course, more modest at a mere four years. The Olympics, of course, are killing me.

Tigriswillreign said...

This was so well written! I felt like I was actually there... *sniff!*

kara said...

Came over from Loralee's.

That was very touching. I've been reading your blog for a bit, but never commented. You have a lot of good things to say, and I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate them. My husband and I don't have kids yet, but when the time comes, we'll be in your situation too (I'll go to work while he stays at home, plus he's a super geek too!). Thanks, that was a great post.

Fiesty Charlie said...

Beautiful and well written... I think this is one of my favorite posts of all time!

Erin is a lucky lass, indeed!

Unknown said...

Wow -Anymommy picked a winner for the post of the week. I think I'm in love - oh, sorry guess that is inappropriate being that I am married and all. Okay let me say I am in love with the way your words jump off of the page and bring the scene you witnessed into reality for all of us.

Thank you for that. Beautiful, simply beautiful.

blackpetero said...

Excellent work Dude. My daughter of 15 went busking on the streets of Tel Aviv. Someone gave her 100 sheks ($30). I could never understand why. I thought it was perhaps because the lady was afraid she was homeless, or maybe because blackdaughtero looked like her grand-daughter. Whatever the reason - it changed her. Once she got over the shock, she felt a little ashamed as she had a nice warm house, good food and loving family to come home to. I would love to be able to say she gave the money to the first homeless person she saw, but I think she spent it on cigarettes.