I wanted to be Cool Dad.
Isn’t that where the trouble always starts?
But the way I saw it, now that Violet, 6, and Henry, 4, were getting a little older, why not let them make their own choices? I mean, that’s how Cool Dad is supposed to think, isn’t it? I figured what the hell, I’ll let them pick out some tunes for the car, let them feel all grownup and responsible.
There was a bin of used kid CDs in the second-hand store, and I was feeling open-minded, generous.
Fun Food Songs!
Happy-Go-Lucky Sing Songs of the Old West!
“Pick some out!” Cool Dad told his kids. It seemed like such a progressive, cool idea at the time.
But it was not a cool idea. Ladies and gentlemen, in the spirit of bad ideas sprawled across the landscape of a long and complex human history, buying those CDs was, without a doubt, the worst idea in the world.
And it all ended one sunny afternoon, in a cornfield west of town, in the worst way you could possibly imagine. With a CD called Halloween Sing-Along.
We listened to the Halloween CD nonstop. I know I could have said no, but I never did.
And soon enough, three minutes into every car ride I started to get all fidgety as soon as Track 1 kicked in. I like “The Monster Mash,“ we all do, but this version was doing my head in. The people singing it were obviously singing it for kids with their goofy inflections and their weirdo Count Dracula/Igor/Eastern Europe in 1763 accents.
Then came “Flying Purple People Eater,” a version sung by some little girl with a voice that is so annoying, I swear to you I began to unlock my driver’s side door at times with the full intention of hurling myself out of the vehicle.
And they wouldn’t let me skip ahead to later songs on the CD either. They’d just show their fangs whenever I even suggested it.
I tried so hard to find a way to keep Cool Dad in tact.
But last Thursday, after three solid weeks of Cool Dad starting to realize he was Prisoner Dad, I finally hit the wall. The 1-2-3 punch of “Monster Mash”/”Purple People Eater”/”Dem Bones” had pushed me over the proverbial edge.
I turned down the volume as we were cruising up the valley back from school.
“Guys, let’s skip ahead and hear the version of ‘People Are Strange’ at the end of the CD! I know that song! It’ll be great!”
(I don’t even like The Doors’ original version of that tune, but I was becoming desperate to escape this cycle of the first seven or eight songs.)
But right away, I knew all hope was lost. My own kids stared at me in the rearview mirror, their cold dead eyes void of human compassion or mercy. I ranted. I raved. I tried bribing them with McDonald’s. Nothing worked.
“Dad,” Henry finally muttered when I was done with my begging. “Stop talking.”
Seriously? I couldn’t believe it. I’d created a monster.
“And Dad,” Violet chimed in, “start ‘Flying Purple People Eater’ over again! We missed the whole song because you never keep quiet!”
I clicked the unlock button on my door as the music kicked in again, every note now a mule kick to my brain.
Ten minutes later, during a particularly horrid number known to me as “Oh God No! It’s Track 6!” but known to the rest of the world as “There’s a Hole in My Cauldron,” I decided to take my life back.
As a single parent, I’ll admit that I try to overcompensate for something I can’t even pinpoint by trying to be Cool Dad. It’s a psychological quagmire and I know it, but still. I really want them to be happy when they’re with me. I want them to feel like Dad is fun and down with kids. Maybe it’s divorce guilt. Hell, I’m sure that’s what it is.
But either way, Dad was not down with kids anymore. I swung the Honda into a pull off by a cornfield in the middle of nowhere and put her in park. Young eyebrows raised in my mirror. I killed the music. Their eyes went into Clint Eastwood squints.
“Listen …” I started in, with my Serious Dad voice usually reserved for slightly more “serious” crap. “Listen, I’m done with this CD. I’m sorry you guys, but the jig is up.”
I really said that. I said, “The jig is up.” I’d waited all my life to say that with meaning.
“Daaaaaaad!” Violet started in, but I cut her off with a finger wave and more chatter.
“No! Nononononono! I am done with ‘Monster Mash’ and all of it now! I can’t even breathe right anymore! You don’t understand. This music is messing up my breathing! I can feel my heart punching itself in the face! I can’t do it! I’m taking the CD out and we can either listen to some of my music or we can ride home in silence. I don’t care, you choose.”
I rambled on for three or four straight minutes explaining myself, sticking rational thought in nooks and crannies where it really doesn’t even belong. I had forgotten that I’m the Boss, and in doing so, I had messed up — not them. But now they had to suffer a little because of my screwup.
They sat there looking dejected in the backseat. I saw Henry sigh as he stared at a corn stalk. I saw my daughter staring down sadly at the crusted ketchup stain on her safety belt. My little guy Charlie sucked on his baba and then hurled it on the floor.
I pulled away slowly, my heart racing at the thought that I had just killed the Halloween CD so gracefully. I didn’t dare put any other music on. The moment called for reflection. I let out a long, long breath I’d been holding in for weeks now. Then we drove towards our home in raging silence, a blue mood filling the once happy place behind my back.
I bit my lip. I fingered my door lock. I pinched my skin to make sure I wasn’t dreaming a terrible dream.
Then a mile from our place, I slid that stupid CD back into the player.
“The Monster Mash.”
You should have seen their big goofball smiles though.More On