In this life, I figure we have maybe 20 or 30 absolutely magical days or nights. I’m talking about the ones where something happens that you’ve always dreamed of, but knowing what you know, probably never dreamed possible. And out of that small collection of very fine times, maybe four or five of them stand alone as what we might describe as the very best days or nights of our lives.
They don’t come often, but when they unfold before your very eyes, you’re never the same again.
That’s what happened to me last Saturday night. I was playing an acoustic gig with Marah, a band my brother and I have had for over 20 years now. The gig was right up the block from my house and my kids’ mom’s house. We both decided this might be the perfect night to let Violet, 8, Henry, 6, and Charlie, 3, come and watch their dad play music with their Uncle Dave. It’s something I have wanted to make happen for a while.
Of course, when you’re taking young kids out on the town past their normal bedtime, there is no predicting what may go down. They might get tired. They might get bored. Hell, they might hate their old man’s music and wanna make a beeline for home during the first song or two. So despite my inflated hopes that my kids would swoon and dance to our stuff, I’ve been a dad long enough to know the reality could end up a lot different than I was secretly hoping for.
But this particular Saturday night was charmed, I guess. I have no idea why. There are no answers to why the greatest nights of your life come together like they do.
Monica, their mom, dressed all three kids in their best rock-n-roll clothes. When I first came out from backstage to start the show, there they were: my kids, my gang, my tribe, looking so good, and smiling at me. It was a damn good start, I thought to myself, as I hugged each of them and took the stage.
From the first song, Henry was dancing even though it was a slower number to get things started. And right behind him came his little brother, Charlie, who wants to do just what his big brother does. Violet followed them both, and within two minutes, all of my kids were swaying and spinning across the dance floor right in front of the band.
I’m 45. My life, like yours, has been ups and downs, true beauty and slamming heartbreak. As a young man, I dropped out of college to join this band, to set out on the road in a van for the next 15 years, playing every city in America and then some. We’ve played our music in Serbia and we’ve played it in Seattle. I’ve been to Paris, Texas and Paris, France.
I gave up a lot, I guess, to pursue my own dreams in ways that many people never seem to do. It isn’t for everyone — throwing yourself at a life of little pay and late nights. But it was for me, for us. I’ve questioned it more than I care to admit at times, and yet I have always been proud deep in my heart and guts of the miles we traveled and the hardships we endured because we liked making people happy. We were addicted to the rush of seeing people (often not a lot of them, either) dancing to our songs.
So imagine me right then in that moment: my own flesh and blood twirling and moonwalking right smack in front of our faces to the songs my brother and I had written. It hit me all at once there. This was the reason I had set out on the path I’d set out on all those years ago. I could have never known it, of course. Being a dad wasn’t even on my distant radar when I first joined the band. But now, it all made so much sense. I had created a legacy that I could watch my own kids dance through. We had given them a reason to be proud and happy and excited about their own father. That happens a lot in life and it’s always a beautiful thing, but I wasn’t ever sure it would happen for me.
A life in music or in writing (my other chosen path) often comes at a price. You can’t give your kids as much as a lot of other parents can. You buy their sneakers at Walmart, not because they’re good enough, but because that’s all you can manage. It’s humbling. And it has left me wondering, many, many times, if I was failing them in big bold ways.
By the end of this show though, oh man.
Violet, Henry, and Charlie were all up on the stage with us. I’d brought the small electric guitar that Uncle Dave had bought and custom-painted for Henry for his 6th birthday — the one Henry cherished. And I’d brought the little red acoustic guitar that Charlie loved to “pway woknwoll” on every day. I’d brought tambourines and maracas for Violet to shake. I’d brought these things knowing that everything might work out in the end. Maybe the kids will want to come up with their dad and uncle and our friends and make some noise with us.
I had nothing to worry about. They did. They were so into it; they rocked out. And anyone who was there that night must have been able to tell from the look on my face, from the smile breaking my jaw, that I was having one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments. I was grinning. I was holding back tears. I was reckoning with all the things I had been through and all of the dreams I have for my kids — the most important humans I have or will ever love in this world. And it was happening right in front of my mom, and my kids’ mom, and my own brother.
In the middle of it all, I looked down at Henry strumming his electric like he was born to do it, and I bit down hard on my lip. My life made so much sense to me right then. I am their dad. I play rock-n-roll. They love me so much and are so proud of who I am.
I never saw that coming, but I ain’t ever looking back now.