Editors’ note: A continuation of some of the best writing Notre Dame Magazine ever published about the men who’ve helped make us who we are. Happy Father’s Day.
“Do you have a son in a rock band?” the clerk at Borders Book Store asks as she studies my credit card.
I stare in disbelief, then answer, “Yes. How do you know about that?”
“I read something in The New York Times last week and the name kind of stuck.”
I better sell that novel quick.
My son — and namesake — is the bass player in a new band called The Wallflowers. Their first CD has been released, their songs are running on the radio, and yes, their video has even appeared on MTV.
My son and I have swapped polarity; he used to be Barrie’s son, now I’m Barrie’s father.
I sometimes wonder if the other Wallflower fathers are going through the same emotions I am. I suspect they are, even the band’s famous father, Jakob Dylan’s dad, Bob.
My wife receives a letter for her 78-year-old mother who lives in Conway, Arkansas, and a newspaper clipping falls out of the envelope. It’s a two-column ad from the Arkansas Gazette announcing that the Bob Dylan National Tour is coming to Little Rock. In the margin next to a photo of Bob Dylan a note has finally been neatly written in pencil: “Is this the father of Little Barrie’s friend?”
The identity flip-flop. Sooner or later, all parents go through it with their kids.
It usually happens in the late teens or early 20s, after the Rebellion is over and the Reunion has begun. The earlier warning signal often comes in the form of a joke; you make a very funny remark and instead of laughing like he’s supposed to, your kid comes back with an even funnier line, and before you can catch yourself you’ve laughed out loud.
Or one night during dinner your oldest girl starts talking about how the big weakness with democracy is that individuals always vote for their self-interest, which isn’t necessarily the best thing for society as a whole.
Or little Skippy comes home from school and drops a videocassette of his freshman projects into the VCR. As you watch in amazement, you make a mental note to destroy all those Super-8 epics you made of the peace march and the beach vacations.
Or Daddy’s little angel calls excitedly to tell you that she went down to the AutoMall armed with a Consumer Reports printout and bought a new Civic for $90 over dealer cost.
As embarrassing and humbling as it is, eventually we all become our children’s groupies. I’m not talking about being their number-one fan. I’m not talking about the pride we felt when they learned to walk or talk or read at such an early age. And I’m not talking about what we felt when they brought home straight A’s or won the Most Improved Player award. This is something totally different.
No longer is it enough that they love and respect us. Now we need them to like us.
We start pursuing them, pandering to them. Because 11:30 p.m. is way past our bedtime, we tape Saturday Night Live and watch it on Sunday so we’ll be able to demonstrate that we’re hip to Hans and Franz and Dieter and Deep Thoughts. (We even resist the temptation to fast-forward through the Red Hot Chili Peppers.) We swell with satisfaction whenever our kids agree with us about a movie or TV series. We listen intently to Gergen and Shields so we can have our own insight into the political scene. We want our kids to take us seriously.
“Get your banjo. Let’s play something,” Barrie says when I walk into the room. He’s settled comfortably into the far end of the couch next to the Christmas tree, my guitar on his lap. The house is full of family, and Barrie’s been noodling around on the guitar for the last half hour. I’ve been listening, marveling at how well my old Martin sounds in his hands. “Naw, I’d rather just listen to you,” I say.
Sometimes I tell people that the reason I don’t sit around and jam with Barrie is because I want him to remember me as the guitar-genius who taught him to make his first E chord, not a cute old guy who can only play folk songs. But that’s not the real reason. It’s that damn identity flip-flop; I’m longing for the days when I sheltered him, worried about him, even argued with him — all from my vantage point as leader of the band, our merry band, my family.
Those days are history. He and his sister and brothers own the family now. Nothing our kids achieve will really surprise us. We just hope they still like us.
Barrie Maguire owns the Maguire Gallery in the Philadelphia area. His son left The Wallflowers in 1993.