Sing Their Songs
For the last few years, Isabella, our 12-year old, has recorded songs for her mother and me for Christmas. Her choices have held meaning to her and to us. This year, her older sister, Emma, our 20-year old, decided to join Bella and record a song for us. As Christmas approached this year, Bella asked me what I might like to hear her sing. I gave her a short list of songs that I would really love to have for Christmas. As the holiday approached, I teased her about telling me the song she had chosen. She was a vault. She assured me though, that she had not chosen a song from my list. I pressed further suggesting she was just trying to throw me off the trail.
As Christmas morning arrived, and the boxes and wrapping paper crowded the living-room floor, I was eager to hear my songs. Typically Bella would record one for her mother and one for me. But as the songs were loaded onto the computer for their airplay debut, she announced there would be one from her, one from Emma and one duet. I was excited, confident that one of the songs would be from my list of favorites.
As the last song was played, I was distracted by the fact that none of the three tunes was from my list. Their voices were beautiful and the gift was again my favorite, but I was somewhat disappointed, almost resentful that they hadn’t chosen from my short list of preferences: “This was my gift, wasn't it?” I thought. “Why couldn't they think of me while making my Christmas present?” Mostly I enjoyed the songs, my favorite present of the year once more. But these thoughts whispered and distracted me. I listened to the songs later that night, focusing on the words sung by their beautiful voices.
My older daughter Emma sang Poison and Wine by the Civil Wars. Here is the first verse:
You only know what I want I you to
I know everything you don't want me to
Your mouth is poison your mouth is wine
You think your dreams are the same as mine
Bella’s choice was Secrets by Mary Lambert:
They tell us from the time we're young
To hide the things that we don't like about ourselves
I know I'm not the only one
Who spent so long attempting to be someone else
Well I'm over it
As I listened more closely to the words of the songs, I realized something. The lyrics seemed carefully chosen. They held meaning for each relationship. They were lyrics written by someone else, but my children chose them for me. The songs were their songs, their conscious choices. I realized I really didn't want them to sing my song; I wanted them to sing their songs.
Khalil Gibran said,
Your children are not your children…
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you…
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts…
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
That is my gift—to hear my children sing their songs. I am grateful for their truth and for their willingness to risk telling their stories. As parents, we often want to hear what we want to hear and miss hearing the treasure that is our child’s truth. I posted their songs on YouTube and Facebook. A friend messaged me saying, “The most amazing thing about your kids is they have all developed a distinct and unique artistic voice. I am awestruck.”
I responded, “I am so glad I get to be their father. My favorite thing about being their dad is getting out of the way so they can find their gifts and their truth. I love watching it come out of them.”
That is our wonderful blessing as parents. Parenting any child is an invitation to expand. Parenting is a transformation to a larger self, and broader perspective. My child touches the edges of my fears and my shame. This experience asks me whether I will push them away from the edge, back towards my own history and context or allow them to push me past the edges of my experiences, my history, to find new horizons.
I approached both my children a couple of days after Christmas to confess. I told them that I was initially disappointed because they had not sung my songs. But after listening to the words, I expressed gratitude for being able to hear their songs. I told them both that all I wanted to hear, from now on, was their songs.
I will sing my own songs.