Music To Our Ears
On the responsibility—and joy of sharing gay culture—with my son.
Ours is a music house. On any given morning, as our coffee begins to brew so do the beats. Brandon is our family DJ and he takes pleasure in sherpa-ing us through entire catalogs of some of pop and R&B’s most revered divas. A Whitney’s-greatest-hits-day might be followed by a Brandy’s-deep-cuts-day which might be followed by a Mariah nothing-but-ballad-remixes-day.
And though he doesn’t like sad-sounding songs, Cielo does love much of what Papa has to play. He will even ask for them again by name. “I must hear Dolly Parton! I must hear Dolly Parton! I AM A RAINBOW!,” he was yelling at Alexa, on tippy toes, before a recent Sunday dinner. Or he will just sing a portion and ask for us to play the entire song, “No pause pleaaaase.” Last week, he was sitting on a bench playing with his trains, only to slowly break into “I got mine own imperfections,” lyrics and melody from a recent Celine Dion sleeper single. Alexa, play the entire Courage album.
At bedtime this past week, we had just finished reading Todd Parr’s Love The World. (As a writer, I always credit the author and the illustrator of every story we read. I can appreciate the work that goes into each byline.) Cielo never remembers who has written what, but that night he turned to me and said, Papa told me a story about a girl named Lucky.
I had to laugh. Papa hadn’t told him a story about a girl named Lucky; he had sung him a story about a girl named Lucky. The same exact story Britney Spears sings about in her chart-topping single Lucky, her follow up to Oops!… I Did It Again.
I quickly moved in to speak-singing the lyrics to Cielo, in a whisper. If there’s nothing missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night.
As more and more of what we model for and share with our kid is parroted back to us, I am often tickled to find that Cielo is learning so many of the fundamentals through a lens of iconic gay culture—whether it’s the value of family (however it’s defined), the value of love (same), or the value of fierce resilience.
Now it has to be said that LGBTQ culture is deep and broad and finely faceted. There is certainly much, muchmore to being and living queer than serving up fawning devotion to a finite list of diva songbirds. Still, adoring these amazing women—singers, with infinite discographies sure, but also with lives marked by much triumph over tribulation—is a gay man’s pastime. Finding strength and community in the poetry of survival is practically our birthright. (And if it’s got a great beat and you can dance to it, all the better.)
One of our family’s countless and endless COVID-19 quarantine pastimes is to circle through Instagram filters, naming animals and fantastical elements. When we get to the one that mimics long lashes and lip liner, Cielo loves to scream, “I’m a drag queen! I’m a drag queen!” He has been to Drag Queen story hour at the New York Public Library and it has made an impression. Not because he was tripped up by gender expression, but because Cielo loves to be silly, to sing his own songs, and to pretend to be other characters. To see grown ups do the same brings him such joy. Maybe it even reassures him.
I do wonder though, if this is our culture, his dads’ culture, is it necessarily his? And if not, is he being over-served? I imagine him at a party in college decades from now, the one guy who can sing along to every lyric of RuPaul’s Kitty Girl. (Would he remember, too, that he used to ask us to put his breakfast in a bowl on our kitchen table bench, so he could eat it like a kitty, nose first, while the song played? ) Also, why that song is playing at any college party twenty years down the road, I couldn’t tell you.
I do like to tell myself though that it’s definitely going to be alright.
I tell myself, too, that for Cielo, this will also be generational. My mom has stanned Elvis for decades. And while that exposure left me Presley proficient, I will never really be a fan. Cielo will likely grow up and file all the pop culture we share with him as golden oldies that his olden dads like.
It’s also, no doubt, educational. Mainstream American culture will, by osmosis, inculcate my son with classic rock anthems, sports metaphors, and egregiously binary gender expectations. Anything countercultural that we can share with Cielo will foster in him an understanding of and appreciation for difference in the human experience. No possible way you can be over-served lessons in empathy.
And it’s absolutely incredible, memorable fun. Any time we make the most of opportunities to giggle and wiggle as a family, we grow closer. And, we have found, our musical merriment remains the most effective antidote to the pandemic scaries.
This piece was originally published as part of the “Baby Daddies” column on Maisonette.