My 16 year-old son just got his driver’s license. He drives well and obeys the laws. His phone is tucked away safely. Yet, the noise coming from the radio is enough to make me want to jump out of a moving car. It’s either rap or hip hop but I have no clue. I can’t understand the lyrics. The music is vulgar, profane and angry. It’s very sexual and celebrates pot smoking.
I struggle to not change the station but I don’t. I watch him. I watch as he taps his fingers to the music. I watch as he smiles and sings along. It’s clear he likes the beat, the sound, and maybe the lyrics too. I hope he doesn’t like the lyrics, but maybe he does.
I hate the music that my 16 year-old listens to
So what should I to do?
I’m not worried my son will join a gang or start smoking pot. I’m not worried he will become disrespectful to women and I’m not worried about sex…not yet anyway. I do struggle to see the appeal of this music, if you can even call it that.
And as we pulled back into the driveway, I thought of my own teenage years and the music I enjoyed. Bob Marley’s reggae beat was truly intoxicating and openly celebrated marijuana. By the time I was 16, I had already smoked pot, so my hypocrisy was starting to reveal itself a little more clearly.
Pink Floyd, one of my all time favorite music groups, produced the classic album “The Wall” which dealt with war, heroin addiction and hints of an Aryan race. Their music is amazing but the lyrics paint very dark overtones. Depeche Mode sang songs about isolation, depression and teen suicide. I loved both their music and lyrics and yet I didn’t become depressed or start shooting drugs. I made it to the other side and turned into a fully functioning adult.
Why does the music my son likes make me angry?
So why is his music so upsetting to me? Why does it make me boil underneath? I despise it because it acts as a barrier between my son and me. His music pushes me away. It isolates us from one another. The music plays in his car and he is now the driver. He is in control, setting the boundaries and making up the rules. There is no room for me. Dad doesn’t have permission to join.
And that is when my sadness arrives. My son is growing up and making his own choices. He’s making choices he knows may upset me and he’s confident enough to stand up to me. He doesn’t care that I don’t like it. That may actually be a positive for him.
Then it hits me. My sadness is also a reflection on my own childhood which was starkly different from my son’s. My father had complete control. He made all the decisions. My father taught me to drive but after I got my license he was never a passenger in my car. We had a limited relationship and didn’t share the deep bond my son and I enjoy.
As I begin to lose my son to his own independence, I also feel the loss of my childhood and the father I didn’t have. I wish my father had listened to my music. I’m sure he would have disapproved, but at least it would have meant time together.
Surprisingly, music has been the vehicle for my son to find a new level of independence. It’s given him confidence. It’s helping shape his identity and frame his character. As I look at this from an entirely new angle, I begin to see his viewpoint.
I begin to understand why he loves the music so much. He loves the music because it is 100% his. Nobody has dictated it or forced it upon him. He found it all on his own. Rap and hip hop have helped him find his own voice. So maybe I should just be quiet and leave him alone.
Maybe one day I will learn to engage with his music and ask if I can hang out and share it together. Or better yet, maybe there’s still time for me to take my father for a drive.
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Now – for parents of teens and pre-teens, the Grown and Flown book is here.
Mark Friel is a 52 year-old father who writes to share his experiences raising a son and a daughter in this modern age. He’s just a normal guy from Oregon who’s been married for 24 years and has two teens. His career in commercial real estate provided him with the freedom to spend lots of time with family, so whether coaching youth sports or taking a spontaneous 4 day road trip, Mark has been proud to put family first.