I wrote this piece after listening to a Brandi Carlile* concert. Today as I pulled away from the curb after delivering my daughters to school, I thought of it again.
I have two daughters. So including my wife, at my house it’s three-to-one girls against boys. A fellow I met recently on the road told me, “You don’t have a family, you have a sorority.”
I think before I was a dad I would have appreciated Brandi Carlile simply for her music. For her art. But as a father of two girls, I appreciate Brandi Carlile far beyond her lyrics and melodies. When I hear her sing out strong, even when her voice breaks, I think of my girls growing older, and I’m glad they live in a time when there are Brandi Carliles from whom they may seek some guidance.
I mean, Dad will do his best, and Mom (the woman I used to refer to as my wife, until the time my actual mom became Grandma and my wife became Mom— those of you out there with tots of your own will understand) is a woman of strength and virtue and qualified discretion (I say qualified discretion because despite strong evidence of her own good character she married me, which seems a bit of a theoretical chink in the ol’ armor), so we’ll do what we can, but no matter how parents try there are those gaps and unforeseen developments in which outside influence— for better or worse— will fill the empty space. Good to know Brandi Carlile is an option.
I was thinking about my daughters during a song Miss Carlile sings with the lyrics that go:
There are miles of hay like I have never seen
Just when you think you’ve had enough and
Your dreams come true
I just want to be closer to you …
I spend eighty to a hundred days a year on the road telling stories or singing songs or sometimes both. It’s a blessing, this life. Better than I might have hoped or deserved. And the road is not a hardship. I was raised by and around truckers gone every week. And many of our neighbors and relatives are in the military. When I speak with my daughters about my absences, for purposes of calibration we always refer to cousin Steve, currently scheduled for his fourth deployment, and him with a wife and toddlers.
So one never wants to get too dramatic. Especially in my case, in which more often than not this thing I call “The Road” is within a half-day’s drive of my chicken coop. But of course you think of your children and wonder what is learned in your absence. Or by your absence. I think sometimes, while I’m driving through the night alone, of what or whom I want my daughters to know, or believe … what I would tell them if they were in the passenger seat.
First thing: Your dad was in over his head. Constantly, and in all respects. My learning curve often lagged behind my balding curve.
I would tell them to beware youthful boys and dissolute men, who are knuckleheaded and inept in every respect except for the ability to worm their way into a young girl’s heart.
I would tell them to run close to the ground because eventually we all fall.
I would tell them to get a good pair of boots. Today’s woman should own a good pair of boots. (Ones that lace up and last, and steel toes are never a bad idea.)
I would tell them to leave affectionate notes for their mother as I do, but with greater frequency than I have. I would tell them that once a week they should offer their mother a blanket apology for everything in general. That one I’m pretty regular with.
I would tell them to strive for charity, and I’m not just talking about dropping a nickel in the can or boxing up your old socks.
I would tell them to doubt anyone who speaks with absolute authority. Rather, I would tell them to go to the ridge at midnight and stare into the stars for five minutes. Accept infinity, and humility follows.
I would tell them, never smoke cigarettes, but if a pleasing puff of pipe smoke drifts your way, take a whiff. This guards against prudery and furthermore there are times in the face of pleasure when we should do the obvious.
And, after what I’ve heard tonight, I would tell them, daughters, when the time is right and you’re on your own, take to the open road yourself, and whether that road is in your soul or out your windshield, drop the hammer and run it with open heart, open eyes, and open ears. Check the mirror for your old dad now and then. He’ll do his best, but he knows the time is coming when you will chase the sunrise on your own.
(Originally published in From the Top.)
* The first time Brandi Carlile came to the Big Top tent, she was playing solo and opening for the Indigo Girls. For the show surrounding this monologue, she was headlining with her own band and the place was packed from canvas wall to canvas wall with fans she earned song by song, going way back to the days when she was recording music on her own time and her own dime. Brandi Carlile’s music is built first of all on lyrics that read like true American poetry … poetry of the road, poetry of universal human connection, and, once she’s got you well in for the ride, poetry for stomping yer boots. Above all, though, it is Brandi Carlile’s voice you’ll take with you. Her voice, and how she inhabits it. Rarely have power and vulnerability so naturally melded. It is as if the heart of a sparrow has been wrapped in brass. When Brandi Carlile sings, she can belt it or she can break it, but above all she can bring it.