Home of Michael Perry – New York Times Bestselling Author, Humorist, Singer/Songwriter, Intermittent Pig Farmer

Posts Tagged ‘parent’

We Are Always Children

Reading Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist,” I respect and resonate with this line from the acknowledgements:

I’m hoping my parents don’t read this book, but they are beloved and have made all things possible.

Each of my “adult” books include a similar thank you:

First and foremost, to my parents—anything decent is because of them, anything else is simply not their fault.

They did what they could.

We do what we will.

But we are always children.

Song For My Daughters

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.


Motivational Shrieker

“You can’t WISH it to happen, you have to MAKE it happen.” Me, to my five-year-old, on the subject of getting your socks on. Finally those old Tony Robbins cassettes are paying off.

Baby Daddy

She’s five years old now, and headed for kindergarten. This photo was taken shortly after the home birth I described in Coop. She loved to sleep like this. And that’s what I’ll tell social services when they call.

Tall Versus Small

The five-year old this morning: “Big people can’t judge little people.” She offered this not as a tantrum-fueled retort but rather as a thoughtful observation, so I just said “Hmm…” and shelved the Life is Filled With Certain Disappointments speech for later.

Dancing With My Daughter

In honor(?) of the recent heat, an excerpt from the new book (due out August 21, but happily available for pre-order right here):

The heat is still oppressive, and Jane asks me to fill her wading pool. “How about if we go swimming in Cotter Creek?” I ask. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” she says, one pogo per exclamation point. I retrieve the scythe from the oat stubble, hang it from the granary rafters, and we head for the house to change into our swimming suits.

We have access to the creek through the property of some friends a short drive down the road. They’re not home, and all is quiet as we park the car and I unbuckle Jane from her seat. We make our way around behind the house and down a footpath through the trees and into a patch of canary grass taller than my head. Forcing my way through the grass toward the gurgling sound of the creek, I find a spot where a log projects out over a sandbar and we step into the shallows. “Huh, huh, huh!” Jane says at the first cold shock of the water on her feet, but she acclimates quickly, stomping and splashing. The creek is barely ten feet wide, but the current is swift and the sand bar drops off darkly, so I grip her hand at all times. “Let’s dance and twirl, Dad!” she says, and I know from our many living room ballet sessions that what she really wants me to do is sweep her in wide circles so her feet skim in and out of the water. Then I wade off into a belly-deep hole and swish her back and forth while she giggles and giggles. Then we slosh back up to the sandbar and dance, she rising on her tippy-toes and fanning her fingers, me stomping around white-leggedly.

We take a break then, sitting side by side on the log. The stream is deeply canopied here, the scorching day shut out, the air mud-cool. Jane leans in tight and shivers against me, elbows tucked to the sides of her belly, wrists crossed over her chest, teeth chattering. Now the mosquitoes show, whining around our ears and settling on our bare shoulders, where I feel the first itchy-sweet bite. But she doesn’t want to go just yet. She just wants to sit there huddled next to her old dad, and I can’t find it in me to budge. The love I feel is nearly overcoming, and as always in these moments the joy is crowded by a breathless realization of how fleeting this moment is, a desperate desire to burn it deep in some crease of the brain so that you might call upon it even as you let go this world.

It is no good to overthink these things and I am spared the sentimental whirlpool when I feel a hard lump between my butt and the log and realize it is my cell phone. “Rattafrat!” I say, managing to maintain a G-rating.

Jane straightens. “What, Daddy?”

“I got my cell phone wet!”

She shakes her head with her eyebrows raised. “Well that’s a problem.”

The skeeters are really digging in now. I wrap Jane tight in a towel and carry her up the path. When we reach the yard, she asks me to put her down. When her feet touch the ground she runs up the lawn and around the house toward the car, and in a beautiful bit of mangled syntax, hollers back over her shoulder, “I will win you, Daddy! I will win you!”

Visiting Tom c. 2012, HarperCollins Publishing

Infestation of Cute

Infestation of CuteHad a companion in the office this morning. She’s taking a nap now, but left some of her friends behind. I am told that among this herd are Aurora Dawn, MoonPlanet, DaisyPink and some other names I didn’t catch but go good with purple braided tails and over-sized blue eyes. I look over at that chair, and it’s like I popped mushrooms.

Missing from photo: StarBottom the purple bear, she’s helping with the nap.


A Little Taste of the Book

My next book (no title yet, earliest it will be out is August 2012) is much more focused on a man named Tom than it is on me or my family. But anyone who read Truck knows I have a soft spot for pickup trucks and girls, so here’s an excerpt from the current draft in which I am accompanied by my then 3-year-old, who is resolutely sucking her thumb as we hammer down the backroads:

Jane and I are on our way to visit Tom Hartwig. He’s going to cut and bend some steel for me. Normally the truck would be rolling on blacktop, but crews are resurfacing and reshaping the curves along this stretch of county road, so they have chomped and removed the asphalt. Gravel rattles in the wheel wells, and a whorl of dust spins from beneath the back bumper to drift in our wake. It’s good to drive a dirt road, especially in a pickup truck. You get a whole different feel coming up through the wheel. There’s a little give, a little float to the curves. You feel like maybe life is more liveable when everything doesn’t have to be all double-yellow perfect. Given time and good spirits in the company of a child I believe you should converse with that child, but right now Jane’s thumb is well-planted and furthermore I can cultivate in her worse habits than the love of watching farm fields slide past an open truck window to the tune of yesteryear’s country music legends, so I punch the radio button and dial up Moose Country 106.7. I do my best to raise my children right, but some lessons are best imparted by ladies, specifically among them Patsy, Tammy, Loretta, and even – especially – Dolly.