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

Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

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.


Instant Show and Tell

This is what happens when you forget to close the garage door overnight and there is road salt residue on the floor:


Actually, I kinda envy his way of dealing with trouble. Hide your face and act prickly.

When I was little we had a similar situation. My dad tossed his cap on the porky’s back and got some quills for us.* So I did the same with an old dishrag, and both girls had something for show and tell.

*Late-arriving fact-check email from my mom: Hey, loved the picture, but got your facts a little off.  You guys were walking with me … and a juvie [young porcupine] was walking west.  We followed it for a while, then I took one of your caps and touched it to the little fellow and got some spines.  Dad did the same for me on our honeymoon or I probably would have been too afraid to try it since the old lore was that they could throw their quills, not just let them loose.

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.

The Old Green Chair

Sometime back in the 1990s I scuffed my knuckles getting it out of grandma’s basement. I remember clambering on it at Christmas when I was a tot. Now I share it with my daughter’s purple teddy bear.

So much reading in that chair. So much writing. And some naps. It pops up in my writing here and there.

It’s all busted down and I think it has probably messed up my back.

It’s among my favorite places in the world.

My Daughters Have Exceptional Uncles

The backstory here is too complex and insidery to adequately address, but in summary the photo you see below is the result of my two brothers and my brother-in-law, some wheeling-and-dealing, a practical joke involving a whole lot of pink paint, and the fact that my brother Jed and I have five daughters. Also, note vintage and fully functional fire siren.

The girls loved it, and there was much giggling* during last night’s low-range back forty joyride.

*some from a logger and some by a bulldozer operator – thank you, uncles.


Late Parenting Lesson

And still learning it: In the midst of parenting worries, so often it’s the kids themselves who lend me the gravity required to pull myself together.

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.