Monday, May 05, 2008

R.I.F.

If you're like me, and God help you if you are, you have all the trappings of an adult's life, but you feel like an immature kid most days, albeit one carrying a few extra pounds, a few gray hairs and an air of constant exhaustion. You also have the occasional internal difficulty reconciling the, (as Mike McColgan so eloquently put it) "hooligan, castaway, hardcore youth" you used to be with the diaper-changing, no-sleep-getting authority figure you've become. And most of the time when you are at Target or the grocery store or the playground, you look around and see all the dads in pressed khaki shorts and Oakley's perched just so on the brim of their TaylorMade caps, then realize you're wearing a wrinkled Unseen t-shirt and dirty Vans again and that you look more like the teenage kids of those Dockers dads than the dads themselves. Or, as Jim Lindberg, lead singer of Pennywise, puts it, "Just when we realized exactly why we were rebelling against our parents, we became them."

If any of that sounds familiar, then you need to pick up the book "Punk Rock Dad," by the aforementioned Jim Lindberg. This frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious book can serve as both a cautionary tale/new dad primer as well as a trip down memory lane for those of us who already have kids. Countless times while reading this book I found myself nodding and saying, "Oh God, I remember those days..." It's the tale of a forty-something, graying punk rock icon trying to balance the demands of three hyper-active girls with those of three hyper-active, childless bandmates, while trying to prove to us, and himself, that he's not the old fart we, and he, know he's become. It's a poignant ode to the wife and kids he obviously loves, and he tosses in pointers that can help anybody's marriage thrive amidst the chaos created by children. It's brutally honest at times about the stresses, strains and shit stains that come along with raising kids, and unlike so many other "parenting" books, it doesn't sugarcoat many things. The birthing process may be a miracle, but when it comes down to brass tacks, it's a pretty disgusting thing for most guys to witness.

In the book, Jim explores and details the difficulties that come along with being the singer of, as he calls it, "a patently offensive band hell-bent on pissing off 95% of society," while trying to be just another dad at the PTA meeting or weekend youth soccer match. At its core, his message is one of acceptance: accept him despite his profession, just as he accepts other dads' proclivities for pleated pants and boring golf stories. He makes the assertion that kids are the great equalizers, that they can unite people with nothing more in common than parenthood. And he's right; I've seen this happen on many occasions at the park, at parties, at bars, whatever. Guys with little in common can bond over what it's like to still be up at 3am, walking a cranky infant around in a vain attempt to get him back to sleep so dad can collapse into a bed shared by his tired, cranky, not-horny wife for a couple hours before it all starts up again at 6:30am. I may not understand why someone is Republican, or what's so interesting about walking a golf course for five hours or how a man can drink white zinfandel in public, but I understand the elations, let-downs, frustrations and blessings of raising kids.

The other central theme of the book is how to raise independent-thinking children who understand that conformity is not mandatory and that questioning authority is something everyone should do, while at the same time instilling in their kids a sense of discipline and respect for the parents as authority figures. This paradox is something that obviously consumes Jim, as it does many of us raised on the attitudes, platitudes and tenets of punk music. Again, Jim puts it better than I can: "How can the singer of 'Fuck Authority' make his kids pick up their toys and eat their vegetables?" Can it be done without feeling like the world's biggest hypocrite? The answer, of course, is no. But the key, as he puts it, is to pick your battles and just accept that your responsibility to your child trumps your responsibility to your ethos.

This book is not a "my life in Pennywise" story, so childless fans of the band would probably be disappointed. But for punk rock dads, or just your average dad or dad-to-be who can appreciate a funny, touching, honest look at marriage and parenthood, this book is highly recommended. Most of the chapter and subsection titles are taken from punk rock songs, like the chapter entitled "Anarchy in the Pre-K." Also interspersed throughout the book are little quotes or stories from other punk rock dads like Fat Mike, Tony Cadena and Greg Hetson. You don't have to be punk to appreciate this book; you just have to have an open-mind that despite musical, political or fashion differences, all parents have the same responsibilities and struggles. If you can accept that premise, then it's easy to understand how the guy in the dirty, old Vans can swap diaper stories with the guy in the Izod polo, even if he'd rather be slamming him in the pit.

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