The “What Ifs of Youth”
My daughter has been asking me a lot of questions of late, most of which involve what the future brings. Most of that comes from the fact that we watched an hour-long special on how terribly high student loan debt is today. In my defense, even though she’s just a high school sophomore, I helped produce the special so she didn’t have a choice but to watch it.
Sure, over the last few weeks she’s freaked out about the cost of a college education. She bemoans the fact that we likely can’t afford a really expensive, private art college.
But that’s just a temporary thing. She even says as much.
Then tonight she came to me with a sincere question. It’s one of those “what if” questions that usually only come from middle-aged people who bemoan what’s missing in their lives. One of those “if I’d only” questions.
“I don’t mean this in a bad, sad way, Dad, but what would you have done if you hadn’t met Mom and had us? Would you have been in a band? Would you have gone on tour and been a musician?”
I will, in all honesty, say that this question has gone through my mind. I’ve thought long and hard about it.
“I would have liked to do it,” was my reply. “I thought at the time I was pretty damn good.”
“You are good, really good,” she tells me. That made me smile.
“Okay, now I am. But I wasn’t that good when I was 20 and 21.”
It’s true, too. The band I was in really only played cover tunes. We tried to write material and had a couple original songs but the reality is we didn’t have much. It wasn’t until I broke out on my own that I actually began writing my own material hard and heavy. Most of that came because I didn’t feel like the music and lyrics I’d written fit in with the cover band I was in at the time.
But there was a far more important message to give my daughter.
“I would have wanted to be a musician,” I told my daughter, “but I’m relatively certain I wouldn’t have done it.”
“Why,” was her question?
“Because your Mom, when she came along, met me when I was really lacking confidence. She gave me confidence. Lots of it. I started my own band because she met struck up a conversation with a drummer I know and convinced us we should play together.”
Whatever had happened, I simply didn’t have the confidence. It wasn’t my upbringing, that was pretty great. It wasn’t anyone else’s fault. It was my own failings, my own lack of respect for myself, my abilities, intelligence, whatever it was that changed it all.
But one of the things I’ve sworn to do, and I told this to my daughter, was to help my children gain that confidence. Had I broken out on my own back when I was in my early twenties I might very well have improved to the point of being able to play.
There’s something else, though, too. Things are just different now. I told her as much. I am nowhere near the person I was nearly four years ago. I’ve changed a great deal physically, personally, emotionally, and it’s for the better. We’re all doing what we want at this point.
I wouldn’t have wanted to go through the pain and grief we all did, but I’m also playing more, writing better, and doing far more than I ever did before. None of that happened before my wife passed away.
“Plus, I wouldn’t have had you four,” I told my daughter. “That’s a pretty big deal.” As much as I pulled back on being a musician because I had kids it wasn’t the main reason.
This discussion came after I recorded a vocal line for yet another demo for a record my own kids have told me I need to record. Many of the emotions come from loss and grief, sure. They also come from struggle, happiness, and conflict due to trying to find ways to go on a date. This is particularly hard since, just a couple nights ago, my sons informed me that instead of worrying about finding a woman to share time with I should just get a dog. (Though I think there’s some selfish motivation in that statement on their part.)
What my daughter wants to know is do I regret the way things have gone? I regret a lot of things. I think nearly everyone has regrets, unless they’re Paul McCartney or Richard Branson. (And I think Paul’s probably regretting that second marriage and divorce, truth be told) I don’t regret that I had a topsy-turvy, interesting, emotional marriage. It had amazing highs and spectacular lows, but we lived.
I also don’t regret that we’re living and thriving without her. That’s necessity . . . and it’s brilliant.
I am a musician, I tell my daughter. I may be in my 40s, but that doesn’t mean I am not.
It also doesn’t mean I can’t still record, sell, and perform. Nothing is beyond your attempting to reach for that dream, that’s my message to my kids. You may fail, you may falter . . . but you won’t regret having tried. That’s the main thing.