The Death of the American Educational System

If I ask you to recite the alphabet, what pops into your head? I’m willing to wager that it’s a catchy little jingle you learned when you were a toddler. All twenty-six letters of the English alphabet wrapped up in order inside a simple song. You and I learned the components of written language through music.

Music is only one of many programs now being removed at alarming rates from the American educational system. Funding is being pulled from the public-school system. As a result, schools are having to eliminate “non-essential” programs. These programs are deemed to either have served their purposes and are now obsolete, or to be unnecessary as a whole.

Some of the prominent programs on the chopping block are as follows:

–Gifted and talented initiatives

–Anti-bullying activities

–Mental health services

–International education and language studies

–Civics and arts programs

–Sports and Physical Education

Gifted and talented initiatives—Ending these programs is right up there with giving every child a trophy. Gifted and talented initiatives were originally designed to not only allow children to take pride in excelling in a subject, but to provide them with material in those classes that was more advanced. You know, furthering their education as opposed to having them stay stagnant by being taught material they already comprehended. The problem is that not everyone could take part in “gifted” or “advanced” classes. It hurt other children’s feelings. Now, instead of children having to work harder and better themselves to make it into these programs, most schools have eliminated them so more advanced students can hold themselves back to appease everyone else. This sadistic bondage of intellect would make Christian Gray proud.

Anti-bullying activities—I grew up in a time where bullying was just part of going to school. Of course, bullying was very different back then. No, I wasn’t the little asshole. I was the chubby kid who got fat-paddled in the locker room. I was the social moron who wouldn’t keep his mouth shut. So, during school hours, I needed only maneuver myself near a teacher. Bullying done. After school, I simply had to make it to the safety of my home. Door closed. Bullying done. But bullying is on a different level these days. No place is safe. Technology such as texting, instant messaging, and social media have made it an all new ballgame. Children now no longer have to worry about seven hours of the day. They can be abused all day and night through technology. Ridding schools of these programs is the equivalent of putting the elastic band of Awkward Kid’s underwear directly into the hands of Mr. or Ms. Mommy and Daddy Issues.

Mental Health Services—To combat the destruction of self-esteem done by bullying, or the issues at home that create the bully, children need only to speak to a mental health professional. Naturally, the next step would be to eliminate mental health services from public schools. If we’re okay with stepping aside from addressing bullying, let’s make it completely hopeless and offer no aid to those also struggling with academic stress or abusive parents. Schools shouldn’t have to focus on making children whole and mentally-healthy people. What does that have to do with standardized test scores? If you can’t pick up on the sarcasm dripping from these words, you did not belong in advanced or gifted classes.

International education and language studies—The land of the melting pot has come a long way. Even though the United States was built on the combination of many cultures and nationalities, we have decided that learning about them and their languages is pointless. As of 2015, there were 41 million native Spanish-speakers living in the U.S. Add to that number an additional 11.6 million native Spanish speakers who are bilingual. Within a fifteen-minute drive from my home, I have access to restaurants in all directions. Those restaurants include Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Japanese sushi, Italian, and Irish menus, among others. America itself was “discovered” by immigrants. And yet the educational system is eliminating programs that allow our children to live in today’s world in intellectual understanding with the other cultures upon which the nation itself was founded, and cultures that are included in our everyday existence. Lack of knowledge results in fear. Fear results in people electing into office inarticulate and illiterate douchebags who want to build walls.

Civics and arts programs—And this chills me to the bone. These are the very programs that cultivate free-thought. Civics education centers around teaching students how to be active participants in understanding and maneuvering a democracy. In short, how to be citizens. Arts programs such as music, art, and creative writing push students to see, hear, and experience the world differently and offer unique points of view. Ironically, it is a piece of creative writing, 1984 by George Orwell, that exemplifies exactly what happens when free-thought is eliminated from education. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you pick it up and look to the future the American Educational System is creating.

Sports and physical education—Growing up, I wasn’t the most athletic young man out there. I was overweight and not particularly coordinated. My dad insisted I play sports anyway. He put me in basketball. I was an excellent pick man. I was hard to get around, I guess. And standing still seemed alright by me. The coach always seemed thrilled to put me in the last thirty seconds of the game because he was obligated to do so. I tried soccer. Considering the amount of running involved, I was not a starter. I played baseball. I found out I had a hell of an arm and could fire the ball in from the outfield without my cut-off man. I enjoyed that. My coach had the brilliant idea to try me out as a pitcher due to my power. Apparently, throwing long distances accurately is very different from throwing short distances. Control was not my strength. It wasn’t until I almost murdered a batter that my pitching career ended. Regardless, playing sports taught me sportsmanship and team work. P.E. eventually found me in weight-lifting classes. It was there that I discovered an appreciation for physical exertion and where I lost the fat and replaced it with muscle. I became a healthier version of myself. In a world of technology that results in children sitting all day, sports and physical education promote movement and health. Yet these programs are being eliminated and we have the audacity to ask how we’ve become one of the most overweight and unhealthy countries in the world.

Luckily, science is still a subject touched on in standardized testing, which is what the United States government has decided represents a well-rounded education. In that interest, I’ll recite some science. Virginia Penhune at Concordia University did a study that showed music education, primarily musical instrument training, affects brain structure and motor abilities. Children who are taught to play musical instruments show a significantly increased connection between the left and right hemispheres of their brains. These physiological effects last into adulthood and improve their ability to listen and communicate. Other studies show that learning a second language influences thought, consciousness, and memory. Team-building exercises from sports and physical education result in better concentration. A protein is, in fact, released during exercise that transforms the brain for better functionality. A school in Naperville, IL tried an experimental mile-long run at the beginning of every school day. Those students’ test scores not only out-performed the neighboring districts, but entire countries. Claiming that these programs are unnecessary for the education of students is utterly ridiculous.

I’ve seen the results of poor academic communication and lack of free-thought first hand. I attended an online university a few years ago to obtain my degree in Criminal Justice. The courses required students to answer posted questions that pertained to the reading, and then to respond to one another’s answers to promote class discussion. What I found is that most individuals were unable to transfer coherent thoughts into written words. And many of the responses were merely regurgitated and inaccurate information. There was hardly any free-thought or critical thinking. One question posed to the class asked, “With the wide use of text messaging and instant messaging, are we losing the ability to write properly in an academic setting?” One woman’s response discredited the idea because, “When we’re talking through text message or instant messaging, we’re usually talking to friends or family. In an academic setting, we’re talking to teachers or other students. We change how we write.” Ignore the fact that her response didn’t answer the question at all (and the rest of her paragraph-long response was her repeating this in various ways). The biggest issue with her response was that absolutely nothing was capitalized, including her use of the pronoun, “I.” It was made only slightly more difficult to read due to there being three punctuation marks total between twelve sentences. Although I did enjoy her use of emojis in her academic answer.

In another instance, I was fortunate enough to read the back and forth correspondence of two young African American women when asked, “In today’s society, do you feel Affirmative Action works? If so, do you feel it works as it was originally intended?” This question was posed in a class titled Cultural Diversity. These two Black Women (that’s a minority within a minority, in case you’re not paying attention) claimed that Affirmative Action does not work, nor does it work as intended because these “Chinese people keep coming over here with absolutely nothing and within two weeks have mansions, nice cars, businesses, and millions of dollars…all given to them by the U.S. government while nobody else gets any money.” If this response had been given by only one woman, I could have chalked it up to simply an ignorant racist oblivious of the world around her. I could have ignored the fact that her answer didn’t touch on the subject of Affirmative Action at all. However, Black Lady #2 was on the same page and their conversation that followed was one of the most broken, unintelligible, and bigoted interactions I’ve ever witnessed. And I bartended for years in a hotel bar filled with old, White contractors.

So, why are the programs that could counter these things being eliminated from public schools? Most public-school funding is attached to how well schools perform on standardized tests. Free-thought and critical-thinking have no place in memorization. Teachers now are even encouraged to educate students on how to bullshit their way through multiple-choice questions. If there are four options and one of those is “all of the above,” that is often the correct choice. Otherwise, choices “B” and “C” are more often correct.

Is this the fault of the schools? No. They rely on money from the government to maintain programs. When money is cut, programs must go. And so go the “unnecessaries.” On the up side, the United States government has been using money that could be allocated to public schools for some extremely interesting studies just within the last couple years. Examples are as follows:

–$65, 473 to find out what bugs do near lightbulbs

–Around $150,000 to understand why politics cause stress

–$283, 500 watching Gnatcatchers (funded by the Department of Defense to watch a group of birds)

–$300,000 to found out if boys or girls play more with Barbie dolls

–$1.5M to study fish on treadmills (yes, you read that correctly)

–$3M to discover that the Jaws theme song causes negative feelings toward sharks

–$3.4M to study hamsters fighting in cages

–$5M to discover that college fraternities and sororities promote alcohol consumption

–$3.1 billion for vacation pay to government employees on administrative leave for misconduct (this figure is only for the year 2015)

Need I say more?


While I sit here typing this, my daughter is in her room, listening to music. Although our generations have very different ideas on what constitutes “good” music, I forgive her because I recall vividly my own parents looking at me with a somber disappointment when wandering into my room while I had my own tunes cranked. Music is music. If it moves your soul somehow, it’s doing its job. I’m left wondering if any of the songs playing in her room will make it to her own life soundtrack. If the one I’m hearing this moment makes it, my daughter must have a future in rave clubs or Hindu prayer. I’m baffled. And kind of wish I had a glow stick right now.

Having said that, I introduce you to my Life Soundtrack, Volume 2:

Track 1: Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong by The Spin Doctors—Before you can drive, finding yourself in your older sibling’s car as a passenger is exciting. Factor in that sibling’s friends, and you aren’t simply riding to the store or another errand. You are taking a journey. You are peeking into the wonderful world of what will be. Taking a short trip out of town in the back of my sister’s white Ford Tempo, observing the interactions between her and her friends Chris (a drummer in a band) and Brian (the singer and a guitar player in the band…and the man who would become my brother in law many years later), I was overwhelmed. What that overwhelming sense was exactly, I couldn’t have told you at the time. As a grown man now, I realize that it was my first glimpse into the magnificence of those friendships we develop in our late teens and early twenties. Those friendships that incorporate our views on how the world affects us through the art around us. The Spin Doctors were thrown into the stereo and Chris went on a rant about how they were completely underrated when it came to their percussion. He slapped out the drum beat on the dash with reverence. Brian tossed out his own air drums while singing along in harmony with my sister. I had not known friendship of that kind yet. Nor was I sure that I would. That would come later. But for those three minutes and fifty seconds, I was involved in something special.

Track 2: Black by Pearl Jam—Most regular karaoke singers can tell you the first song they sang. Mine was included in Volume 1. Karaoke can be a blast when you’re out with friends. Drunken renditions of anything by mediocre or poor singers are the staple of karaoke. Having worked in karaoke bars for a little over a decade, I saw more than my share. I have advocated many times for the possession of special licenses being necessary to sing Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Adele, Whitney, and Journey. Many, many have tried. Most have failed. Horribly. But at least it gets the crowd smiling, even if it’s from overpowering uncomfortableness. On the other end of the spectrum are those singers who take part in competitions. I’ve competed myself. Karaoke competitions can be brutal. They are far from The Voice, but within the community of karaoke singers, there is a feeling of honor to be included on stage with other, incredible vocalists. And the Midwest is filled with those. Thus, when stepping into competition, it can be daunting. I never felt like one of the strongest singers in the group. Judges felt I was good enough to make it to the finals quite a few times, so I believe I’m decent at it. However, competing isn’t my strong suit. My stage presence is awkward, to put it very mildly. I never know where to look—At the judges? The crowd? Over their heads? The stage occasionally so I don’t fall off and die? The screen with words occasionally so I don’t forget where I was and then die? So, I cope with it by drinking a lot of the free beer in the green room prior to going on stage. Obviously, this is the best course of action. It has resulted in me usually making some inappropriate, sexually-connotated joke toward one of the male judges. Once, it resulted in me dropping to my knees for dramatic effect at the end of the song…only to realize there was another run of the chorus through which to make it…now on my knees. In short, I feel like I often fail miserably at the competitions. However, back in 2008, I performed Mustang Sally by Wilson Pickett (which involved a lot of pacing back and forth drunkenly across the stage) followed by Pearl Jam’s Black (which many people told me not to do for competition) for round two. For whatever reason, a certain calm came over me as soon as I started singing and I stopped worrying about the judges, the crowd, stage presence, and even my vocals. I just sang. I let a song that I loved take over. I sang it for me. And I won first place. I’ve performed it more times than I can count since then. But I think of that song any time I feel I don’t belong, or I’m in over my head. My own little grunge rock version of “I’ma do me.” Even typing that out made me cringe.

Track 3: Heaven by Warrant—Yes, this dates me a bit. Shut up. In fairness, this song was released when I was ten. It didn’t come into my life significantly until I was thirteen, at which point it would go on to represent the loss of childhood as I knew it. Small town life meant that all the kids in school knew one another and options for romantic relationships were limited. Add a kid being overweight and obnoxious into the equation, and you have a boy who focuses most of his attention on his step-father’s stolen Playboy magazines and practicing how to kiss on My Pet Monster. I’m not proud. But those shared affairs with that furry, plastic-nosed, stuffed son of a bitch prepared me for my shining moment with Emily Corn. Granted, Sarah Dixon was my first kiss (and resulted in a mixed tape), but with Emily, I shared the dance. You know the one. That junior high dance at a home off school grounds. Young hormones were racing. I didn’t have much of a clue as to what to do with those racing hormones, but she didn’t seem to mind the slight poking against her thigh and I certainly didn’t mind that she didn’t mind. All I knew was that I could smell her perfume and her giant hair tickled my neck. And that there was no way I was going to pull away for a second in case she came to her senses. It was with Heaven playing in the background during my most-assuredly stellar slow dance moves that I had that real kiss. Emily, if you read this, I apologize. Your lack of giant, warty nose or elongated plastic teeth probably threw me for a curve. I can only hope you were cheating on your pillow or a random poster on your bedroom wall.

Track 4: Seasons by Chris Cornell—If you haven’t seen the film Singles, do yourself a favor and find it immediately. The storyline is incredible. The actors are brilliant. It’s a fun and heartfelt watch, especially for those in their twenties who are trying to “discover” themselves. The best part about the movie, though, is the phenomenal soundtrack. It encapsulates rock music of that time, especially the Seattle Sound. Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam have cameos. Throughout the film, Cornell’s Seasons plays periodically. I was in high school when it was released. I didn’t find it until a couple years later. Despite not being in my twenties yet, it spoke volumes to me. Now in my thirties, that hasn’t changed. And Cornell’s brilliant chord structure and amazing vocals still punch me in the heart every time. The song is so well-written that it doesn’t take me back to a specific time or place in my mind. It takes me inside myself. This piece itself represents those seasons of change.

Track 5: Break on Through by The Doors—The 1960s marked a change in the climate of music. Even the Beatles took a turn. In 1967, The Doors attacked the music scene. Jim Morrison saw himself as a poet and the music was background to that poetry. Being well before my time, I didn’t discover The Doors until high school, when I read that a lot of my favorite current bands at the time had been influenced by them. The first song I found was Break on Through. It embraced the angst in me and gave validity to the questions I was asking about “what it all means.” Even the keyboard had the desperate urgency I felt about things I didn’t yet fully understand. It was listening to The Doors that I experimented a lot with hallucinogens in an effort to see the world differently. Whether it worked or not is up for debate. And I’ve chosen to avoid angst as much as possible now. But the music still reminds me to never stop trying to see the world through different eyes.

Track 6: While My Guitar Gently Weeps by The Beatles—Todd Griffin was the biggest Beatles fan I’d ever met, and my best friend in high school. While I was listening to both modern and classic rock, The Beatles had just been something I’d disregarded. I knew their stuff. She Loves You and Hold Your Hand just weren’t my bag. They were a little too pop for my taste. They were cute. And they didn’t have that poetry that I wanted. And, so, while riding in Todd’s car (his car, his music, was the rule), he put a cassette in (yes, a cassette) and I found myself listening to a beautiful tune. He’d thrown in The White Album by The Beatles. While My Guitar Gently Weeps blew me away. I’d been duped into enjoying a band I told him I wouldn’t ever like. That summer was spent with us cruising around after work, jamming out to The Beatles from their album Rubber Soul up to Abbey Road. Once, while sitting at a stop light, a couple in their forties pulled up next to us and told us that we were listening to some awesome music. Then we all sang along at the top of our lungs until the light turned green. It’s not often that teenagers blasting stereos at intersections have positive interactions with adults. The Beatles made the world a better place that day.

Track 7: The theme song from Wow, Wow, Wubzy—If you’re a parent, you have at least one of these awful song types stuck in your life soundtrack. This was a cartoon my daughter watched non-stop until the Care Bears snatched her attention during age two. In case you don’t know about Wubzy, he’s yellow with a high-pitched voice and a jagged tail on which he bounces from time to time. Think of a canary-colored rectangular Tigger on crystal meth who has not had the decency to go through puberty. Then give the little bastard a catchy theme song that still sneaks into your brain after a decade. I give you Wubzy. The unfortunate thing is that this annoying song, regardless of its ability to make me consider breaking my television years ago, makes me smile when it attacks my mind like an unwanted musical ninja. It conjures up images of my daughter in her pajamas squeezing up next to me on the couch after an afternoon of chasing bubbles and riding her tricycle outside. In the realm of songs that move your soul, this one is up at the top.

Track 8: Over the Hills and Far Away by Led Zeppelin—I credit my love for Zeppelin to my step-father. When I was young, my relationship with The Step-Dad was typical. He wasn’t my father. He would never be my father. I would make it very clear to him that he was not wanted. This naturally led to us not being BFFs. I thought he was an asshole. He rightfully felt I was the same. Our interactions in my early youth consisted primarily of me being a prick and him punishing me for it. Every year for my birthday, he would buy me one of those small paddles with the elastic band coming out of the middle that attached to a rubber ball. A toy that no normal human being could figure out how to work properly without some contractual aid from Satan. Within a week or two, the elastic band would break. And now he had a new paddle with which to spank me when I was yet again doing something stupid. One day, while in the middle of a spanking I’m sure I deserved much more from, the flimsy paddle broke on my ample butt cheek. Like the moron I was, I laughed. He spent the next two hours in the garage carving The Mother of All Paddles. This thing was a beast. Taped handle. Holes drilled into the center for better aerodynamics. And I’m fairly sure it was partially forged from the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor. That was our relationship. I misbehaved and said horrible things to he and my mother. He responded by swatting me on the ass with Sauron’s Wrath. We had an understanding.

In high school, my mom found my weed and hitter in my pants pocket because delinquents are idiots who forget they also expect their mothers to wash their laundry. My step-father volunteered to drive me back to my dad’s house that evening. I slumped in the car, waiting for the lecture that I was going to dismiss. Instead, he broke the silence by telling me that he used to smoke a lot of pot back in his day and he just wanted me to be very careful about the weed I got. “People put all kinds of crap in it these days. Make sure you know what you’re smoking so you don’t end up with something dangerous.” He then went on to regale me with tales of pot-smoking from his early days. We laughed. We bonded. It was on that car ride that he became a person to me. This was parenting that you won’t find in any how-to books. But for me, it was real. Not long after that, I started pouring through some of his music. One of the first songs I found was Over the Hills and Far Away. I can’t listen to a Zeppelin song without thinking about the man who provided tough love and eventual openness to a kid who went out of his way to make it hard. Thank you, Gary.


What songs are part of your life soundtrack? Why? I’d love to hear them.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

What’s your go-to song in the shower? What song did you dance to at your wedding? Which song reminds you of a loved one who’s past? Did you lose your virginity to a certain song? If so, what was it?

It’s surprising to me that I haven’t written about music before. Music is a big part of my life. I guess I consider myself a singer. I’ve competed in karaoke competitions for many years. I’ve even done well enough to win some money in a few of those competitions. When I clean my apartment, I crank up some tunes and go to work. I need a playlist while I’m showering. I have a great number of friends and family who are musicians and singers. Music is everywhere for me.

That isn’t to say that I love all types of music. Although I understand the draw of hip-hop and rap, it just isn’t my thing. I was at a bar Saturday night to celebrate a good friend’s birthday. What the DJ had going on was disturbing. There was a lot of bass and lyrics about putting middle fingers in the air or something. As music is concerned, it apparently did its job because girls with ill-fitting clothing were popping their asses to the crowds of guys with straight-billed caps who were licking their lips. It felt a bit like watching the mating rituals of some ancient Aboriginal tribe that should have gone instinct. People were “dancing.” I guess that’s the point of music. Me? I like songs with lyrical quality. Tell me a story. Make me feel something. You know, other than epilepsy. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

The magic of a song for me is how it can instantly transport someone to another time, another place, another set of emotions. Individuals with severe stutters can often sing without a hitch. I watched a video of a man with dementia who could barely respond light up and start talking coherently when he was given some headphones playing music from his past. Another video shows a street musician singing I Will Always Love You to a girl with Down syndrome. She had amazing moments where she lifted her arms as though she was conducting the music herself. Her disability almost disappeared in those few seconds. If you have ever watched cable, you’ve most likely seen those abandoned and abused dogs. That’s sad. Hearing Sarah McLachlan accompany the images is so much worse. Well played, advertisement. Well played. Whenever I hear The Gourds version of Gin and Juice, my mood is brightened and my mind goes back to being in my early twenties, working in Florida. Every morning, my coworkers and I would jump into the jeep and blast that song on repeat on the way to work. I swear it cured hangovers from Jägermeister.

If you haven’t noticed, the majority of the titles for my pieces on this blog are also song titles. Music, like my writing, is part of me. I see my life like a story that is being written as I go. And there is a soundtrack. I’m not sure it’s entirely fitting or appropriate for the situation, but there’s music, by God. I caught myself humming It’s Raining Men the other evening while cooking dinner for my daughter and me. I have no idea what that means. If it’s my subconscious trying to tell me something, the joke is on him. I can’t pull off the cowboy, Indian, biker, or police officer look. But I do look good shirtless in my utility belt. Hallelujah.

My life soundtrack Volume 1:

Track 1: American Pie by Don McLean—I had this song about the Day the Music Died on vinyl and used to play it over and over again in my bedroom when I was a pre-teen. His lyrics were poetic. They told a sad and brilliant story. This was the first song I ever sang karaoke. All eight minutes and thirty six seconds of it. I knew every word by heart. It was probably terrible. But an extremely drunk man stumbled up to me and told me that if Bruce Springsteen ever covered that song, that’s what it would sound like. Thank you, Super Drunk Guy, for encouraging me to continue singing. I hope you still have a liver.

Track 2: Crazy Mary by Pearl Jam (originally by Victoria Williams)—Riding shotgun in my oldest sister’s white Ford Tempo. The summer air blowing through the windows and those haunting minor chords telling a somber and powerful tale. I sat there elated and humbled that I could be included in this moment. Sharing a love for music with a woman who had been my arch enemy through early childhood. It was an acceptance into her world. Her showing a piece of herself to me without saying a word. Thank you, Kim.

Track 3: Goodnight My Angel by Billy Joel—The first woman I ever loved romantically. Kara Bohannon. My freshman year of college, I saw her at a house party from across the room. She was wearing a green sweater, blue jeans, and a brown leather jacket. I thought she was stunning and crossed the room to show my roommate “how it was done.” After saying something stupid about her having the best bellybutton I’d ever seen, she shut me down and walked away. She later found me in a ridiculously drunk stupor on the couch and tied my shoe for me as though I were an infant. In fairness, that would not be a far off assumption. It took me three months to find her again. She played this song for me and told me how her father used to sing it to her when she was little. I later shared the same song with my daughter when she was a baby. Thank you, Kara.

Track 4: A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum—16 years old. Sitting in the cab of my dad’s truck when this song came on the radio. He immediately stopped the conversation to turn up the volume. Among the smell of stale coffee and cigarette smoke, my father turned from the no-nonsense man talking work ethic to a lover of art. He sang along tentatively while I watched him go back into his own life soundtrack. It was like watching the metamorphosis of a caterpillar in front of me. I remember thinking right then how amazing the power of music was. Thank you, Dad.

Track 5: The Freshman by The Verve Pipe—The summer after my senior year, I went on my first solo camping trip with friends. No adults. Just a group of teenagers, a trunk full of illegally purchased alcohol, and so many ideas of bad decisions. During the two and a half hour drive to the campsite, we played this song at least twenty times. It always brings me back to sitting in the back of the car with my cigarette smoke blowing out the window and a chorus of voices wailing away. Think the scene from Almost Famous on the bus, but with less harmony and much more off-key. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Track 6: Long Day by Matchbox 20—Back when LimeWire was still a thing (because who doesn’t love giving their computers AIDS?), illegal music downloads were huge. The best part for me was finding an acoustic version of a song. A version I’d never heard. Sarah Fergemann, my girlfriend at the time, shared a love of Matchbox 20 with me. While I was at work, she downloaded an entire album worth of songs she thought I’d love and burned them to a CD. An exquisite acoustic version of Long Day was the first song on that CD. I own it still and occasionally go back to listen to it around all the scratches. It takes me back to sitting on her couch, talking about our hopes and dreams, and my first time getting drunk off wine. The leather-bound notebook in which I write my notes for this very blog was given to me by her to encourage my writing. That was thirteen years ago. I’m sorry it took so long, Sarah, but thank you.

Track 7: Angel Eyes by Jeff Healey Band—I met my daughter’s mother in a karaoke bar. I was the guy who took his karaoke singing a little too seriously. She was the girl who would hold a microphone in her hand, but sing into her Bud Light bottle. Not particularly on-key. I liked her anyway. It was in that bar that she would have me sing Angel Eyes to her. So many drunken nights in a bar surrounded by our friends. But even in the middle of all the shenanigans, that one song could make her stop and smile. And made me feel like great things would come of this. Which leads to track eight. Thank you, Liz, for both tracks.

Track 8: With Arms Wide Open by Creed—Before you judge me…never mind. Your judgment is valid. But this song was sung by me to slyly announce to the bar full of friends that I was going to be a father. Yes, it was Creed. But it didn’t take away from the lyrics. And it certainly didn’t take away from the fact that every time I hear the song, I go back to the moment I was told I was going to be a dad. Or the moment my daughter’s mother called me at work to shout the word “Madison” in my ear because she’d happened to come up with a name she thought we would both like. And that song plays in my mind every time I reflect on taking Madison out of the nurse’s arms to hold her for the first time. That simultaneously weightless and heavy moment. Responsibility and possibility crashing into each other.

Track 9: Let Her Cry by Hootie and the Blowfish—I have a picture of me with hair. Well, most of my hair. In that picture, I’m leaning down over a baby and my mouth is open. The baby is smiling up at me. I’m singing Let Her Cry to my daughter. It was my baby go-to song. She loved it. So many times that I would come home from bartending at three in the morning, Madison’s mom would have hair pulled up in a messy bun while staring at me with bloodshot, tired eyes. Madison wasn’t an easy baby. Colic plagued her. She cried. A lot. When I would come home from work, her mom had been up with her all night. It was then my turn to take the devil spawn baby so her mother could get some sleep. It was one of my favorite parts of the day. Madison had usually just about worn herself out from crying. So she and I would curl up in the recliner and I would sing Let Her Cry while rocking her. She was often passed out within fifteen minutes. Those fifteen minutes were ours, though. The smell of baby skin and the sound of her breathing slowing down between the words. Her staring at my mouth through content and heavy eyes. Secret seconds that belonged to no one but us. Thank you, baby girl.

Track 10: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star—Potty training is long and tedious. If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Taking ten minute bathroom breaks every twenty minutes or so just in case. Toddlers aren’t the most patient companions on these trips. Distractions are a necessity. Thus, Madison had a toy microphone that played a selection of song instrumentals. One particularly long day, we’d been on the toilet more times than I could count. It was the last push to get her out of diapers. The microphone went with us every time. I would sing along to every song on there. I was getting pretty good at London Bridge. I won’t lie to you. In the middle of it all, though, something just clicked for my daughter. She busted out Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star as if she’d been singing it forever. It was a little off key. Some of the words were wrong. And it was the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. My daughter had crossed the threshold from a baby who bopped or hummed along to songs and became a singer. She looked in my eyes the entire time. I looked at her with my own content and heavy eyes. And the teacher became the student. Thank you so much, Madison.

I’m absolutely missing some songs to my soundtrack. It’s Volume 1. I can’t give them all away.

But, I’m interested in your own soundtrack. What songs punctuate the story that is your life?

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