27 Mar

Free to be you and me

One thing I think about in the shower while singing songs from The Sound of Music to Abdul is what kind of parent I’d like to be. For example, I’d like to give my child a passionate love of musical theatre, but, at the same time, a disinclination to go to drama school (I’ve decided the trick lies in somehow giving Abdul an abiding love of money).

Inevitably, the onset of parenthood makes me remember my own mom and dad’s parenting style. In my early years, they definitely displayed hippy tendencies. They used to hang out in Margaretville, NY with other hippy friends (not far from Woodstock). One of my dad’s favourite stories is about how he and my mom were driving through Woodstock and my mom was craving pizza. So they pulled up to a guy on the side of the street, rolled down the window and, in his thick Italian accent, my dad asked, “Hey, man. Do you know where I can find a pizza joint around here?” The guy looked cautiously left and right and then opened up his coat and offered my father a piece of joint.

My mom and dad were the kind of parents who gave me books like Where Did I Come From? and What’s Happening to My Body instead of sitting me down for a sex talk. They introduced me to these books when I was about five years old. I’m telling you, I was the most sex-educated kid in the playground. And I’m not even going to mention the time I found the hippy manual of copulation, The Joy of Sex, in their bedroom and tried to bring it in for show-and-tell.

One of my absolute favourite records to listen to was another hippy parenting classic, Free to Be You and Me. It’s got so many wonderful messages crammed into it. We’ve got Mel Brooks pretending to be a baby and talking about how he’d like to be a nurse when he grows up (message: it’s okay to be what you want to be, regardless of your gender); “It’s Alright to Cry” sung by a football star of the day; “William’s Doll” about a boy who wants a doll to play with; a retelling of the Greek myth about Atalanta, a girl (voiced by Marlo Thomas) who eventually agrees to marry her suitor, played by M*A*S*H star Alan Alda, because of his progressive views on gender equality. In this story, they run a race against each other and, as they approach the finish line, it sounds a bit more like climaxing than anything else, but perhaps that was another lesson in what orgasms sound like.

Anyway, I loved this album. I want my child to listen to this album. There may be many more modern parenting tools out there, but that doesn’t mean all the ones from when I was young are broken. How many expecting parents dream of reading their child Where the Wild Things Are instead of Peppa Pig? Dr Seuss instead of Iggle Piggle? I want to introduce Abdul to some of the stuff I liked as a kid, including a pair of bright orange polyester overalls that I used to wear in the 70s. And regarding my musical conundrum, I’ll just have to expose Abdul to The Sound of Music and Wall Street in equal doses. Greed is good when you mix it with a few of my favourite things.


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