••• The International Writers Magazine: On Fatherhood & Readers Responses
Stumbling into Fatherhood
Dedicated to the Dad in All of Us
I have never written much about my daughter in this space. That is not what it’s for. I do recognize that in its origins nearly twenty years ago this coming August I would pepper these paragraphs with personal anecdotes and even deign to dedicate entire columns to the incredible happenstance of my marriage and the woman that I somehow convinced to love me. But I always saw those more as trite sociological deconstructions than any true profession of emotion that were nonetheless done with great care.
Some people were even kind enough to call them romantic, which I think says more about the passing generation’s appalling lack of poetry than anything else.
But I had something happen to me this past week that has never happened before. And for someone only a few months from 55 years of age that is oddly monumental. On Saturday, June 10, Scarlet Moore Campion, nine years-old with a considerable shy streak that would never dare imagine doing anything in front of strangers much less family and friends, performed in her first piano recital. She’s only been playing for what…a year and half at most? And a good portion of it has been accompanied by the type of hemming and hawing and general whining that would make lesser humans than my wife or her lovely teacher, Chloe Nevill crack.
Good thing they didn’t, because despite all of it my girl kicked ass. Of course she did. I doubt I would dedicate a column to abject failure in the face of everything I have written above, but it wasn’t just the ass-kicking that plied me with the kind of bizarre awe that I have only read about. And it was also far beyond parental pride or a relief that this little person that I held in my arms within minutes of her passing through the birth canal was now sitting at a piano on a stage and performing a piece she learned on an instrument I could barely conceive. It was….what? Love, yes, but I would say it was more like a suspended moment of existential truth. It was as if I could grasp the surrealistic concept of joy, or at least understood it was possible. Like maybe if a butterfly had landed on my shoulder and handed me its novel.
Sure I was nervous for her, especially when she clutched my arm upon her microphone introduction and whispered, “Dad, I’m scared.” But I figured that much. Yet, as she walked up there and set her music down (eventually, since she forgot it at first) in front of the keyboard and began to play there was a visceral transformation in my DNA. It was shuffled around and put back together in an Escher rendering figured by William Blake’s dream. I tried to explaining all this to some artist friends the other night and I think we came to the conclusion that I had an out-of-body experience. I am fairly certain that my daughter’s actions distilled my corporal foundation from water and tissue into the ether and back again, leading to the stunning realization that I existed; but not as the guy writing this, but an extension of my daughter’s…let’s say, spirit, whatever the hell that is – I don’t know what it is, but it’s there and I was part of it and it was damned cool.
An old friend of mine, Rich Mattalian, who ended up being the participant in my first published book titled Deep Tank Jersey once told me, and I paraphrase here, that you don’t really know love until you have a kid. It sounds maudlin and gratuitous, especially when he told me twenty years ago when the very thought of offspring was silly. I never wanted a kid. Not this myopic, selfish, easily distracted boy/man with rage issues and a penchant for substance abuse. Just putting children around me is dangerous. Making one? Being responsible for its life, safety, personality and overall psychological make-up is to put it mildly pure madness. Then my wife and I had to go and have, and really did want, a girl.
I have come to understand from song and story that apparently fathers are pretty important to young women. So to say terror has been my main go-to emotion during the course of this purported meander through fatherhood for the past nine cycles around the sun is somewhat like saying the Grand Canyon is a hole in the ground.
You see, until Saturday fatherhood was a mystery to me. I’ve had many ups and downs with it, as anyone who has kids must. This is not unusual, I guess. I mean, it took me all of five seconds to understand the scope and depth of the idea of it. I loved my daughter immediately without combing its intellectual aspects from day-one. Strangely enough it is how I found my wife; all instinct and no pragmatism; the entire thing was like a car accident. You look up and you’re in it. No plan there. I have even kind of, sort of understood Scarlet and she may have understood me at some point. This never seemed to coalesce the way it did for me Saturday. There were stolen frozen moments in time, but not like this.
We could dance together and crack each other up, and damn it if we don’t both love NYC. To be fair, I kind of brainwashed her. Whenever we were left alone together from her initial months on the planet I would whisk her down to Washington Square Park or the Bleecker Street Playground and then I’d wheel her around and hell if she didn’t dig the sirens and yelling and cabs and weridos and sensations of the place as much as her old man. But beyond those things, fatherhood was something akin to holding onto a wild animal that at once could take your jugular and explode into a million crystals.
I have no words for this. Epiphany is bullshit. Okay, it’s like that one crescendo in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (also known as the “Ode To Joy”, because, well, you know he had to know) when it just goes wooooooooooo and takes off and it goes from outside of you where you were listening and burrows deep inside the you that was there before you heard it but is now somewhere in the composer’s head, as if you were fool enough to believe you were the one composing it. And I know Ol’ Ludwig tickled the ivies and it’s a tortured metaphor, but it’s honestly what I thought of…like being inside of something all of a sudden. There must be some kind religious or psychological term for this phenomenon. But whatever it is, I had it.
I still don’t know diddly about any of it. But I know this, seeing Scarlet up there playing the piano under a spotlight amidst the breathing and shuffling of people I have never seen and will likely never see again and having the whole thing suspend in the air of both time and space and then stumble back down into what I now choose to call fatherhood is one of the greatest things I have experienced. Better than being published. Better than being alive. Better than knowing that I won’t be alive at some point so it’s good to be alive.
It was something, man.
Really good. More than good.
And then we got some candy.
© James Campion July 2017
READERS RESPONSES: JUNE COLUMNS
Your take on music, especially musical icons is always exceptional. (CHARLES EDWARD ANDERSON "CHUCK" BERRY – 1926 - 2017 ) This may be your finest. And what a subject to hit a home run. Chuck Berry is more than a rock and roll icon, more than an inventor of the genre, he is an American treasure, the bridge between the wholly American blues tradition and the modern rock of today, through the 1960s and beyond. He is responsible for turning on the British Invasion in which young English kids reveled in his music and brought it back here and re-taught our youth the beauty and majesty of the originators; Little Richard, Elvis, Jerry Lee, and Buddy Holly, etc. But Chuck is the king, once and for all.
Thank you for this. It was a tremendous way to send Chuck off. He is one of my heroes and the mentor to a generation of guitarists and songwriters and lyricists. He is the essence of the music he created and his kind resonates even today. So many owe a debt to Charles Edward, and we who understand that thank you for sharing his brilliance and influence.
Your tribute to Chuck Berry reminds me so much of your other tributes that always seem to hit the mark, James; Prince, David Bowie, Lou Reed, just beautiful stuff. You should do more of this. I have read your long-form cover features for the Aquarian and that should be more of what you do here in the column. I do love your takes on politics and social issues and celebrity and sports and all that, but this is your wheelhouse. I have read your books on music too and I applaud your ability to take us inside the music and the artists. It is an impressive feat of journalism. I went back a researched and re-read your work on Dan Bern and the Stones “Exile” and Tori Amos and Sinead O’Connor and the Counting Crows and Fountains of Wayne and it is all so readable and relatable stuff. But to take the master, Chuck Berry and whittle his career down to its core is amazing work. Well done, sir.
Great article! Chuck Berry was soooo great and he is one of the ones I attribute the blame for breaking my heels while dancing up a storm. One of a kind.
Thanks my talented son.
Enjoyable, rollicking read Jim!
For the sake of mayhem, I will have sex with Bill O'Reilly. WILL SOMEONE PLEASE HAVE SEX WITH BILL O’REILLY? – Issue: 4/12/17). Nothing kinky though.
Bill O’Reilly is scum, but he is only part of the problem, or should I say the symptom of not only the atmosphere around Fox News, because there have been so many sexual harassment lawsuits and revelations over the past few years it is incredible the damn place is still operating. It is a wider sense of backlash from viewers of that nonsense station and the right wing ilk who elect horrible misogynistic beasts like Donald Trump. There is this idea that feminism as an ideology is jammed up into what the rights of women have – which should be the same rights as men (we pay the same taxes and go to the same schools and learn the same trades and work just as hard if not harder) but are denied them and somehow this is seen as being a check on men. As if adult men cannot behave the same with women as they do men in the workplace because they are from another generation or some bullshit excuse.
Bill O’Reilly may take the fall for this, but it will continue until Fox and the right admits that what they are doing is trying to keep women in their place. This is the issue, not that asshole.
I think there comes a time when we all have to realize FINALLY that anything this president says is a lie. (WHEN AN ARMADA IS NOT AN ARMADA – Issue: 4/26/17) And then if it is not somehow a lie or a fabrication or hyperbole then we can go from there, but the default on this guy is lie. Period.
I know you hate Trump, I get it. Your hatred is visceral and deep seated. You have somehow tried to grab the mantle of the intellectual high ground but alas, you missed the brass ring.
There is indeed a U.S Naval Battle Group sitting on station off the North Korean coast in the Sea of Japan. Trump is absolutely correct that the “boomers”, the nuclear subs are more powerful than the aircraft carriers. Yes, it is true that the U.S Naval aircraft carrier is 4 1/2 acres of sovereign U.S territory deployable damn near anywhere on the planet but it is the nuclear attack sub that TRULY instills fear into our enemies hearts. The nuke sub goes anywhere on the planet with a full arsenal of nuclear tipped ICBM’s. They don’t even have to surface to deploy their weapons. The target city incinerates and no one knows where it came from. The carrier on the other hand sits offshore, in full view giving off a Val Kilmer-ish “Say When” vibe.
Look man, I am against invading Syria. Without a clear picture of what is to be gained and unless there is to be a WWII vision of victory (complete surrender) this will turn into another endless bloodbath the U.S military has known since 1964. That said, we are in a tight spot because of our level of indifference and cowardice over the last 8 years. Those last 8 years have seen our enemies grow bolder in their actions and if we aren’t willing to meet those threats in a manner that reduces or eliminates those threats, we might as well throw our hands up and get our women fitted for their Burkhas because that is how this story ends.
You can mock Trump at your own risk but his moves are very Reaganesque as are his enemies. I like Trump’s chances here.
Do yourself no favors and “like” this idiot at www.facebook.com/jc.author
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus”, "Midnight For Cinderella" and “Y”. and his new book, “Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon”.
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