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33 Musical Dads Discuss Fatherhood

June 19, 2011  |  12:00am

To celebrate Mother’s Day last month, we asked 18 Musical Moms about being both a mother and a musician. From Stars to Mates of State, each shared their thoughts and philosophies on both parenting and rocking out—both the good and the bad. The common theme running out of their responses was one of sacrifice, but one that none of them would think twice about.

On Father’s Day, we turn to a series of dad rockers to hear their thoughts on music, fatherhood and the overlap between those two roles. We spoke with over 30 musicians including The Hold Steady, Billy Bragg, Elbow, Robert Earl Keen and numerous musical dads about the glories and the perils of their two full time gigs.

Tad Kubler
The Hold Steady

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Name and age of your kid:
Murphy Amelia Penn-Kubler (goes by Murphy Penn – rolls off the tongue better), age six and a half.

How does having a child and being a father change the way you approach your career?
I think there are the obvious issues: trying to watch my mouth and realize that my daughter may be exposed to things I say, how I conduct myself, decisions I make. I’ve always been pretty loose with my mouth. Whether that was being sarcastic or flip or saying things that may have been crude or in slightly poor taste to get a laugh… Not that anybody pays any attention, but she might go looking for these things eventually. And with the Internet being such a wonderful wealth of information… I’m not so concerned with the occasional F bomb… I guess I’m perhaps a bit more deliberate now. Without being a stick in the mud.

But what I think about most often is I’m leaving something behind. I feel pretty good about the things we’ve accomplished as a band (The Hold Steady) and the other things I’ve done creatively. And these are things that she’ll be able to visit long after I’m gone. She will be able to play music for her friends or her kids and say, “This was my dad”. And that feels good. So in that sense, I’d like to leave her something that’s beautiful. Hopefully I have…or I will.

In terms of playing music as a job or a career or ‘professionally’—I want to make sure she knows that music’s sole purpose is for enjoyment. I do this because I love music. Whether that be playing or listening. And while me playing music may keep a roof over her head, I do it because I love to. And obviously my daughter is exposed to a much different side of it then say, Slash’s kids or somebody like that. We’re not followed around by photographers. I’m not recognized as anybody of importance. Growing up in New York City, she does have friends with parents that have that kind of lifestyle or are famous. For now, I’m glad that’s not her experience with it.

What’s the best part about being both a musician and a dad?
When we actually have some time off, it’s pretty great to not keep regular office hours. When we’re not in the studio or on the road, my days are dedicated to being a dad. And that’s really great. I am gone a lot. And that’s difficult. But when I’m home, I can really spend almost all my time with her. I’m also lucky enough to have a kid that loves music as much as I did when I was her age. And I get to watch that grow. There are also benefits like taking your kid to work. She loves seeing the band play. She’s interested in what I do, where I go, the people I get to meet (Daniel Radcliffe from the Harry Potter movies was a big one for her). She loves to play drums, piano… she just started to play guitar. She’s just kinda learning all these things. I’ll tune a couple guitars to open G and we’ll sit in the living room and she’ll strum and I’ll do some stuff over what she’s playing. Jamming with your six-year-old is a pretty special moment. We’ll get into lessons and all of that eventually. But right now, I’m trying to teach her the most important part of playing any instrument: If it sounds good, it is good.

What’s the most difficult part about being both a musician and a dad?
All the travel and being gone. Murphy has spent some time on tour with us. She loves being on the bus—TV screens everywhere, things to climb on, all the people and personalities, snacks. But now that she’s in school and all the other things she’s involved with, it’s hard to pull her away from all that. And I sometimes worry what her expectations are going to be like as a young adult and employment. Things like that. But I hope it inspires her to follow her heart and shows her that anything is possible if you work hard enough. That sounds incredibly cheesy and cliche. But I really think the most important thing for her to take away from all this is that she can do anything she dreams of.

What does your kid think of your music?
I think she likes it. She’s usually a pretty good barometer when I’m writing songs. I know if I play something for her a few times and later catch her humming it, then we’re going to sell millions of records… or at least a few dozen.

What kind of music does your kid currently enjoy? Do you approve of her current tastes?
Right now Murphy is going through a pretty big Kiss phase. And I feel like that’s a great introduction to rock music. She likes Phoenix, Descendents, Ramones, Joan Jett… She has a real dark side, too. She’s already painting her nails black and wants a pair of Doc Martens. And then she also digs the kid stuff—Justin Beiber, Lemonade Mouth, etc… I think as long as she’s enjoying music, I don’t get to terribly hung up on what it is. She will develop her own tastes for her own reasons. We have a dialogue about what she likes and why. And to me, that’s the most exciting thing.

Have you attempted to immerse your kid in music? How has she responded?
I try and keep things around the house that she can pick up. Anything from a Casio keyboard to the old Silvertone guitars (they’re light) and those little Smokie amps (the one’s made from old cigarette packs) or anything as simple as a recorder or something as complex as a drum machine. I’d feel terrible if she thought she had to play music just because her dad wants her to. On the whole, she’s a very artistic, creative person. She loves to draw and paint. She’s in a couple of acting classes, dance classes. She loves to perform. She likes to take pictures. She sings in the choir at church and has rehearsal once a week. She’s a fairly intense, introspective six-year old. And I love her more than anything.

Billy Bragg

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Photo: Karen McBride

Name and age of your kid:
Jack, age 17.

How does having a child and being a father change the way you approach your career?
If becoming a parent doesn’t change the way you live your life then you’re just not doing it properly. Jack coming along forced me to aim for a balance between my work and my outside life that just wasn’t there before and to be honest, it was something that I sorely needed.

What’s the best part about being both a musician and a dad?
For me, the best thing was that I was able to build my work schedule around the school holidays so I could be home when Jack was out of class

What’s the most difficult part about being both a musician and a dad?
To earn a living I’ve always had to tour and that became a lot harder to do once I became someone’s dad. I always have to steal myself to leave and although I’m fine once I get out on the road, I always keep an eye on the day I’ll be getting back to my family

What does your kid think of your music?
Jack doesn’t really think of me as a musician, just as his dad, so he doesn’t really have an opinion about my music. He just likes the fact that he can walk into my room, pick up my guitar and play a tune while he’s chatting with me. I like that too.

What kind of music does your kid currently enjoy? Do you approve of his/her current tastes?
Jack has my selection of music on his iPod. He doesn’t connect with contemporary music like I did at his age. Should I be worried? I always imagined that we would bond over soccer rivalries, but he’s not into the Beautiful Game. Instead, we argue about The Ramones Vs The Clash and which is the best Stones album.

Have you attempted to immerse your kid in music? How has he responded?
I did have a go at teaching Jack how to play guitar, but it didn’t work out. Instead, he learned to strum in time playing Guitar Hero and then I just showed him where to put his fingers to play Blitzkrieg Bop and he was away.

If yes, what instruments does he play? And what does his early musical attempts sound like?
Jack plays electric guitar in his room very loud. Sounds like an angry hornet trapped in a biscuit tin. But he’s a better guitar player than I was at his age.

Syd Butler
Les Savy Fav

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Name and age of your kids:
Lyla Butler, age four. Nigel Butler, age two.

How does having children and being a father change the way you approach your career?
I want to be with them night and day. I had no idea what the definition of love was until I had kids. In terms of my career? I feel I have to work harder to make sure they have the best life.

What’s the best part about being both a musician and a dad?
I will have many stories to tell them when I am old and crabby. They also go almost everywhere I go, so they will have their own stories. My daughter will be really ‘over it’ when she is 13. She has been on stage during the Arcade Fire at Coachella and held in Mick Jones’s arms.

What’s the most difficult part about being both a musician and a dad?
When I’m playing a show and not able to wake up with them. Hearing the words “Dad, lets get up and make waffles” is way better than seeing/smelling my bandmates in the lobby for a quest for a good cup of coffee.

What do your kids think of your music?
This is a great question. I’m sure they think it’s “fun.” We did a song for Yo Gabba Gabba. This went over very well.

What kind of music do your kids currently enjoy? Do you approve of their current tastes?
I take her to school every morning and play all kinds of music. Some I think she will like and others she wont. I am surprised at what she responds to. Current favorites: Anything by the Dodos. Edith Piaf, Bob Marley and A-HA.

Have you attempted to immerse your kids in music? How have they responded?
Yes—my wife has done an amazing job of signing them up for music classes.

What instruments do they play?
Violin.

What do their early musical attempts sound like?
Gooses fucking.

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