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33 Musical Dads Discuss Fatherhood

June 19, 2011  |  12:00am
Chris Senseney
Big Harp

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Name and age of your kids:
Hank age 2 1/2; Twila, 10 months.

How does having children and being a father change the way you approach your career?
I’m a lot more aware of money than I used to be. There’s more motivation to try to carve out and keep some degree of success. Not to sell out—whatever that means—just to try and make music a viable way to make a living.

What’s the best part about being both a musician and a dad?
Having kids makes it easy to steer clear of all the extraneous bullshit that goes along with music. I’ve always believed that you didn’t have to be a self-absorbed asshole to be an artist. I think some people greatly overvalue their own worth—like any attachment or impingement on their freedom is going to dim the holy light of their creative spirit. Screw ‘em. I’m not trying to live out some tortured-artist fantasy, I’m trying to be a good man.

I love playing and I love being a dad. Since my wife and I are in the band together, we get to bring the kids with us. I feel really lucky that we all get to be together. If we didn’t, I don’t know if I could do it.

What’s the most difficult part about being both a musician and a dad?
Finding time to work. Used to be, if I had a song idea I could put everything else aside and just sit down and see where it led. Now I kind of have to file all my ideas away and wait until I have some time. It’s a good thing too, though. The worst ideas get filtered out before I waste any effort on them.

What do your kids think of your music?
They like listening to the recordings. Hank only lets me play guitar or piano if he can play an instrument too. He’s a very demanding bandleader—he’ll come right up and move my hands and say, “No no no! Do it like this.”

What kind of music do your kids currently enjoy? Do you approve of their current tastes?
They’re both too young to be too picky. They’ll listen to whatever we listen to. My son’s favorite song is probably “Back in the USSR”—he just calls it “the Beatles song”. He doesn’t believe that they have any others. Twila’s very tolerant. I have a soft spot for eighties and nineties mainstream country, and she’s the only one in the family who doesn’t complain about listening to Garth Brooks.

Have you attempted to immerse your kids in music? How have they responded?
Not on purpose. Since my wife Stefanie and I play in a band together there’s always music around. Everything we do around the house gets a song, although I think that’s fairly common even for non-musician parents. If they want to take lessons or anything when they’re older we’ll definitely sign ‘em up, but there’s no plans to push them into music. Although a drummer and an extra guitarist would be nice…

If yes, what instruments do they play? And what do their early musical attempts sound like?
Stefanie and Hank have a band together. She plays guitar, he plays keyboard, and they both play drums and sing. It’s some next-level experimental stuff. Their big hit is called “Red Bus.” I think they’re considering taking Twila on as a probationary member.

If not, what are they interested in doing instead?
Hank wants to be a dancing cowboy garbage man. Twila likes to eat plastic bacon and blow raspberries. I’m pulling for accounting.

Dustin Kensrue
Thrice

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Name and age of your kids:
Sailor, age 4 1/2; Piper, 15 months.

How does having children and being a father change the way you approach your career?
It’s rough to be a touring musician with a growing family. It’s hard to even maintain a healthy marriage on the road, let alone being a good father to your kids. You try to figure out ways to have the family out on the road or to swing through home in the middle of a tour but I’m discovering that it gets more complicated the more kids you have. My third is arriving in the middle of July so I have no idea how things are going to work with three.

What’s the best part about being both a musician and a dad?
Seeing that it makes my daughter feel special and proud as she is beginning to understand what her dad does and how it affects people.

What’s the most difficult part about being both a musician and a dad?
Being away from my kids.

What do your kids think of your music?
They dig it. I was just playing them rough mixes of our new record the other day in my car and they were rocking out. When my oldest was 1, she only wanted to listen to my music which was really funny.

What kind of music do your kids currently enjoy? Do you approve of their current tastes?
I try to play a variety of things for them and try to find common ground. Some of my daughters favorite songs are “Singapore” by Tom Waits (which has been dubbed “The Pirate Song”,) and “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire (dubbed “The Wild Things Song.”)

Have you attempted to immerse your kids in music? How have they responded?
I like to play different types of music for my daughter and ask her about how they make her feel or what they make her think of. I think when Sailor was 2, I played some medieval chant music once when she was really little and she said it sounded like monsters, basically meaning it sounding ominous. I thought it was a great description.

I bought a piano lesson system which uses color coding to start to teach kids the piano. I basically turned Sailor loose with it and she learned all the songs. She also plays freestyle which is always interesting as she is definitely playing from how things feel. Very dynamic and moody. I haven’t stepped in to teach her more yet because I don’t want to stifle what she’s got going on.

Meredith Bragg

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Name and age of your kid:
Cora, 11 months.

How does having a child and being a father change the way you approach your career?
Obviously starting a family shifts your perspective. All the cliches are true. Something that profound is going to infuse itself into your creative work. I actually tried fighting it for a while, figuring that writing songs about this would be akin to showing baby pictures to people who never asked to see them, but ignoring it felt dishonest.

What’s the best part about being both a musician and a dad?
Having a large amount of instruments strewn about the house for her to interact with. She’ll loves strumming the guitar and pounding away at the piano. Fortunately for our neighbors, we don’t have a full drum kit in the house.

What’s the most difficult part about being both a musician and a dad?
Trying to remain focused on songwriting while your kid is laughing and playing in the other room. It’s not so much a distraction as it is an attractive diversion.

What does your kid think of your music?
At this point the only way to tell if she likes a song is if she quiets down during car rides. I tend to not to listen to myself when I’m driving, but my wife says that she likes about 80% of the new record. (Apparently she’s not keen on the minor-key downtempo stuff).

What kind of music does your kid currently enjoy? Do you approve of her current tastes?
Elizabeth Mitchell is her absolute favorite. As a fan of her adult band, Ida, I’ll give it a thumbs up. It’s definitely children’s music—with all that genre implies—but all her records manage to hold a warm, honest vibe without becoming treacly.

Have you attempted to immerse your kid in music? How has she responded?

We have the radio on all the time in our house, so she can’t help but be immersed. But at the moment pulling the records from bookcases onto the floor seems to be more fun than actually listening to them. But at least she’s into vinyl!

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