A parent's music has charms to tame the savage teen-ager

August 11, 1996|By DAVE BARRY | DAVE BARRY,Knight-Ridder News Service

AWHILE AGO, the New York Times printed an item concerning an 11-year-old girl who was overheard on the streets of East Hampton, N.Y., telling her father, "Daddy, Daddy, please don't sing!"

The daddy was Billy Joel.

The irony, of course, is that a lot of people would pay big money to hear Billy Joel sing. But of course these people are not Billy Joel's adolescent offspring. To his adolescent offspring, Billy Joel apparently represents the same thing that all parents represent to their adolescent offspring: Bozo-Rama. To an adolescent, there is nothing in the world more embarrassing than a parent. When I was an adolescent, my dad wore one of those Russian-style hats that were semipopular with middle-aged guys for a while in the early '60s. You may remember this hat: It was shaped kind of like those paper hats that some fast-food workers have to wear, only it was covered with fur. Nobody -- and I include both Mel Gibson and the late Cary Grant in this statement -- could wear this hat and not look like a complete dork.

So naturally my dad wore one. The fur on his was dark and curly; it looked as though this hat had been made from a poodle. My dad was the smartest, most decent, most perceptive person I've ever known, but he was a card-carrying member of the Fashion Club For Men Who Wear Bermuda Shorts With The Waist Up Around Their Armpits, Not To Mention Sandals With Dark Socks.

My dad liked his Russian hat because he was bald and it kept him warm; he did not care what it looked like. But I cared deeply. I especially cared when I was waiting for my dad to pick me up outside Harold C. Crittenden Junior High School after canteen. Canteen was this school-sponsored youth activity designed to give us youths something to do on Friday nights other than vandalize mailboxes; we'd go to the school, and the boys would go to the gym to play basketball, while the girls went to the cafeteria to play "Please Mr. Postman" 700 consecutive times on the record player and dance the Slop with one another. Eventually the boys would wander in from the gym, and the girls would put on slow, romantic songs, such as "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," and the boys, feeling the first stirrings of what would one day grow and blossom into mature love, would pour soft drinks down each other's pants.

After canteen we'd stand outside the school, surrounded by our peers, waiting for our parents to pick us up; when my dad pulled up, wearing his poodle hat and driving his Nash Metropolitan -- a comically tiny vehicle resembling those cars outside supermarkets that go up and down when you put in a quarter, except the Metropolitan looked sillier and had a smaller motor -- I was mortified. I might as well have been getting picked up by a flying saucer piloted by some bizarre multitentacled, stalk-eyed, slobber-mouthed, alien being that had somehow got hold of a Russian hat. I was horrified at what my peers might think of my dad; it never occurred to me that my peers didn't even notice my dad, because they were too busy being mortified by their parents.

Of course, eventually my father stopped being a hideous embarrassment to me, and I, grasping the Torch of Dorkhood, became a hideous embarrassment to my son -- especially when, like Billy Joel, I try to sing. (I don't mean that I try to sing like Billy Joel; I try to sing more like Aretha Franklin.) If you want to see a flagrant and spectacular violation of the known laws of physics, watch what my son does if we are in a public place and for some reason I need to burst into the opening notes of "Respect" ("What you want! Baby I got it!"). When this happens, my son's body will instantaneously disappear into another dimension and rematerialize as far as two football fields away. The results are even more dramatic with the song "Got My Mojo Workin'."

Yes, parents: In the continuing battle between you and your adolescent children, you possess the ultimate weapon -- the Power to Embarrass. Use this power, parents! If your adolescent children are in any way displeasing you -- if they are mouthing off or engaging in unacceptable behavior -- do not waste your breath nagging them. Instead, simply do what Billy Joel and I do: Sing. In fact, I think our judicial system should use this power to punish teen-age criminal defendants:

Judge: Young man, this is your third offense. I'm afraid I'm going to have to give you the maximum sentence.

Youthful Defendant: No! Not

Judge: Yes. I'm going to ask your mom to get up here on the court karaoke machine and sing "Copacabana."

Youthful Defendant: NO! Send me to prison! Please!!

Yes, if we were to impose this kind of justice, we'd see a dramatic drop in adolescent crime. The streets would be safer; the adults would be in charge again; and the nation would be a happier place. Just thinking about it makes me want to sing a joyful song. Come on! Everybody join in!

"Havin' my baby! What a lovely way of saying how much "

Hey! Where'd everybody go?

Pub Date: 8/11/96

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