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Jazz Hands, People!
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
Being a perverse so-and-so I find that I like to take ridiculous, contrarian stands on social issues, and I recognize that many of these positions make me look morally suspect. Take, for example, the whole idea of exposing children to second hand smoke. I'm all for it. Everytime I pick up my daughter from school I consider it my parental duty to make sure that my car is full of stagnant, blue cigar smoke, so that when she opens the door a Spicoli-sized gust of hazardous mist vents out. This practice has hardly made me a favorite of other car-pooling parents. While waiting my turn one day, a mother took it upon herself to tap on my window and inform me, politely, that smoking wasn't allowed on school grounds. I informed her, politely, that I wasn't in school anymore, and that I wasn't smoking on school grounds, I was smoking in my ancient, decaying Pontiac Bonneville. Not surprisingly, things got considerably less polite from this point on, until fortunately the line started to move and she had to run back to her car. She left me with a ringing invective in my ears, about what a terrible role model I was and how I ought to be ashamed. I didn't put my cigar out.
Of course she was right; still, I haven't changed my practice of smoking in my car while waiting. I recognize this as anti-social, incorrigible behavior that can't possibly be justified, but as explanation I'd like to point out that my daughter has the full complement of iPod, laptop, iPhone and that at Christmas she made out like a robber baron. Like many of her classmates, she enjoys comfort and luxury and I feel confident that she can sweat out the five-minute car ride full of smoke without too much trouble. If this makes me look mean-spirited and petty, well, okay, but please know that I bear no animosity toward my daughter or her generation. I just want them to toughen up a bit. The fact is, I disdain my own generation so much more. We are, hands down, the worst generation of parents in American history, and our kids are going to pay for being so sheltered and over-protected. I know the following sounds like an apocryphal story, but I know of a high school senior who will be going to college next fall, and her parents intend to sell their home and move to the student's college town and join her. You know, to be there for her. This seems patently insane to me, yet I have no doubt that it's true. By comparison, my smoking in line makes me look like "father of the year" material.
You'd think that my natural hostility toward PTA-type parents would mean that I'd never join them in any activity imaginable, yet the fact is, for the next two months I'm going to be side-by-side with them, working diligently as a parental volunteer. And though it's somewhat embarrassing for me to report this, I'm really looking forward to it. My daughter is in her high school's show choir, and this is the busy time of year for them, as local high schools start hosting competitions. For these programs to go off successfully, all of the parents have to donate at least some time to the host school's shows. Last year, for the first time, I dropped some of my "anti-Dad" stand-offishness and volunteered to help out. And guess what? I had a blast.
I expected it to be hell, with insane, over-controlling stage parents and painful production numbers by nerdy, insecure kids, but I was a million miles wrong. When I was in high school show choirs seemed to be marginally popular at best, but now, it seems the scope of the shows has gotten incredibly large. Dozens of schools were participating, some from many counties away. Everybody had flashy costumes and elaborate staging devices, and I couldn't help marvel at the amount of money that was devoted to each of the school's performers. The budget for even a modestly equipped school runs in the tens of thousands of dollars.
I had a low-level, not too difficult job to do, so I was able to engage in conversation with a lot of other volunteers during the day, and surprise, I discovered that almost all the other parents were pleasant and smart and easy to talk to. And when I started watching the performances, I found myself oddly engrossed in the spectacle I was seeing. It is a specific kind of performance, the show choir thing, and I was surprised by how much fun I was having. The only possible thing I can equate it to happened in 1988, when I saw Michael Jackson in concert. I went there on a lark, not really caring, and I fully intended to spend the two hours ridiculing the singer onstage. But that's not what happened. As soon as the lights went out I started screaming like a teenager, and when Michael hit the stage I was an absolute, foaming-at-the-mouth fan. He's still the greatest performer I've ever seen.
The show choirs weren't that good, of course. But it's always a pleasant thing to have your pre-conceptions turned on your ear. Though parts of the show choir day made me a little uneasy — inevitably, at least one school will have their teenage females dressed like Vegas showgirls or prostitutes for some number — for the most part, it was thrilling to watch the lights and sound and dancing. I have now become what I used to ridicule. A show choir dad.