I just finished a stirring rendition of Kenny Rogers’s “The Gambler.” I’m talking belting-out-the-oldies style. There was scales and booms bravado and deep notes from the bottom of my heart that echoed throughout the hallways and down the staircases.
Oh, do you sing? You might be asking.
No. No, I don’t.
I like to, though. Don’t we all? Who doesn’t want to sing? That’s the symbolism everyone uses when talking about happiness, right? That special person who makes your heart sing or that song you have deep down inside; both serve as metaphors for glee. Hell, they call it the “Glee Club.”
Am I a good singer? I don’t know, but I doubt it. The only time I ever really hear it is when I’m alone. Now, with the kids going back and forth between houses, there’s a lot of Daddy Downtime. It allows me to really get into whatever notes are cranking in my head at the time. Thankfully, I live in 2021, where any song is a “Hey Google” away.
When I was younger,, I tried to sing around people. I don’t mean that in a weird Johnny Bravo way. It was more like where I’d be describing a song I heard on the radio and, rather than say the lyrics, I’d sing them. The kid I was talking to, still at that age where they are stuck in perpetual rank-out mode, would give that look.
Please stop singing. You can’t sing.
Hearing that a few times, while not enough to stop any child from pushing forward, ensures that the next time they try, they won’t do it with as much heart. As time goes on and the critiques pile up, the light becomes dimmer. By the end, they’re mumbling.
Today, no one hears me sing…well, except my kids. They’ve been treated to ongoing melodies since they showed up on the planet. By twisting pop songs like Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” into James Guttman’s “You’re So Cute,” I curated a catalog of hits ripped-off straight from the Hall of Fame.
Even my children, though, don’t get those deep Pavarotti-style operatic masterpieces I do when I’m alone. They get a solo Wiggle or guest celebrity on Sesame Street rendition, hammed up for the yuks. I’m corny and silly and the faces I make don’t betray that point. Even when singing to a captive audience of my offspring, I’m still fearful of the judgment. I couldn’t imagine staring my daughter in the face and crooning out a genuine attempt. I’m cringing at the thought.
My kids aren’t the issue in all this. I am. I’m the hold up. I’m the one who still can’t tell you whether I am a good or bad singer, because I haven’t sung in front of people in decades. And, no. I’m not coyly asking you to listen to me sing. I’m not doing it on the podcast either. I promise.
I’ve watched as other people tried to sing in front of watchful humans. You know who I mean. The grinning dude standing at the American Idol auditions insisting that his wife and kids told him he “sounds like Brian McKnight” gave it a chance. You know what happened to him? He was humiliated on my TV as the country cackled at him. The way we all treat each other can be pretty brutal sometimes. It’s enough to keep any songbird muted.
Like I said earlier, singing is a metaphor for so many things and it’s one here too. Telling me I was a bad singer in third grade wasn’t the worst thing that was ever said to me. In fact, it isn’t even in the top thousand. Yet, it had a profound effect on me. Since those days, I’ve keep a good chunk of my music locked inside.
Reading this now, I’m sure there are many shaking their heads, making a ticking noise with their tongues, and thinking, “He should sing in front of people.” But should I? Do you? Do any of us really?
Sharing our happiness with those around us is never easy. Whether it’s through songs, ideas, or love, those things that we keep bottled up for fear of rejection are bottled up for a reason. We know how easy they are to shatter and how precious they are to us. Just putting them out in the China Shop for the bulls to trample can be terrifying.
I have been lucky enough to overcome that fear in many cases, but there are others, like singing, that I still keep for myself. One day, maybe that will change. At the rate of things lately, I feel like it almost definitely will.
That’s why I sing in front of my kids, even if it is an abridged version. They don’t know about what I do or don’t show the others. They just know what I show them. Maybe their precious things won’t be stomped on. Maybe their special loves won’t be shattered. And, even if they are, maybe my kids will be strong enough to pick them up, put them back together, and continue on. Maybe they’ll be strong enough to not let it matter.
I never want them to be afraid to show the world what makes them who they are. Be loud. Be strong. Be happy. That’s the whole reason we’re here.