I recognized the melody, but I couldn’t place it

By Matthew Hennessey

I’m the musical parent, the one who controls the car radio. You see, I don’t just want my kids to love music, but to love good music. I’m proud to say that all three of my children know every word to both “God Bless America” and “Danny Boy.” In our house, that’s good music.

Usually, when I catch my kids humming a little tune, I can get a pretty quick bead on what it is. But I couldn’t place this melody that my oldest was singing. It was complex, repetitive, a bit out of her range. I also noticed that she was being coy, averting her eyes and fiddling with her hair in the “I’m ignoring you” way that little girls sometimes do when they think that Daddy smells a rat. Let me note that she is six. Six and a half, really.

Then, all at once, I got it. “Paparazzi” by Lady Gaga. Papa, papa-razzi. Wait. What?

As Catholic parents, we are presented with a dilemma. How to teach the values of faith, forbearance, and forgiveness that anchor our beliefs, when everything else our kids encounter seems to be pulling them in the opposite direction?

We can shield our kids from Lady Gaga’s very, very bad example for six-year old girls in the home. Maybe we can keep them away from MTV’s Skins for a while. But we can’t build a wall between our kids and the world. You can bet dollars-to-donuts that they’ll hear about it in the hallway at school or from their friends on the soccer field.

And that’s just what happened here. An older boy on the bus was signing the “Paparazzi” hook, and it stuck with her. It burrowed its way into her impressionable little mind. Bad music has a way of doing that.

It wasn’t the first time. A few weeks earlier, this innocent little girl, the one who calls the moon her best friend and for whom acquisition of a goldfish would fulfill life’s highest ambition, marched off the bus singing:

Boys are rotten made out of cotton
Girls are sexy made out of Pepsi
Ohh ahh
I lost my bra
I left it in my boyfriend’s car

Now, the above is not a Lady Gaga song, but it’s a far cry from “Danny Boy.” My wife called me at work to let me know that a state of emergency had been declared.

“Are we on lock down?” I asked.

“No, this is a code-yellow emergency. Lock down is only for code red.”

“This is pretty bad. What qualifies for a code red?”

“You don’t want to know,” she said. Got it.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that when a six-year old comes home from school singing about losing her bra in the back of her boyfriend’s car, it’s entirely appropriate to panic.

You often hear that communication is the key to good parenting. “Talk to your kids,” they say, and all will be well in the end. Just keep talking. That’s fine. But trying to explain that girls are not made out of Pepsi can be exhausting for a Dad, not to mention confusing and scary for a six year old.

Is there anything in our arsenal—short of moving to the wilderness and homeschooling them all—that can beat back the influence of Lady Gaga, Skins, sex education, condoms in the classroom, pre-marital sex, divorce, abortion, and all the rest?

Not much, I guess, except faith. Faith that we are demonstrating for them the kind of behavior that they will want to emulate. Faith, ultimately, that they are good kids and that our example and God’s love will be enough.

But won’t they rebel? Won’t they want to watch Skins all the more because it’s off limits? Probably. Maybe. Who knows? The best thing we can do for our kids, I suppose, is simply to show them how to live.

And, with any luck, the difference between good music and dreck.

From the February 2011 edition of Fairfield County Catholic, the monthly newspaper of the Diocese of Bridgeport.

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