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Punk rock is in the eye of the beholder.
For some, it carries the connotation of destructive young people, engaging in some weird ritual of self-flagellation. For others, it denotes a style of music that embodies the spirit of rebellion.
For me, punk rock is life.
Or, at least, it was life. What it means to me when I was 15 is drastically different than what it means to me now. However, punk isn’t a phase you grow out of easily. It provides a unique lens through which to view the world — and it is difficult to “unsee” it.
You may grow out of the youthful indiscretions that are typical in punk rock adolescence, the lessons it provides stay with you. And, oddly enough, punk rock prepared me to become a parent.
No More Heroes
At some point, I will no longer be my son’s “true north.” Hugs turn into eye rolls. My music selection will become lame and outdated.
Punk rock taught me that, as a new parent, I should start with the assumption that my kid is going to hate my guts at some point. As to what degree, I can’t say with much certainty. However, my child’s angst is as inevitable as death and taxation; you cannot avoid it.
Rather than ignoring or downplaying emotions, punk rock channeled our rage.
Often times, most of these outbursts were most likely the result of our own developing maturity. But, for some of us, our outbursts were the result of something deeper — something on a subdermal level that could only be articulated in a guttural or profane manner.
Punk provided that outlet for many of us. I see it as my duty to help my son find a similar healthy medium for this angst.
Anger Is A Gift
We sometimes gloss over the importance of anger as an emotion, especially with kids. Anger, like any emotion, is a natural reaction to our surroundings, but we encourage kids to “take a deep breath” and basically wait it out until it passes.
What attracted so many young people to punk rock was how it not only embraced anger, but also encouraged it. Rather than ignoring or downplaying emotions, punk rock channeled our rage. “Screaming at a Wall” by Minor Threat personifies this sentiment:
“I’m gonna knock it down
Anyway that I can
I’m gonna scream, I’m gonna yell
I don’t want to have to use my hands”
In this case, “use my hands” is an obvious reference to physical violence, which far too often is the end result of unchecked aggression. My role as a parent — teaching my son to find healthy outlets for his anger and only using violence as only an option of last resort — is more important than ever. Helping my child find a means to funnel this aggression into something constructive, whether it is sports, art, music, or writing.
If I cannot genuinely answer my child’s question of “why?” without resorting to “because I said so,” I am failing as a parent.
In an absence of constructive hobbies, destructive habits fill the void. Ignoring our anger is simply the act of rolling a small ball down a snow-covered hill. Early episodes seem trivial, but can build and build in intensity if not properly addressed. In fact, it can become toxic.
Wrong Way Kids
When you are a punk rock kid, you do punk rock things—many of which are not necessarily ethical or legal. With songs like “Beat on the Brat,” “I Don’t Want to Grow Up,” and “Orgasm Addict” serving as the soundtrack of our lives, hijinks were inevitable. (I’ll skip the details to avoid self-incrimination and statute of limitations.)
Let’s just say being a juvenile delinquent makes one well-equipped to identify and respond to juvenile delinquency at a later date. Every lie my kid is about to tell, I already told it. Every exit plan for sneaking out of the house at night, I’ve already got it staked out. And I am the equivalent of a bloodhound when it comes to figuring out whether you smell like cigarettes, weed, booze, or something worse.
I can also tell when you are starting to hang out with the “wrong kids.” I know because I used to hang with them too. They were the kids who overdosed, got arrested, and lived a lifestyle of destruction that inspired me to keep my nose clean.
I made mistakes so that my son won’t have to repeat them.
What helped keep me out of one form of troublemaking (e.g., petty crime, substance abuse, etc.) was engaging in a more accepted form of troublemaking: challenging authority figures and all of its abuses.
And this authority takes on many shapes — the teacher who provides a biased curriculum, the police officer whose only goal is to harass, and the politician who seeks only silence dissent. Even my authority as a parent—gulp — is worthy of skepticism.
I’m going to give my kid the benefit of the doubt that he is better at figuring out who he is as an individual.
For nothing more than tradition, we expect kids to genuflect to their elders without pause or question.
As I matured, I learned that there is such thing as “legitimate authority,” but such a title is earned meritoriously, not bequeathed as a birthright or obtained through force. Punk rock challenges me to legitimize my authority. If I cannot genuinely answer my child’s question of “why?” without resorting to “because I said so,” I am failing as a parent.
Furthermore, remaining defiant of power is a valuable first step in becoming an engaged citizen. In “Clampdown,” The Clash taught me, “Let fury have the hour, anger can be power/ D’you know that you can use it?” As we continue down an uncertain path of divisive politics and unrelenting authoritarianism, the world needs citizens who are informed and skeptical.
I am fully prepared to be called into the principal’s office on a regular visit.
Never Mind The Bollocks
Punk rock is not an exclusive club. The admissions requirements are far from restrictive: no pedigree, prior experience, or references are necessary. It doesn’t matter what race you are, whether you attend church, or what neighborhood you live in.
If there is anything that punk rock taught me, it’s the value of being your own person. And, more importantly, your individuality is not defined by anybody else or anything external.
I plan to carry this lesson with me as a parent. As a result, I will likely become the anti-helicopter parent. I won’t live vicariously through my child’s achievements. I will not brag with bumper stickers about my child making honor roll. (Well, that is, unless my kid starts a really killer band, and then I will totally put the band’s bumper sticker on our grocery-getter.)
However, my child’s angst is as inevitable as death and taxation; you cannot avoid it.
My kiddo won’t be pressured to be a status seeker. He certainly won’t be pressured to become valedictorian, varsity quarterback, or prom king. I’m going to give my kid the benefit of the doubt that he is better at figuring out who he is as an individual.
Growing up as a punker, you usually can’t imagine a life beyond the age of 21, let alone becoming a parent. There is a self-destructiveness inherent in the subculture. “There’s no future for me,” so the Sex Pistols song goes. To be honest, I’m 34 now, and I wasn’t planning on living this long. My 401k can attest to that.
Questionable financial skills aside, punk rock did provide me with the ability to maintain a sense of youthfulness, despite my male-pattern baldness and expanding beltline. As Against Me! laments in “I Was a Teenage Anarchist”: “Do you remember when you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire?”
Someday, my son will be ready to set the world on fire, and — thanks to punk rock — I will be ready for that day.
Jay Stooksberry is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Newsweek Magazine, Foundation for Economic Education, Independent Voter Network, and many other publications. He writes about his with passions for liberty, skepticism, humor, and parenting. When he’s not writing, he splits his time between marketing consultation, staying active in his community, and spending time with his wife and son. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.