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What I Learned Listening To ‘Hamilton’ With My Kids

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For my family, this summer included many road trips. We visited and stayed with old friends in Massachusetts and near Washington, D.C. We went to Hershey’s Chocolate World and Dutch Wonderland in Pennsylvania with new friends. We made our way up to Toronto, stopping along the way in New York’s Finger Lake Region for hiking, and on our return trip in Seneca Falls to learn about women’s history.

But, mostly this summer was about Hamilton. No, we didn’t score tickets to see the show on Broadway. Rather, at the beginning of the summer, knowing we planned to take a number of car trips, I made the decision to download the original cast recording and introduce it to my children. We listened to it on the road, at home, with friends, alone.

Here’s my conclusion: Hamilton’s acclaim is richly deserved and more. Not only because it is hands down the best rap music I’ve heard since the late 1990s. Not only because it is a brilliant accounting of our country’s origins and founding, and of the debates that still split this nation, one which inspires all of us — children included — to learn and care about these issues. Simply, Hamilton masterfully covers what seems like the entire range of human emotion and experience and for that reason is one of the best parenting tools I have encountered.

It has been said that children thirst for and are captivated by rhymes and repetition. Hamilton is bountiful with both of these things, and my own daughters, 6 and 4, are building their vocabulary and improving their MC skills thanks to Hamilton. As for rhymes, they come at you “non-stop,” and often “amaze and astonish.” And, as with Star Wars’ soundtrack (another favorite in my household), characters are often reintroduced to us throughout the show by a repetition of their individual theme. Eliza Schuyler is “helpless”; her sister Angelica is never “satisfied”; Hamilton’s friend turned foe Aaron Burr always opts to “wait for it”; Alexander Hamilton is not “throwing away his shot.” Many other themes and phrases also repeat through the songs, in a sense, knitting the narrative together.

It has been said that children thirst for and are captivated by rhymes and repetition. Hamilton is bountiful with both of these things

Murray Goldberg from The Goldbergs
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Is there a better way for children to learn about history, or the highs and lows of the human condition than through pulsating rhyme? I think not. Through Hamilton, I have not only had the opportunity of discussing the ideals of this nation with my children, the reasons we revolted against King George, or how we arrived at the fundamental principles and rules that guide us. We’ve discussed poverty, ambition, hope, hard work, failure, family, friendship, bravery, love, fear, sadness, loss, anger, the joy of marriage, sisterly devotion, the value of boldness and pursuing goals, the virtue of patience, the promise of New York City and this country, the reality of war, death. Above all, Hamilton constantly reminds us “how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

But, I want to highlight a few songs that I think are universal, particularly relevant to parents and children, and for that reason resonated with me. In “That Would Be Enough,” Hamilton learns for the first time that his wife Eliza is pregnant with their son. Hamilton expresses that he is torn between his commitments to the fighting the revolutionary war and meeting his son, and he doubts his worth as a spouse and father because he lacks wealth. Eliza responds that his being alive is enough, that his surviving the war and “coming home at the end of the day” would be enough, and she hopes that their family could be enough. Again, in “Take A Break,” Eliza pleads with Hamilton to step away from his work to hear their son perform a song after dinner, and later pleads with him to leave his work in Congress for the summer to go on vacation.

Who among us has not doubted our worth because we don’t earn more money or don’t provide everything we wish we could?

While these songs are particular to Hamilton’s experience, including his surviving the war and dedication to creating a new nation, haven’t so many of us felt torn between our work and home? Who among us has not doubted our worth because we don’t earn more money or don’t provide everything we wish we could? Who among us hasn’t thought that our families could be enough, are in fact enough to sustain us through this life?

Perhaps one of the most touching songs a parent or child could hear, “Dear Theodosia” features Burr and Hamilton singing of their devotion to their children, their pride in them, and an acknowledgment of how, despite their great intelligence, they are left nearly speechless by their children’s mere existence. When their children smile they are “knock[ed] out” and they “fall apart.” Sound familiar? And, although both men speak of forging a strong new nation that they can pass on to their children, is this really so different than any of our dreams for our children’s future? Like Hamilton and Burr we are willing to “bleed and fight” for our kids to “make it right for them,” and we hope to lay a “strong enough foundation” in their lives that can be passed to them. We too wish to “give the world” to our children. Like these 2 founding fathers, we promise to “be around” even while admitting we’ll make “a million mistakes.” In return, we know that “someday” our children will “blow us all away” with their accomplishments.

Finally, “It’s Quiet Uptown” concerns the aftermath of the death of Hamilton’s son Philip in a duel. Any of us who have suffered loss can relate to the song’s first lines that “there are moments that the words don’t reach,” and “suffering too terrible to name.” We can all agree that just the idea of losing a child is, as the song tells us, “unimaginable.” And anyone who has grieved knows the sense of solitude, quiet, reflection, and prayer that Hamilton experiences and the fact there is “no replacing” that kind of loss. So, too, is it easy to imagine a parent wishing to “trade his life” for that of a deceased child, as Hamilton sings.

Hamilton’s story deserves to be told not only because he is a revolutionary war hero and founding father whose political ideas remain relevant today. We can learn from Hamilton as a father, a parent who went through the joys and fears all of us do every day as we traverse the battlefield of parenthood and life.

Ariel Chesler is a working dad, and an attorney and writer in New York. His work has been featured on Time, Huffington Post, Kveller, The Good Men Project, Ravishly, Role Reboot, and other outlets. He lives with his wife and 2 daughters, and one cat. You can follow him on Twitter @arielchesler.