OpEd Columns

There's Something About Little Girls That Turns Fathers Into Crooners (Indianapolis Star 6/18/05)

“Yeah, I love my baby, heart and soul. Love like ours won’t never grow old. She’s my sweet little thing. She’s my pride and joy.”
It was 8:22 am as I sat fiddling with my digital camera, anxiously awaiting the doctor to pull our new baby girl out of a c-section delivery into a new world.
Batteries work? Yep. My wife smiled with the glow of a properly placed spinal block.
Wait… Was that “Pride and Joy” playing on the speakers in the operating room?
Here she is ! Out came Emma Noelle, wailing, kind of messy, but seemingly squirming to the blues of Stevie Ray Vaughn. It was an odd, never envisioned moment. My first baby girl was just born into the world accompanied by a randomly appropriate piece of music chosen by a local rock jock.
I was expecting some nondescript new age music. Maybe a piece of forgettable Muzak. But the top rated morning drive show on the radio? Well OK, it worked.
Now, for some reason, I can’t hold Emma without singing to her.
Sure, I sang to my two boys when they were babies, but never pop music. Joel and Riley got the nursery staples. Patty Cake Patty Cake, or Mary Had a Little Lamb, maybe Away In The Manger during the winter.
Emma hears Stevie Wonder’s “You are the Sunshine of My Life”, or Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way”.
I sing a mean Lionel Richie. “Just to be close to you, girl…”
There must be something about little girls that turns fathers into crooners. And after a few decades of exposure to Top 40 radio, I have a library of singable hits residing like an overstuffed iPod in my brain.

Like most of America, I live in a never-ending soundtrack. It’s hard to go through a day without a tune resonating between my ears. Can’t make it out of the bathroom at work without humming a disco hit of the seventies. Can’t drive home in a quiet car.
Indeed, there are plenty of pop songs to choose from when singing to a baby girl. In fact, 97 percent of all pop songs are about women, girls, or nice looking strangers staring at you across the bar, beach, or dance floor. So it’s no wonder that just about any pop song can be sung to a newborn baby girl and make minimal sense.
The problem is that certain pop songs sneak through tiny ceiling speakers at the oddest times in our lives, stick in our inner conscience, and can never be removed. And therefore, never sung to an infant.
Why do I hear Engelbert Humperdinck’s After The Lovin’ and think of sitting terrified in the examining chair, staring at the hairy nostrils of Dr. Schue, my dentist in the fifth grade?
“So I’ll sing you to sleep, after the lovin’.” (The high- pitched whirl of a dental drill overtakes the tune at this point.)
And why do the words “Charlie Rich” conjure up the stench of stale cigarette smoke and the snippety-snip of clippers at Gary’s Barber Shop when I was eight?
“Hey, did you happen to see the most beautiful girl in the world…” (click, zzzzz,, goosebumps up my neck as the electric shaver takes off the peach fuzz.)
Of course, there’s a Kleenex box full of tunes associated with adolescent girlfriend breakups that are off limits. Suffice to say, Emma won’t be hearing anything from the group Journey.
The cord was cut. The nurses took Emma over to the baby warmer to clean her up, check her weight, poke and pry her just enough to really make her mad.
Her eyes stayed shut all this time.
Then, as she lay quivering on the antiseptic tray, Emma suddenly paused and ever so slowly opened one eye. A periscope into a new universe.
What a moment, I thought. What a moment for….KISS?
“I wanna rock-n-roll all night.,.and party every day, Yeah I wanna rock-n-roll all night…”
Uh, excuse me nurse. Could you turn the station please?

Ted Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.
Copyright 2004 Ted Mandell

<old fun informal home page>