Parenting: What I Learned From Lil Wayne

article image

Nearly everything comes with an instruction manual, except the one thing that perhaps should:  children.  After-all, look at the topics covered in most manuals – safety, programming, and troubleshooting – who could better benefit from these instructions than a parent?  But instead of being supplied with a one-size-fits-all set of directions upon their birth, we have to rely on our own instincts, writing our own manuals as we go through a grueling on-the-job training process.  Sometimes we get it right; sometimes we make mistakes along the way. 

Everyone, now turn to Chapter 497:  What To Do When Your Daughter Wants To Go To A Lil Wayne Concert. 

Lil Wayne, for those of you who might not know – and if you don’t know, any teenager will accuse you of having lived under a rock for at least the last decade – is a wildly popular rap artist.  He has been described as being to rap what Michael Jackson was to pop.  And he is, in my opinion, the writer of some of the most vulgar and offensive song lyrics that I have ever had the displeasure of hearing. 

I would have remained blissfully oblivious to exactly how vulgar his lyrics are except my daughter, Shelby, started listening to his music a few years ago.  I might admit to finding some of his plays on words and puns clever, if they weren’t surrounded by profanity and sentiments that are sexually degrading to women.  Keith and I wondered where we went wrong in writing the “programming” chapters of our child’s instruction manual – Shelby was raised on my alternative metal and his classic rock preferences.  But rap?  Isn’t that gang music that promotes violence, and sees women as being nothing more than sex objects?  Doesn’t it glorify drinking, drugs, and other means of self-destruction – all the “things which happen to be a major problem among many children today” as is the claim of an on-line article titled “Is Rap Actually Music or is it a Bad Influence”.

It’s sex, drugs, and roll ‘n’ roll, baby!  Wait a minute….that phrase was coined way back in 1977, years before Lil Wayne was even born.  “Is Rap Actually Music or is it a Bad Influence” continues to complain “that half of the time they are yelling their lyrics in such a loud and annoying way you may not be able to really understand what they are saying.”  Who wrote this stuff?  My mother?  Those were her exact words thirty years ago….and she wasn’t saying them in reference to rap.     

I wonder if Mom worried my brothers and I were going to start biting the heads off bats because we all listened to Ozzy?  Probably not.  My brother says Mom purposefully kept herself blissfully oblivious to the music blaring from our rooms, each of us trying to out-blast the others.  I think it was a way of preserving her sanity.

My sanity has certainly been tested these last few years.  Call this the troubleshooting section of the child’s manual; I’ve constantly talked to Shelby about the offensive nature of Lil Wayne’s lyrics, worried that she may be taking them to heart.  “Mom.”  (I always know I’m about to get a lecture when she starts off by making “Mom” a complete sentence.)  “They’re lyrics, not conversational speech.  It’s music – not words to live by.  Give me credit for knowing the difference.”       

Yeah, but….

“What about your “screamo”, Mom?  You actually mute parts of the songs you listen to when my friends are in the car, because the lyrics are so offensive.  Yet you listen to it.  You taught me a long time ago, that song lyrics don’t have to be taken personally.  You can like the music without agreeing with the message.”

Okay.  She’s got me there.  “Disturbed”, “Mudvayne”, and “Godsmack’s” lyrics don’t exactly exude warm-fuzzies, but I don’t walk around in a dark and angry mood just because I listen to them.  And I never once considered biting the head off a bat during my Ozzy days.  Still, I hated the fact that Lil Wayne is her favorite musical artist. 

When she first mentioned she wanted to go to a Lil Wayne concert for her “Super Sweet Sixteen” birthday, I said, “We’ll see.”  To me that meant “never in a million years”; she somehow interpreted it to mean “yes”.  This was two years ago, and she persisted until I came up with some stipulations.  Her plan was that we’d fly to wherever Lil Wayne was playing, see the concert, and stay in a hotel for the weekend.  I told her I’d pay for her concert ticket and mine, as well as the hotel, but she had to pay our airfare and any incidentals.  Her friends had to pay their own way.  Even though she had two years to save, given the amount of her allowance, I figured it was mathematically impossible for her to come up with the money.  Not to mention I guessed that the parents of any friends she wanted bring would never agree to such an idea.  My plan, I thought, was fool-proof.

Nothing is fool-proof when it involves the will of a teenager.

Shelby is a master of her own form of “bait and switch”.  I’m not sure, but I think part of this stems from another of my fool-proof plans that back-fired.  A few times when she was younger, about 9 or 10 years old, I required that she write essays convincing me that something she wanted to do or get, was either necessary, or had some redeeming quality that would impact her in a positive way.  I can’t remember the topics of these essays, but it’s my belief she’s taken this simple idea, twisted it and honed it to a fine skill.  In more recent years, there was the power-point presentation, complete with pie-charts and graphs on the benefits of owning a pet pig.  This was followed up a few months later with the same type of presentation on the benefits of owning a dog.  We got the dog.  The lip piercing presentation was followed by me taking her to get an industrial (a diagonal bar from the top of her ear to its outer edge).  My “no” to the second request for a lip piercing, resulted in a less visible tragus (a very thin ring in the piece of cartilage directly in front of the ear canal).  I am positive she makes an outrageous first request based on the assumption that Keith and I will say no, then follows it up with something she knows we’ll see the lesser of two evils. 

Lil Wayne announced his concert schedule the beginning of this year.  Among the schedule were shows in New York, Florida, California – all places Shelby’s wanted to visit.  And Detroit.  Nearly six months before her sixteenth birthday, and hundreds of dollars away from her goal of saving enough airfare to travel to one of these other places, she did the “lesser of two evils” bait and switch thing on me.  We’d both save money by going to Detroit; there was no need for airfare or hotel, she reasoned.  We’d drive, and stay with my brother.  “You’d get to spend time with your family, Mom.”                      

I did not want to go to a Lil Wayne concert; I didn’t want Shelby to go either.  Here, I just could have said no.  But what example would I set?  I’d be a hypocrite, going against the very things I’ve tried to teach her since she was a young child:  you do not make promises you have no intention of keeping, do not say things you don’t mean, and you always follow through with your commitments.

Detroit may not still be considered “The Murder Capital of the World”, but it is listed in the top ten most dangerous American cities.  Although the concert arena was in suburban Detroit, and not in the city itself, there was still the safety issue to consider.  Me, Shelby, and her life-long friend, Josh, would be lost in the middle of all that rampant sex, drugs, and violence.  A middle-aged woman and two small town teenagers – I imagined we’d stick out like a sore thumb and be the target for all kinds of harassment.

All those preconceived notions of mine couldn’t have been more wrong.  The arena filled with a wide range of people – white, black, young, old, and everything in between.  I was certainly not the only middle-aged parent; entire families were in attendance.  For nearly 4 and a half hours, people of all ages and races danced and sang along to some of the most offensive lyrics I believe were ever written.  No one sat; not for a single minute.  Neither did I see a minute of violence, or anything else inappropriate.  I was amazed.  Using my Mom amazing selective hearing super powers, I was able to tune out the vocals and actually had a good time watching the crowd, and the excitement on Shelby and Josh’s faces. 

So what exactly did I learn from Lil Wayne?  Nothing, actually.  I did not walk away from the concert with a new-found respect for his music, though I do admit he is a charismatic performer with a million dollar smile – multi-million dollar, actually; it probably has something to do with his diamond encrusted teeth.

The experience though, reinforced what I already knew, but might have needed a little reminder.  Stereotypes are prejudgments based on ignorance.  Music, no matter the genre, has and will always be a way to bring people together.  I don’t have to like it, agree with it, or even condone it, but as a parent, I have to let go a little and trust that Shelby is the responsible, intelligent young woman that I know her to be (she was just accepted to the National Honor Society, the proud mom beams).  She happens to have very bad taste in music, (in my opinion).  But just as I never ran out and bit the head off a bat, my daughter is not going to run out, join a gang, and live a life of sex and violence.  Neither of us is that kind of person, and music, though a powerful medium, does not have the power change our basic make-up.             

Oh!  Wait.  Maybe there is something I learned.  Shelby gave a computer presentation of the merits of owning a pet boa constrictor.  It was recently followed up with a presentation of the smaller, less imposing corn snake.  She’s getting neither.