Today, a peek inside what my life is like these days. It’s apropos for Father’s Day since, this month, so much of my time is spent as Stay-At-Home-Dad to Adelaide, now three-and-a-half. She’s fearless and rambunctious, jumping all over the place and often on me. That requires a lot of attention: There’s stopping her from hurting herself, stopping her from hurting me, feeding her (although there’s stuff she helps herself to), cleaning up after her, and making sure she wipes. There’s also more fun parental things, like asking and answering questions, reading to her, blowing dandelions, playing any number of games, holding a doll and doing its voice in conversation, tea parties, dress-up, trips to the zoo. Adelaide doesn’t sleep as many hours as other children; for me, that means a lot of focus, keeping my mind on her as well as my eyes for long stretches.
Picture a switch: One side is labeled “interaction with daughter” and the other, like this blog, is labeled “musings on musicals.” Whenever there’s a moment when my little girl doesn’t need my full attention, my mind is instantly on musicals. Sometimes, it’s the ones I’m writing. Often, it’s a point brought up on a musical theatre message board. And, as you might have guessed, there’s coming up with what to say on this blog, or the other.
Does this sound weird to you? It does to me! Thursday, for instance, I thought I’d have Adelaide all day. Then my mother-in-law said she’d left something at our house and, the next thing I knew, there was an impromptu granddaughter-grandmother outing. The moment they were gone I snapped into action, running to the piano. I discovered Adelaide had scribbled on many pages of my music notebook, but I wrote around them. And that image sums up my whole existence: I get creative stuff in, when I can and where I can, around Adelaide.
I’m also writing this Thursday afternoon.
This makes me something of a musical minuteman. If my break from fathering comes unexpectedly, the creativity must instantly start. And end. Although, somehow, I’m always grateful for an excuse to stop writing. When I’m alone in the house, it’s my one chance to get at the piano. (A piano is not essential to my compositional process, but it’s nice to have the opportunity to have fingers on keys.) When Adelaide finally falls asleep, after nine most nights, I silently work on a lyric. Of course I’m pretty sleepy by then. Actually, I’m pretty sleepy now, so the next couple of segués might seem forced.
Turning it on like a faucet brings to mind the quip that Richard Rodgers pissed melody, attributed to Noel Coward. Does that sound like Coward to you? Both created a massive amount of work for the stage, and I think people tend to forget the discipline that requires.
In the last several years, Richard Rodgers’ daughters said all sorts of horrible things about him. They considered him cold and distant, not focused enough on his family. This is so disturbing to me. We who appreciate musical theatre hold Rodgers in the highest regard. No writer did more to innovate and advance the form; no composer was more successful and influential. His artistic accomplishment is so gargantuan, this accusation – and it’s about being uninvolved, nothing untoward – seems piddling, picayune. Mary Rodgers, who composed Once Upon a Mattress, passed away a year ago at age 83, and I must confess a certain relief that this put an end to her saying things like
There is a home movie of Daddy with me when I was 10 months old or so out in Hollywood. There’s a really handsome, loving, funny guy lying in a pair of swimming trunks on the grass playing with this baby, with a kind of good-natured, silly joy that I had never seen in my life because I was too young to remember that. And I looked at it and thought, God, where did that man go and why did I never see him? That charming-looking handsome kid turned into a wizened, sad, deer-in-the-headlights person.
On Father’s Day, I naturally think about what it is to be a father. I recommit to staying fully engaged in my daughter’s life, for the rest of my life. Like the switch I described above, there’s an effort to be like Richard Rodgers as a musical theatre writer, and to not be like Richard Rodgers as a dad.
The three of us just watched Mary Poppins, and we parents were particularly moved by the father’s realization that he’d been flipping the switch with too much emphasis on career, too little on children. This is what I’ve been writing about over the past year, and my hat’s off to the Sherman Brothers and screenwriter Don DaGradi for putting it out there so movingly. When the film came out, over 50 years ago, families with two working parents were uncommon; it’s the norm today. More people feel pulled in both directions. I’m hoping to tap into the zeitgeist around this – it’s certainly very emotional – and it’s surprising to me that there hasn’t yet been a musical addressing working moms and stay-at-home-dads.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I have a favorite show tune to sing to Adelaide at bedtime. It is, in fact, the first song I ever sang to her, during that time they take the newborn away from the new mom to bathe her. It’s called Sleepy Man, from The Robber Bridegroom, and I always switch genders. There’s a line in it that particularly moves me, particularly feels true to my life.
Not a man I know has a better deal than my life with you, sleepy girl.
The observations, the creative actions, the ways-to-play my daughter comes up with, regularly, inspire me each day. I’ve a new idea for a musical I never would have thought of if I were unaware of the things she’s passionate about. Now, how to make an audience passionate about it too?