I took my teen daughter to see Panic! at the Disco. We hit Barclay Center together for the show. The two people seated right in front of us taught me a lesson. Specifically, how to bond with a teen – my teen.
A man about my age sat beside his rainbow clad teen son. The boy wore a flowy cape and danced so that it wiggled to the music. He was the happiest teen I’ve ever seen. My daughter smiled when I told her this. She nodded in agreement. The boy’s father appeared less taken with the outfit and dancing. He seemed like a typical guy. Flannel shirt, dad bod, and brewski in hand. But, hey, he was there with his kid. Supportive. Present. His back was stick straight and so was his face at first. But that changed. He was going to learn how to bond with a teen tonight. It was destiny.
The show was exceptional. At one point, Brendan Urie (Panic! at the Disco’s lead singer) walked through the enormous, writhing mosh pit. He hugged teens, complimented funky fresh outfits, shared selfies, and sang with some. It was glorious fun to watch rainbow-clad kids crap themselves with joy. In fact, that was my favorite part of the show. I loved watching the fans. They were ecstatic at this rainbow festival of acceptance. Panic at the Disco has an overwhelming LGBT-friendly vibe. Rainbows litter the arena. It’s a color fest. Lovely. The kid in the rainbow cape thought it was lovely too. He twirled. His dad was less delighted.
Dad Learns to Bond With a Teen
When Urie played Bohemian Rapsody with powerful skill and beauty, the dad sat forward. This performance gripped him. He put the beer down and never picked it back up. The dad sang along. When the song was over he got out of his seat and clapped. He loosened. The rest of the show he stood and smiled. No, he wasn’t the happiest dad there. Some bedazzled dads danced and wore rainbow capes of their own. But this guy arrived stern and left happy. It was beautiful to watch that shift. He learned to bond with a teen – his son.
Nobody loves everything about their teens. Certainly not their rainbow capes and taste in music. But damn we love those kids. Spending time with them can be fulfilling not only because it’s our kid. But also because it helps us grow. That dad grew at that concert. He opened himself up to the experience and it brought him closer to his son. On the way out he put his arm around the rainbow cape. “That guy’s talented,” he said about Brendon Urie.
“That’s an understatement,” his son replied. My daughter laughed. She gave the kid with the rainbow cape a thumbs up.
Music Helps Bond With Our Teen
We bonded that night too. On the subway ride home I thought about Urie’s piano. When he finished walking through the crowd, Urie climbed onto a platform. At the back of the mosh pit his white piano waited on this platform. Urie sat at the piano to play Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love me. While he performed this heart-tugging masterpiece the platform floated toward the stage. It crossed that same mosh pit he’d traversed on the floor. Now he was above them. There was something so touching about it. I cried.
Bonnie Raitt’s Lyrics Helped
While we road home my daughter asked me why I cried. I told her because of the song. It’s about how little agency we have when it comes to love. Also, with Urie singing it to his fans, there’s a double meaning. We all want love. Adoration even. But performers want it most of all. Great ones know to put themselves out there.
They reveal their vulnerability onstage and in their music. Urie’s telling us, “Here I am. I want you to love me. But I can’t make you. I can only sing this song. I can pour my heart out on stage and give you my every ounce of caring. You can still choose not to love me.” That’s real vulnerability, I explained to her. It’s also strength and power. This is the difference between a mighty performance and half-assed BS. If you want to shine you gotta give it your all. If you want love you gotta show it. I cried because that’s a great reminder, I told her. It reminds me what matters. You want reward? Take that risk. Put yourself out there.
To Bond With a Teen Takes Effort
So, to bond with a teen, you have to put yourself out there a bit. It’s tough for me at times. I have this issue where I ask too many questions. It’s always been a challenge for me. I’m a curious person. I don’t much like talking about myself. That means I end up making tons of inquiries. This serves me in most of my life. Co-workers love to talk about themselves. Bosses love a curious employee. And most people enjoy talking about themselves. I’m weird in this way.
But teens are funny when it comes to this. They have fun filling out a zillion questionnaires online about their personality type. They know which Sex & the City character they are, though they’ve never seen the show. Still, if Mom asks them about their day it’s a major hindrance. I often get one word answers when I do this after school. A friend gave some advice though. She said when her teen gets home she mentions something specific about her own day. Maybe it’s a story about a crazy train ride or a quick funny anecdote. Often this gets her teen talking, she explained. It warms them up a bit.
That’s the thing about teens. They realize now that their parents are imperfect. We have flaws like everyone else. It’s easy for kids to see parents as iconic when they’re little because the world was so simple then. But that shine has dulled by teenage-hood. To teens, we’re ordinary people like everybody else. Gone are the essays about how I’m a hero. Sigh. I’m lucky, though. Sometimes I remember not to ask so many damn questions. I open up a bit about myself. This can work. My daughter tells me what’s going on. We’re not best buddies like in Gilmore Girls… but we have a real connection. I’m grateful for that.
Why Panic at the Disco?
When my daughter was a baby, bonding was easy. After all, I had her in my arms most of the time. Now she’s turning fifteen and I average a few hugs a week with her. My daughter spends a lot of time in giant headphones. I can’t complain, though. She’s a great kid. In fact, she teaches me new things all the time. Music is one of them. For instance, once in awhile I ask her what her current favorite song is. It’s a question I still allow myself. We all have our lazy parenting moments, after all. This one often pays off. She’ll play it for me. Sometimes the video and others only the song. This is a way of mini bonding – sharing stuff we like.
That’s how I learned about Panic! at the Disco. It’s one of her favorite bands. I doubt I’d have discovered them on my own. I love their fantastic lyrics, charismatic lead singer, and fun tunes. It’s good time music. My daughter loved telling me the history of the band. They started out edgy and alternative, she explained. Then Brendon Urie, the lead singer, developed it into a singular persona. So, he’s taken over the entire band. The music is more pop-centric and anthem now. But he’s as driven and successful as ever. In fact, he’s quite the performer. Urie owns the stage – shirt or no shirt.
I have a no BS policy and that’s including with my kids. It means I tell them the truth. I don’t mince around. Of course, I try to keep it positive but I don’t pretend to love stuff if I’m not into it. That’s why it was a delight when I liked Panic at the Disco so much. In fact, I bought us tickets to their show at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It’s a quick subway shot from our home. Of course, I offered to just give them to her. She could take a friend. But she knew I actually liked Panic at the Disco. So, she wanted us to go together. At times like this, parenting feels right. I appreciate these moments. They make it all worthwhile.