After 10 years, it finally happened

How I became the ‘Mean Dad’

It looks like I’ve become the Mean Dad.

I’ve always said I didn’t want to be that overbearing guy who forced his kid into an extracurricular activity she may not want to take part in. But recently our family came to a crossroads where mom and dad had to be the heavy.

In short, there’s going to be violin music around our house for a little while longer, anyway.

Music has always been an important part of our family life. Since my daughter was born 10 years ago, there’s always been some kind of racket going on in the house. It’s been me thumping away on my Fender Precision bass, rattling the windows with an incredible lack of innate funk, or frightening my then-toddler (and displeasing my wife and probably most of Rockingham County) with the cacophonous howl of Great Highland Bagpipes. I won’t even go into detail about my tragic banjo experiment.

So it was no surprise that my daughter wanted to try playing a musical instrument when she got into school. She came home from school one day and said she wanted to play violin.

I thought this was a great idea. I’m a big Irish music fan, so I had visions of her effortlessly bowing through “The Parting Glass” while I put some peat on the fire and her mother mended fishing sweaters.

But because this is 2013 New Hampshire and not 1800s Galway, that was rather silly. Especially since it evidently takes a while to get good at the violin.

That’s where Mean Dad comes in.

At first she’d spend 15 minutes every other night sawing away on a tiny violin fitted to her petite stature. A year later she played “Boil ’em Cabbage Down” with her friend Michael at the summer rec talent show. This past Christmas she played a solo at the school’s holiday concert that blew us away.

Then the unexpected bombshell from the back seat of the car one night on the way home from hockey practice: “Daddy, I don’t like practicing violin anymore.”

I could see the cliché playing out in front of me: I’d yell at her, telling her to get back to her music while her friends played just outside the window. The main problem with that scenario though was that I rarely yell about anything except the Bruins.

I didn’t really have an immediate answer, so we talked about it for a while. It seems that intense, 45-minute practice sessions were really wearing her down and taking the fun out of it. She was playing Bach minuets over and over again for nearly an hour every night. She didn’t really want to quit, she was just starting to really hate practice.

Mean Dad told her that since she committed to playing, she’d have to see it through the end of this year at least. I told her I’d heard the same story a million times – friends who started an instrument as a child, gave it up, and regretted it as an adult. So Mean Dad decided that continuing would be a good idea regardless. We needed to figure something out.

After a very reasonable back-and-forth, some schedule changes and a few concessions on Mean Dad’s part, we’ve come to a happy resolution. We’ve broken her practice times up into smaller, more easily digestible parts, and we’ll often hear Coldplay or Taylor Swift tunes mixed in with her violin homework. It’s certainly made practice time a lot less stressful.

And when she Googled the sheet music for “The Parting Glass” recently and whipped through it perfectly the first time, I had to feel like being Mean Dad wasn’t so bad after all.

Bill Burke is a writer who lives in southern New Hampshire with his wife and musically inclined daughter – both of whom vetoed any further attempts at bagpipe lessons.

Categories: Dad on Board