Issue #239 / June 2023
My oldest child just turned 19.
When they were born, she was called Maisie. They are now calling themself Claude and using male pronouns. I struggle with it out of habit. I understand intellectually, but something has me resist calling the person who was once my daughter “him”. And as for Claude, well – I just don’t like the sound of it. I use nicknames. I work around pronouns. It is complicated. They have told me that it is like armor – a mask that makes them stronger in public – that they are a proud woman but feel more comfortable as “he”. with the state of traditional gender roles, it makes sense that this generation would rebel against them the same way that we rejected all manner of norms and mores. but this is not the point.
The point is that I have introduced my child to your work, and it has become a topic that we bond over. It started with Curse of Millhaven (which she began illustrating) and progressed. She texted me from the city bus today to tell me that Jubilee Street came on her playlist during her ride today, and she wept.
I received a text shortly after that which read “O Children” is on now – I think it is my third favorite.
To be fair, I really dismissed Lyre of Orpheus. I have mentioned why before. I couldn’t afford to buy records, I took it out of the library, it wasn’t where I was at, etc.. But my kid loved it, so I put the song on.
And I wept. I had actual goosebumps. That my child loves that song is beautiful. And that I can say to my child – this is something that I deeply understand as a parent and as a child – is something that I am so grateful for.
I was going to bother you to play all manner of old songs that I like when you play here in fall. Things that you will probably not play that I will feel clever for requesting. A Box For Black Paul. Knocking on Joe. Good piano songs. But instead, I will ask you to please play “O Children” in Minnesota, and if you think of it, please say that it is for Claude.
Damon, Saint Paul, USA
This beautiful love letter to your child is full of a common sadness that many parents feel when we lose our children to the world, as they grow up and step into their own notions of how they wish to be. It is the common parental anguish – a loss of control, or worse, a profound understanding that we never had control of them in the first place. I understand your conflicted feelings about losing a daughter and gaining a son, but I can also feel your awareness that the soul remains consistent and unchanging and that love, real parental love, runs eternal and unconditional through that soul.
It means a great deal to me that you found a common bond through Bad Seeds songs, and I can understand the allure of songs like O Children and Jubilee Street, these epic, defiant and complex songs of change and transformation. I found the final sentence of your letter particularly moving, implicit within it was the recognition of the great privilege it is to be a parent, and the awareness that as parents ultimately we exist at the behest of our children. You understand that often their gains are our losses, and although we fight for our children and want to protect them as best we can, there comes a time when we have to let them go, in acceptance and gratitude, to be as they wish to be. This is the supreme act of love and sacrifice. I would be delighted to play O Children in Minnesota and dedicate it to Claude.