Personal Ponderings: On Hamilton, and the Meanings of “Father” and “Son”
“Don’t call me son.”
I’m listening to ‘Hamilton: An American Musical’ this morning while driving to work. I often skip Meet Him Inside. I get… emotional. I’ve read that Lin-Manuel Miranda has a good relationship with his father. He must know someone who doesn’t though, that he could channel. His Hamilton has a view of those words, father and son, that only comes from hate and fear.
Hamilton’s father was, from all accounts, abusive, controlling, and then absent, having “split, full of it”. Father was not a concept that Hamilton liked. Father was not a title to bestow on a man who you looked up to. It was a swear word. And in the same token, so was son. I understand that concept well. Father was fear. Father was hate. Father was pain. I understood why other people used the term, but whenever it was suggested that someone could be a “father figure” to me, I always winced.
Mr. Meacham, the second grade teacher that got me into gifted testing and blew my mind with his kindness, taught me how to allow myself to think and feel.
Jim, the man who’s name I took as my own middle name by choice when I had to change my name to hide from “Father”, who taught me to ACT and not stand still, and how to decide when you do or don’t NEED to act.
Jeffrey, my step-father in spirit, if not in law, whose last name I bear proudly, who taught me one of the most important things I feel a parent can teach a child. Responsibility for one’s own actions.
Ron, who wanted to be a father figure to many, and taught me a very valuable lesson without realizing it, by showing to me the exact kind of man I did NOT want to grow up to become, a warning of what happens when arrogance and religion mix.
People call them “father figures” I like role models. For good or ill, they model a role, and you choose to emulate or forswear that role for yourself. Father is a swear word to me. And the word son is very much a swear word to me as well. I can’t STAND being called son by anyone other than my mother. And I still prefer Shorty or Bubba from her, if not my name.
“I’m not your son.”
I’m with Hamilton there. I’ve had it from teachers, from bosses, from older people in general. “Son” means wisdom about to be imparted, means a lesson, which to me means pain and fear and …. Don’t call me son. The word son means I’ve screwed up. It means I’m about to be hurt. Or worse, someone else is about to be hurt, to teach me a lesson.
“CALL ME SON ONE MORE TIME!”
That line always catches my breath. When I’m singing alone in the car, I scream it, with a lot more emotion than Lin-Manuel, ragged, and harsh, and I can’t finish the song. I shut up until the next song starts. Son is not something I like being called. And… not something I ever thought I would call another person.
Until I had one. And then two. Strong willed, bright eyed, almost impossible to fool. They see the world with a fascinating combination of the analytic styles of their mother and I, they feel the world with a heart unburdened, free of the pain that held mine prison, and yet with just as much empathic ability. They cause problems, they get into trouble, they make things up, they make stories, drawings, sculptures, art, song, they compliment people randomly, they often try to make strangers happy.
“Pride is not the word I’m looking for.There is so much more inside me now.“
They call me daddy. Not father, not often. The oldest, Flint, he’s called me father a couple times, sarcastically. But daddy does the trick. It catches me every time. It’s… its a good word, for them. When they say their name for me, it’s not out of fear. It’s out of love and hope, and I just want to do everything it takes to make sure that connotation never changes for them. The words father and son mean something different to me now. And yet, I still very rarely call either of them son. They are Flint and James. They are “my boys”, and not my sons. Because the word is hard on my lips, and I can only say it when I think only of them, and can then say it untinged with the hatred I have held so long for the word.
“Philip when you smile I am undone, my son. Look at my son.”
And you can see Hamilton feeling the same, as he has his own son, then daughter. Son is a title of pride. And yet, listen to the song. He’s testing the word out. “My Son”, and there are echoes in his voice, “Don’t call me Son.” The second time is clearer, he’s putting aside his hate of the word, because it means something new now. And Father, Father is something to be, a goal to make the word itself better for his children than it was for him, to make sure Father means that guy that was always around. And that’s what it means, right? To have kids? “If we lay a strong enough foundation.” To make sure their childhood, their world, is better than ours was.
Even if it’s just making sure that the words, father and son, never feel dirty to their lips. That’s a start. That’s growth enough.