Barry Manilow and parental influence

I was recently reading the liner notes for a Barry Manilow compilation album, and was struck by this passage:

His lifelong love of music was given a direction when his mother remarried Willie Murphy, a truck driver for Schaefer Brewery who brought a precious cargo of tunes into young Barry’s life. “He was the most sophisticated, and the most well-read and hippest man I ever met,” says Barry. “The first thing he did was toss out my accordion and get me a piano. The second thing he did was take me to a Gerry Mulligan concert. And from then on in, he turned my musical motor on.”

“It just stunned me,” he says now. “I had no idea that that’s what was out there.” Today Barry calls Willie’s record collection “this stack of gold that changed my life.”

Willie Murphy wasn’t even Barry’s biological father, but he evidently saw an opportunity to introduce Barry to a wider world of music. I can imagine his satisfaction watching Barry fall in love with something he already enjoyed. How deep their bond runs I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure a bond was created. Two people don’t share experiences like that and not come through it closer than before.

I find it interesting that this sophisticated, well-read, hip man was a truck driver. It’s not an occupation you would normally connected those adjectives with, but Willie Murphy obviously used his time differently than many truck drivers. Perhaps his job wasn’t intellectual, but it doesn’t seem to have stopped him from being one himself.

That’s one reason why I feel that as a parent I need to be looking around at what is out there that may be of interest to my children. I need to keep learning, keep exploring culture, keep broadening my horizons so that I can be ready if I see an opportunity to expand my children’s world.

It can take a lot of time, and sometimes it means putting up with some fairly inane stuff, but I’m glad my kids still want me to read the books they enjoy. How often do we get the chance to see what our kids like, what’s influencing their world-view? How often do we wish we could know what they are thinking? It’s not perfect, but taking an interest in the things they find interesting is a start, and it opens the door to deeper discussions.

It also helps me know what sorts of things they may be interested in so that I can introduce them to things they may enjoy. As I said, those moments of sharing can build bonds that last a lifetime. The older my kids get, the more important that becomes to me.

And quite frankly, I can’t think of too many things I’d like more than to have my kids describe me as “the most sophisticated, and the most well-read and hippest man I ever met.”

I can’t begin to thank my parents for their influence, mainly because it’s impossible to identify all the ways they’ve influenced me. But I know the music they raised me on played a major part in shaping my life. Similarly, we were raised with books all around us, and my mother regularly read to us. Books and music have been powerful touchstones throughout my life, and even though my career has always led in other directions, making music and telling stories are never far from my attention.

Never underestimate the power of a parent to influence their children.