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Atlanta Magazine, August, 2004

My son, I am sorry to say, is a heckler.

About five years ago, when he was in his early 20s, I took him to see Star Wars at The Fox Theatre—a sort of nostalgic recreation of our going to see the original movies when he was a kid. At the point when Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke Skywalker that his father is dead, my son shouted: “Liar!” Everyone in The Fox broke into laughter. I punched him in the arm, like any good father would.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when he shouted during the graduation speech at the University of Georgia’s spring commencement. We sat in Sanford Stadium in Athens, watching my daughter graduate, and listening to the commencement speaker, Dan Amos of AFLAC, who urged the graduates to follow their dreams, referring to Matthew 6:21, which says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

As Amos spoke, my son shouted, “Do not seek the treasure!” It’s a line from the Coen brothers movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? My son, who’s quite a mimic, delivered the line in the precise accent used by actor John Turturro. I didn’t hit him this time because I agreed with him. I laughed raucously.

One man’s heckling is another’s wisdom for the ages. As the parent of a recent college graduate, I want to urge the thousands of Atlanta parents who are bundling up their children and taking them off to college this month to tell their offspring, in no uncertain terms: “Do not seek the treasure.”

I say this because my 23-year-old daughter, who just earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, is pursuing her dream—to be a rock and roll singer. I’ve got no one to blame but myself. Throughout her life, I have told her to pursue her dreams. I even sent her the book Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow. All parents say this stuff: “Follow your heart!” “Do what you love!” But none of us really mean it. No parent expects a kid to take them up on that baloney; we expect our kids to become accountants or stock brokers or lawyers—something secure!—anything but rock singers. We expect them to have careers and 401(k) plans. This is America. You’re supposed to get a job and suffer.

My daughter has a great day job as a laboratory scientist, but she’s already complaining: It’s so hard to work in a lab at 8 a.m. when I was singing in Gainesville a few hours earlier, I can’t get to sleep, blah, blah, blah...

I went to see her play a couple of months ago at Tasty World, an establishment across the street from UGA’s north campus. Her band, Umpteen—so named because they’re the “umpteenth” band in Athens, a college town that is home to more than 300 rock groups—had been invited to play because one of their songs was featured on a CD produced by Pigpen Studios. A couple hundred kids were jammed into the place.

She wore jeans and a black cotton blouse. A friend had helped her apply thick showbiz makeup. She wore sandals and had a ring on one of her toes. I can’t stand that but figured Tasty World wasn’t the right place to bring up her accessories. Someone handed her a drink that looked suspiciously alcoholic. She knocked it back and cursed into the microphone, but it was sort of a happy curse. She said, “S—t, y’all!”

After four years of private school and five years at UGA, my daughter is standing in front of a crowd of strangers with a ring on her toe, drinking gin and saying, “S—t, y’all!”

And you wonder why I say “Do not seek the treasure”?

I tried to put on a happy face. “That’s my girl!” I said to the stranger beside me. Umpteen played seven or eight numbers, closing with my favorite, “Auto Pilot,” and got a good round of applause.

So, where do we go from here? Does she keep her day job? Does she try to get signed by a record label? The other day the band met this guy who knows this guy who produces Janet Jackson. I couldn’t help but recall the Super Bowl nudity episode. I don’t understand how Janet’s father can stand it.

I can see many places along the way where I should have shut my mouth and let my daughter be content to become a scientist—but I didn’t. She started singing at Sutton Middle School, which has a marvelous music program. She sang at church and Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. She went to Paideia, where participation in the arts is highly encouraged. I encouraged her, too. I paid for voice and guitar lessons. With the money I saved on college tuition, thanks to the HOPE scholarship, I bought her an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, a banjo, amps and boxes that contain circuitry that does things I can’t even imagine. And now she just sings.

“I don’t like playing guitar when I sing,” she says. Kiss $5,000 goodbye!

My son works as a consumer advocate battling insurance companies and other shady businesses. But he’s a musician too: 29, plays bass guitar. He’s in a band that has performance block—they practice all the time but never seem to go out and play. When he was a teenager, my son was a member of a fine punk band called Level Head. I went to see them at the Somber Reptile at the corner of Northside and Marietta. They were one of the last punk bands to play there; the owner finally banned punk rock because the musicians and their fans kept ramming their heads through the walls.

That’s my boy!

Level Head booked their own national tour and roamed the country in a 1978 Oldsmobile. The band was good. They’re on a great compilation of punk bands covering 1980s songs. Level Head covered a song by Men at Work. Alas, I can’t possibly repeat the title of the CD, even if I leave out the vowels.

My kids know that I was briefly—very briefly—in a rock group in the sixties. It was called The Figs, and had some decent musicians and a terrible singer: me. We had one gig, at Callanwolde, and I sang so badly—I mean BADLY—that I was too embarrassed to try it again. I was nervous and off-key. I did so poorly that when I sang “G-l-o-r-i-a,” I misspelled it. I’ve also tried acting and comedy. I’m worse at those than singing. I now stick to my day job—writing—which isn’t much of a day job. When I told my parents I was going to be a freelance writer, they hung their heads in shame.

I don’t know where this will lead, but if you ever see a CD by a group called Umpteen, please buy it out of pity for a father who handed out a little too much advice.

Update: Caroline Monroe has left Umpteen and is now a country music singer, based in Athens. She has performed in nightclubs in Athens, Nashville and Sydney, Australia.