June 14, 2012

Beautiful Freak

You're such a beautiful freak
I wish there were more just like you
You're not like all of the others

Schuyler has always loved music, which is no surprise given that she's been surrounded by it from day one, and I've always sung to her. In recent years, we've sung to each other, in those moments we share alone. Schuyler and I spend a great deal of time together, particularly once she's out of school. She accompanies me to work most days, and in the long car ride, we sing, a lot.

The other day, we were singing an Eels song, which is hardly surprising to anyone who knows us. The music of Mark Oliver Everett has always been ours, Schuyler's and mine together, ever since she was a baby and I would sing My Beloved Monster and Me to her. It was fitting; she was my strange little monster, even before I knew why, and we really did go everywhere together, as we still do today. As she grew older, particularly in the dark days after her diagnosis, I would sing her to sleep with The Stars Shine in the Sky Tonight ("It's not where you're coming from / It's where you're going to / And I just wanna go with you…"), thinking of a future where she might have to go forward without me, or me without her.

But this week, it was a simpler, happier song, Beautiful Freak. Every time I sing it to her and point to her, she laughs, and the way she sings it back to me, in her strange tongue that so few in the world are privileged to hear and even fewer to understand, it makes my heart soar. We have so many nicknames for each other (her current favorite for me is "Daddy-O", which I adore beyond description), and few of them are gentle. Dummy. Butthead. Buggin. Space Monkey. Freak.

And that is why I love you
Beautiful freak, beautiful freak
That is why I love you
Beautiful freak, beautiful freak

"Daddy," she asks, "Am I a freak?"

I look at her face carefully, searching for anxiety. Is this a word she's heard before, from the lips of mean kids? But no, there's nothing there. She's smiling. She just wants to talk.

I want to say no, but it doesn't feel like the right answer.

"We're all freaks," I say. "Everyone in the world feels like a freak sometimes."

"Is it bad?" she asks.

"It's not bad," I say. "Sometimes people use that word to be mean, but it's only mean if you take it that way. Everyone is different, and you're more different than most, you know? That's why you're my beautiful freak."

Some people think you have a problem
But that problem lies only with them
Just 'cause you are not like the others

I've always maintained that the only things I could really promise Schuyler are love and the truth. And so I've never pretended that she's not different, or that her difference wouldn't be difficult to bear sometimes.

Schuyler knows she's different. And when we sing, when she's a beautiful freak and she's loved for it, she's okay with it. It's a hard life for her, and it's not going to necessarily get that much easier, but it's hers and she's making her peace with it.

And I think it's pretty clear that Schuyler has figured something out about her father, something that the song reaffirms but which she's probably known all along, longer than I've been aware, even.

She knows that my love for her runs even deeper because she's different. That her difference fuels my affection in a way that is impossible to understand or define.

Too good for this world
But I hope you will stay
And I'll be here to see
That you don't fade away

When Schuyler and I move through the world together, we do so in a way that is different from her other relationships. It's different even than those moments when anyone else is around. Schuyler gives her attention to others in a way that can be intense; I can only assume that there are a few restraining orders in her future. But when it's just the two of us, when no one else is there, we occupy a space that is ours and ours alone. Schuyler holds my hand when we drive. She claims one shoulder for her own and just holds on. We share food and we sing songs and we say snotty things about other drivers. We find vending machines and eat bad snacks. We count airplanes overhead, every day.

I frequently write about Schuyler as a child with a disability because that's the thing that we struggle with the most, and the thing that speaks to a larger community the most clearly. But it's important to understand that the experience isn't hard because of her. It's hard because of the world. It's hard because society requires her to fit, in a way that she doesn't do easily, and while I would love to change the world, that's not ever going to happen, not to the extent that it should.

I can't change THE world, but I can try to change hers, to build a space around her where she can exist on her own terms, at least enough to regroup and recharge before she goes back into the fray, back into a land of passing, of trying to fit, and of trying to hold her head up while a dumb world expects her to apologize for being a beautiful freak. I can try, for as long as it is within my power, to see that she doesn't fade away.

You're such a beautiful freak
I bet you are flying inside
Dart down and then go for cover

Schuyler needs to be enabled. She needs to be given tools to communicate, options for freedom, opportunities to love and be loved. Schuyler could be an amazing big sister to someone, and she is easily the very best friend that anyone could have if only they would ask her to be. Given the right environment, Schuyler will thrive. She will grow wings and she will fly away, far from the doubters and far from these who would limit her and diminish her value and her humanity with their lack of vision.

And far from me one day. I hope that she can, even as I hope she never does. For like every other dad since the beginning, it is the fate of this father's heart to be broken, in ways I could never see coming, and could never, even in my most selfish moments, ever deny my beloved monster.

And know that I
I love you
Beautiful freak, beautiful freak


Robby said...

Duuuuude. Just...wow.

Robby said...

Duuuude. Just....wow.

Niksmom said...

Exquisite, Rob. Simply beautiful.

Unknown said...

I love your statement about it being hard because of the world, not because of Schuyler. We're all freaks, but only the cool ones let their freakiness shine!

anne said...

Niksmom said what I would say. Thank you so much for sharing part of your heart - and your beautiful girl - with us.

Omar said...

That was wonderful.

Omar said...

That was wonderful.

Diane P said...

Through my tears, I am smiling. Thank you for always sharing in a way that's so easily understood.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, thanks for sharing

Laura D said...


Joyce said...

This was beautiful. Music is so important. I think of you and Schuyler every time I hear Natalie Merchant's "Wonder". :-)

I really appreciate how candid and transparent you are about the special things the two of you share. I think the world is a better place for all of us because you, Schuyler, and people like you are in it.

Lyn said...

She's a lucky girl to have a dad like you, but you are an even luckier dad. She is the sweetest

The Journey said...

Nice, you made me cry before work. ;)

Julia Roberts said...

Yes. Indeed. It's about the world.

And we all are freaks.

krlr said...

A friend of mine & I have a (not very funny) joke about quirky people - I fear the people who embrace that idea aren't going to be the problem in high school. Also gratzie for the music suggestion!

Penny said...

This was really beautiful. I love your words about creating a world with her that's yours alone, that is safe and loving. We all need that place in our lives. Happy Fathers Day, Rob.

Kathy W. said...

Beautiful--and I'm sure Schuyler feels the same way about her relationship with you. Her difference allows her to be close to you in a less-fraught way than most kids can be with their parents at that age. Lucky both of you!

Happy father's day!

Mary said...

Happy Father's Day, Rob. You savor being a parent and the minutiae of day to day life better than most anyone I know. I wish more people "got that". Whatever the situation, that's what relationships are about.

Unknown said...

I love you for loving her like that. I also love Natalie Merchants' song "Wonder" and feel as though it applies to many of the students I teach who all deserve to be loved the way you love Schuyler. Happy Father's Day Rob, this is what a father should be, a person who sees the wonder and specialness in their child, especially the child who is more different than most.

Teri said...

Might be my favorite post you've written.

Teri said...

Might be my favorite post you've written.

Christine said...

From Grace Lines...you're welcome! I hope my post somehow helps you on your journey to Chicago:-) Good luck to you and your family--I'll keep reading!

Susan Oloier said...

I so like the idea of changing her world because you are so right: we can't change in any significan way the world outside of us.
Lovely post.