“Do you want to know what’s my style, Daddy?” asked my eldest daughter as we headed toward the stage of the Song Festival Grounds. “Goth.”
“Goth?” I was perplexed. Why would this kid want to dye her hair black, wear make-up to make her face look pale, or get her eyebrow pierced? And where did she hear about goths anyway?
“Hey, why do you want to look like you are dead?” I said. “I think you like fine just as you are. Many women pay to have hair that looks like yours, you know. And you are going to dye it black? That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“Well, um, I don’t think I’ll dye my hair black,” she seemed to reconsider. “Maybe just wear black clothes.”
We were surrounded by legions of black-wearing youth that night, because it was the Lady Gaga concert. I bought three tickets: one for me, one for my daughter, and one for a friend, knowing only that they liked to sing Lady Gaga’s songs, a few of which I recognized from the radio, and that they would be so happy to see her. I also thought of it from a historical context. This was something of her generation. A significant event. Years from now she could tell people, “I saw Lady Gaga. I was there.”
So, you could say, I was unprepared for what was about to unfold. Not like I was alone. There were plenty of other kids there with their parents. And in the crowd I spied some respectable people too. There was the talented writer Loone Ots. And in the more expensive seats I glimpsed Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar, flanked by two young beautiful women drinking champagne. I can only wonder how Savisaar felt when he watched Gaga arrive in bondage gear on a horse borne by half-nude dancers, or when Gaga danced around with a fake machine gun flanked by plastic dead cows, or when she pulled up her skirt to show the crowd her ass and told them all that she, “Just didn’t give a fuck.”
“Daddy, she said the ‘f’ word again!” Marta squealed in half delight when she said it. “Why does she use the ‘f’ word so much?” “Because Lady Gaga is a bad girl,” I told her. “Bad girls like Gaga use that word.”
How did I like Gaga? The show reminded me a lot of Madonna circa 1991 when she came out with Erotica and her book Sex, though a bit less raunchy and more accessible for the masses, many of whom were probably not even alive in 1991. But the kids certainly didn’t care if she had stolen half her act from the Material Girl. They bopped their heads through “Alejandro,” “Poker Face,” and “Paparazzi.”
“Bad Romance” seemed to draw the most applause, and this is the song my daughter and her friends like to sing together most when they walk home from the Viljandi Waldorf School. I hoped there weren’t any parents from the Waldorf School in attendance at the concert. Maybe they would see me and scold me for taking my daughter to see Lady Gaga and not teaching her how to play the zither or recite poetry instead. Or maybe they were there, hiding from me the same way I was hiding from them, feeling guilty for indulging their children in such a guilty pleasure.
It made me wonder, was I a bad parent for bringing my child to such a place? Or would I have been a bad parent if I had not taken my daughter to see Lady Gaga just for the sake of trying not to be a bad parent? What is a bad parent anyway? Being a parent sure is confusing. But I have a feeling that even if I sent my daughter off to a nunnery in rural France, she’d still manage to scrap together a handmade communications device so that she could watch Lady Gaga videos on YouTube. In this way, Lady Gaga is not a yes or no choice. It’s more of a choice of how a parent reacts to Lady Gaga than if he or she allows Gaga into a child’s life because, no matter what, Gaga will find a way.
I do feel often that I am locked in a struggle between a desire to see my daughter grow up unscathed by the sordid side of life, and a mainstream culture that tells her major focuses should be style, hair color, finger nails, make-up, and pop music. How to find the balance? I don’t want to be a rigid father who she will loathe for the rest of her life, and I don’t want her to spend too much time playing Barbie dress-up online.
As a defensive act, I recently signed her up for a co-ed soccer team. I had hoped that by playing a rougher sport with boys, she might shed some of this image-obsessed girlie posturing that she has soaked up from the commercial glitz around her and nurture some other hardworking, goal-focused character traits. Instead, she told me that she doesn’t want to play soccer at all and would much prefer to go to dance class.
“Want to see my moves?” she asks with a twirl. It troubles me that she so flatly rejects soccer in favor of learning new dance moves but my wife says not to worry and that I should just embrace her for who she is. “Who knows,” she says with a shrug, “maybe she will grow up to be the next Lady Gaga …”