It is with some mixed feelings I force my youngest son, Adam, age 6, to take piano lessons.
I hated piano lessons when I was a kid. Practicing was horrible, a daily torture. Then to go to a conservatory, or (once) to have a flatulent older woman come to our home, put me in agony.
I remember to this day my lessons were on a Wednesday. I would begin to dread it on the day before, Tuesday, or even Monday. Sometimes Sunday! Dreading my piano lessons would actually cut into my weekend!
I remember sitting waiting for my piano teacher to show up at the conservatory, dreading to hear the clack-clack-clack sound of her high heels along the polished marble floors the way a condemned man might dread the sound of the approaching warden.
Once, as if in answer to my fervent prayers, she didn’t show! It was a miracle! (Turned out later she was sick.) All the rest of that day, the week, the air smelled sweeter, food tasted better, I was brimming with brio and self-confidence.
Net result of 6 years of solid torture? I can play the first, I think, four bars of “Fur Elise,” just like everyone else; and maybe two bars, right hand only, of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.”
So part of me finds it hard to answer, and not to sympathize when Adam says: “No, not piano lessons, Dad, oh, no I hate them, please not today.” And: “Oh, no, I don’t want to practice, I’m tired, I don’t feel like it.”
Why do we do it? I don’t even know anymore. Some vanished notion of it’s good for him. Or maybe it’s just like the Philip Larkin poem “This Be the Verse.” Do you know it? I hate it, in a way– Larkin was a famous child-o-thrope, he even one-upped W.C. Fields in this regard: he would say: “I used to think I hated everyone but when I grew up I realized it was only children I hated.”
But anyway, it’s quite catchy. I’ll have to excise a couple of letters since this is a family website, for a Poet Laureate he wasn’t afraid of the odd Anglo-Saxonism:
“They f*** you up, your mum and dad/They may not mean to but they do./They fill you with the faults they had/And add some extra, just for you.
But they were f***ed up in their turn/By fools in old-style hats and coats,/Who half the time were soppy-stern/And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man/It deepens like a coastal shelf/Get out as early as you can/And don’t have any kids yourself.”
But on the other hand, maybe he’ll just thank us some day.