How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

Lullabyes

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A song for my son

My son is now three years old and, on occasion, he still asks for some “cuddles.” I will oblige as long as I can fit or carry him. And probably, force my hugs on him well beyond that…

Since he was born, he has fallen asleep in my arms on the couch, in our bed, in a wrap, a carrier, carrying him through the zoo and with his head on my shoulder, more times than I can count. He has grown accustomed to our contact. But the nighttime snuggles are extra special particularly because he has never been a good sleeper. Making him fall asleep and stay there, has required trying everything short of voodoo.

Our evening ritual typically consists, when Avara isn’t the snooze pilot, of rocking in the glider after reading a book (and by that, I mean five to ten of them), his little hands playing with my stubbly face (at which point he says, “prickly” over and over), and then watching his eyes slowly droop closed. Watching your child fall asleep is magical. I don’t care what people say.

But the lynchpin to this routine is something I’ve been doing since he was a swimming sea monkey in my wife’s tummy. I’ve been singing to him. I’m not a good singer, barely passable, but I loved letting him know I was there, so it continued. It became the fastest way I knew to get him to close his eyelids. I’ve sung countless songs, and most of them are not on the sleepytime jukebox. I chose, instead, to substitute the standard fare for off-color, less traditional picks.

Here’s a partial playlist:

Down in the Willow Garden

Raising Arizona is one of those formative movies for me. I watched it dozens of times with my father. We bonded over the Coens’ brand of humor and agreed on the need to satirize anything that had an ounce of preciousness, while still being sincere. Holly Hunter sings this song to her little Nathan Jr. and it’s both haunting and soothing in the same breath.

When I found out the lyrics, I was, um, surprised. But it’s filled with so much history. I altered a few words here and there, but the melody is well worth it.

MLK

This album and its successor are hugely important pieces of musical history for me. If I didn’t sing a U2 song to Finn, then I would probably get my head checked because the chances would be high that an alien was busy inhabiting my corpse.

Seriously.

I don’t believe you have to brainwash your children with tired lullabies that have been sung over and over to children for decades. There are only a few books I want to read over and over. Why would I sing a song over and over, if it didn’t have some impact on me?

ANYTHING BY PETER GABRIEL

This is one of Gabriel’s many songs that deserve airtime at bedtime. Peter, if I may be so bold, has a knack for melody that can be whisper-sung to great effect.

And it makes me think of the loud music playing as I fell as on the couch in my parent’s living room. Mom and Dad would dance, or sit reading and looking at records. These songs we sing countless times can be storytelling for us as much as our kids. They should be stories to entertain us so we can keep up the routine, the consistent attempts at getting our kids to sleep.

At least that’s what it has been for me.

The backstory on this song is particularly pertinent to this site.

A few more for good measure:
Oh Brother Where Art Thou? – “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby”***Favorite***
John Lennon – “Jealous Guy”
Swell Season – Anything, but one would be “In These Arms”

:::

But this blog is nothing if not a place for me to take chances and try to scare the shit out of myself every now and then. In that effort, here is my poor excuse for a lullaby that I sing to my son, recorded at 1:43am. Please be nice. I’m not a singer. It’s more about the sentiment because I wrote it for him when he was born.


WARNING: Do not play this for children. They will be haunted by nightmares until they die. My son just happens to know my voice.

::

My boy would wrap his arms around me for a hug, before he settled in, and look at me. We’d rock in that chair for a longer time than was practical. And then, as I sang, my voice would finally lower to a whisper, and I’d listen to the rhythm of his breathing. Wishing that his chest would never stop. That he would live forever, even if I did not.

Each night, that moment confirms the validity of my boyhood hope to be a father.

65 Comments

65 Responses to “Lullabyes”

  1. Emma says:

    My baby girl is only 9 months old and already getting too big for my arms. I sing to her “Evangeline, Evangeline the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.” It pains me that 9 months have already passed by in that cliched blink of an eye. I am not ready for this growing up business. PS: I like the song (and voice).

  2. Paula in NH says:

    What a great post! You are an incredible father. I started singing to each of my boys while they were still in the womb. I sang them to sleep more times than I can count. I do the same with my grandson.

    You’re right, there is nothing more precious than watching a child fall asleep.

  3. Anna in Ohio says:

    Beautiful. My favorite song to sing to my little guy is “Beautiful Boy” by John Lennon. That, and “The Christmas Song” (Chestnuts roasting by an open fire…) are the two that are sure to get him to close his wee little eyes. :-)

  4. bill says:

    My daughter turns 18 months on the 6th of January. And now she is so set in her ways that if we do n.ot have her in her bed by 8 o’clock it doesn’t matter what we doing if she is not in her bed by 8 o’clock then she let everybody know by screaming and yelling that it is her bedtime. I can’t believe how fast time flies it feels like just yesterday that she was born I am truly blessed to be a father

  5. I have a few unconventional ones.

    My usual go-to is “A Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night” – which my wife recorded part of here: http://flic.kr/p/6TbnyL

    The other ones are a fully-edited version of “The Happy Wanderer” with names of my kids replaced out of half the verses, and other one sung to to tune of “Baby Beluga” but with verses written for my kids.

  6. Jeanette says:

    I sang an arrangement of MLK in high school. I still love that song more than any other song I’ve sung! SO gorgeous.

  7. Shannon Best says:

    My husband sings Girl from the North Country by Johnny Cash. She is 6.5 and he has been singing this to her since she was about one.

  8. Jeff Bogle says:

    We’ve been singing “Hushabye Mountain” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to them both since they were babies at naptime, and, somewhat more recently, “Million Dollar Bill” from Middle Brother’s debut album.

    But by far, my youngest’s favorite song for us to sing to her is “Coming Along For The Ride” by The Okee Dokee Brothers (from their 2012 Grammy nominated masterpiece Can You Canoe?)

  9. Jim MacQ says:

    I sang all my kids to sleep for as long as they would let me. Like you, I had a pretty unorthodox set list. Here’s one of my perennials, “Crackbone Tune;” it’s about a little boy in Africa hearing the hyenas at night, calling him to come out and die so they can eat him. It was written by my longtime friend Thom Moore, a legend in Irish-trad music. Two or three of his other songs also were in heavy rotation at bedtime, “The Scholar,” “Cavan Girl,” and “Cedars of Lebanon.”

    http://www.broadjam.com/artists/songs.php?artistID=3628&mediaID=336902

  10. Cobacrtr says:

    Thank you for sharing these. At 3 and 5, my little ones are also pretty good at handling putting themselves to sleep. When they do still request that I sing them to sleep, it’s always the “song about the horse and the boat”, (Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had A Boat”).

  11. Amy says:

    Oh my gosh, I am in tears after listening to your song! It’s beautiful! It probably doesn’t help that it’s that time of the month for me so being overly emotional is the norm.

    Anyways, I like to sing the you are my sunshine song to my kids with a few word changes and I added a new verse for each one with their nickname their daddy gave them, so cutie, buddy and kiddo. I’m definitely not that great of a singer so I don’t always sing to them but it is nice when it does get them to sleep.

  12. Lynn says:

    For some reason one day I just started singing a softened, toned down version of “The Battle of New Orleans” to my son. He fell asleep, so I just stuck with it.

    My dad used to sing it to my sister and me as children whenever we were going somewhere and getting tired of walking. It would get us laughing and make us pick up the pace. That’s probably why I just automatically started singing to my kiddo. Not at all the same context though.

  13. Heather says:

    I love this. I sang Guns N Roses, “Sweet Child of Mine” (including the bridge) and Barenaked Ladies, “Brian Wilson,” to my tiny preemie. My son is 14 now, so I sing to our gigantic Labrador Retriever – Brian Mitch Wilson – these days. He also likes the Goatherder song from Sound of Music.

  14. You’re voice is beautiful, Charlie :) I don’t have any kids yet, but I sing “Safe and Sound” by Taylor Swift to my nephew and niece. The chorus especially is perfect for a lullaby.

  15. Sonia says:

    I used to sing my boys to sleep with “The Adams Family” theme song. I would alternate with some Styx and church songs.

  16. Mitchell says:

    I really enjoyed the memories this brought back as my girls just don’t fall asleep on me like they used to. I think those moments will always be some of my favorites. But they are 6 and nearly 5 now and those moments don’t come around as often. They’ve both fallen asleep to me singing Croce’s “I’ve Got a Name” that maybe I’ll try again tonight. Chances are they’ll just ask me what in the hell I am doing.

    BTW, I like your song.

  17. Kathy V. says:

    I wrote something about lullabyes a couple of months ago! It has a little playlist. None of my own singing, though. You’re welcome. http://dontforgettofeedthebaby.com/2012/09/13/lullaby-little-love/

  18. Frank says:

    My son likes anything by Elvis but specifically “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.” When he was first born, he enjoyed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

  19. Connie says:

    My go-to is “River of Dreams” by Billy Joel.

  20. Alannah says:

    MLK <3 <3 <3 You were already my hero; that just cemented it. :)

  21. Chris says:

    I’ve used the traditional Irish tune Fields of Athenry to sing my two y.o. daughter to sleep since we brought her home. It’s a touch melancholy but it works well as a lullabye. She now requests the “taken away” song almost every night.

  22. Dork Dad says:

    This is the one I’ve sung to my daughter since (before) she was born.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhxeOaFe7hc

    Billy Joel is the master.

    -DD

  23. John H says:

    Some of the songs I sing to my kiddos at night:
    The Kinks – Days
    Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
    Flaming Lips – Waiting for Superman
    Anything and everything by Paul Simon, but especially America, Troubled Water, Homeward Bound, El Condor Pasa, etc

    It’s my favorite part of bedtime by far…

  24. Ambershawn says:

    Our first wasn’t a very good sleeper either. We spent hours singing to him. I got so that I could sing “I’m Henry the eighth” by Herman’s Hermits over and over and over while reading a book at the same time. For hours.
    And your voice is nice, better than mine, and my kids are well adjusted.

  25. ally says:

    Emmy charlee I agree with u man to watch a child falling asleep sweet man!

  26. JeninCanada says:

    “And then, as I sang, my voice would finally lower to a whisper, and I’d listen to the rhythm of his breathing. Wishing that his chest would never stop. That he would live forever, even if I did not.”

    All the blubs forever! Thanks a lot, now I need kleenex.

    Ok, now that I can see my screen again, what the hubs has been singing to our new daughter Katherine (5 months today!) is “Misty Mountains” from The Hobbit. He can barely carry a tune in a bucket, but this one he can do fairly well, and Kat loves it.

  27. Kirkmn says:

    “The Clambake Song” from Carousel

  28. Chris Green says:

    That was beautiful. My 9yr old son asked me “Is that Jarrett?!” Jarrett being his oldest brother (22 years between them). For the last 7 years he has listened to the CD his brother recorded. 4 songs but he can’t fall asleep without it. When my 6 year old grandson spends the night he thinks it’s creepy to listen to his parents singing all night long.

  29. Arley says:

    I too sang to my son when he was little. My favorite was the Rose by Bett Middler but now whenever I try to sing anything to him he says no stop stop. I guess he knows I cannot sing in tune. He does however love to listen to me read to him. Just this past week he picked up a chapter book (the willows at christmas) with little to no pictures for me to read to him and he actually wants me to read it. He is only 2 and he is listening to chapter books. Blows my mind. By the way your singing is lovely.

  30. So cool you are busting the “dads don’t sing” stereotype.

  31. Heather B says:

    I love that all of us are singing whether or not we would ever dare sing in front of anyone else. I also love that some of our kids are going to have learned some of our favorite songs from us, rather than the recording. I used to teach my best friend songs she hadn’t heard before and it was always fun to see her reaction to the original.

  32. Jess says:

    Wow. Whoa. Whew. Wow.

  33. Jenelle W. says:

    I love that recording. And your voice. I wish I could sing…but my kids don’t know how bad my voice is, they just love ME! So I sing to them all the time…just never with people around :) Some day they’ll figure out that twinkle twinkle has more than three tones in it.

  34. For someone who isn’t a “singer”, you did a hell of good job. That’s a beautiful song Charlie.

  35. See, now that’s how a good parent writes a lullaby. When my son was a baby, he got this clown toy as a gift. It attached to his crib and when you pulled it’s legs down, it would play a little lullaby tune. He loved this thing but my husband and I thought it was the most evil looking baby toy we’d ever seen.
    We made up a little song that we sang along with the clown tune.
    It went, “Hey there, Hi there, I’m the scary clown guy. I will eat your face off, when you’re not looking.”

  36. Kory says:

    Great song!!!

    Loved drifting off with my boy to: Bedtime With The Beatles by Jason Faulkner.

  37. Hannah says:

    Charlie. Please. You have a great voice.

    For the first couple months after our son was born, we’d sing Christmas carols to him. He was born in February, and what with all the heaps of snow we still had, I guess we were still in the Christmas frame of mind.

    This is a beautiful post, sentiments and all.

  38. Wonderful post Charlie. Enjoyed your song. It’s a genuine expression of love for your son. Beautiful.

  39. Fawn says:

    The lump began, the tears formed when I read, “Wishing that his chest would never stop. That he would live forever, even if I did not.”

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, for this post.

    My boy was three months old and couldn’t get to sleep, my husband and I were listening to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Track four came on, Son of a Preacher Man, and my husband took over, picked up our son and softly sang to him the song I had just heard for the first time. My son fell asleep, calmed down. Until this day it remains one if my favorite moments and songs.

  40. Karen Scott says:

    OMG Charlie. That was amazing. Like Lennon’s song to Julian, Beautiful Boy. Makes my heart swell every time I hear it or sing it. Would you publish the lyrics? These old ears didn’t catch all the words and I’d love to know them.

  41. Joe says:

    Martin Sexton’s The Way I Am is my 8 month old little girl’s favorite. I’ve been singing it to her since she was born and it always calms her when she’s upset.

    Also Bon Iver’s Skinny Love

  42. Lindsey says:

    I always sang Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simple Man, and Comfortably Numb. My son is 7 and still loves Pink Floyd!

  43. J.W. says:

    The song I sung to both of my kids was Jimmy Buffett’s “Death of an Unpopular Poet.” It’s one of his lesser known songs from waaaaay early in his career. My daughter is an Asperger’s child, and the song is still one of the few things that calms her when all else fails…

  44. J. Ellis says:

    My wife and I have sung a few songs to our sons since before they were born. Red Nichols “Lullaby in Ragtime” from the movie “The Five Pennies”, Louis Armstrong’s “Good Night” also found in that movie, and Red Nichol’s “Five Pennies” from the same movie.

    We still sing them as a family today. Still can make me (a 34 yr old man) tear up and smile.

    I love the line from your song about keeping your father’s broken promise to your own son. That’s been my mantra since I have become a father… ‘I will not be my father, I will be here for my children’

  45. kemberley crosswhite says:

    absolutely LOVED this post!!! i love listening to my hubby whisper sing our son to sleep :) he also does not sleep well so i feel your pain… hopefully it passes ;)

  46. Louise says:

    I started sing Enter Sandman by Metallica to my baby when she was a couple of weeks old, and 16 months later it still sends her to sleep. I made up a song for her called Thrash Metal Lullaby which works too. If all else fails, I play her some Rammstein on my phone. 3 songs and she’s out.

  47. Hang tight – Dex still asks for cuddles at 10.

  48. I have written a little song for everyone of my kids. Late at night while rocking a tiny baby to sleep. Its funny, they go by the little nick names I made up for them, late at night, praying they’ll go to sleep.

    Keeley- Kiki Bear
    Elizabeth- Betty Beth
    Felix- Guy (nothing rhymes with Felix)

    Its wonderful that you do that for your little one. Even 6 years later-my oldest still asks me to sing for her. My husband used to call me at work so I could sing to them before bed.

  49. Angi says:

    Whenever my oldest couldn’t sleep, I tried lots of songs but the only one that ever worked was the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. My youngest wouldn’t and still doesn’t let me to sing to him.

  50. JustADaughter says:

    I really wonder how you may have doubts on being a good father. Well of course some posts on a site don’t make anyone a good person in the real world… but really, they at least show something that’s inside them, and in your case, that something is a fantastic fatherhood.
    I just wanted to thank you for sharing these beautiful, beautiful, beautiful songs… and for showing me that after all fathers can love very deeply their children, and my own father surely loves me after all, even though he isn’t as good as you at showing it.
    Have a good life and kiss Finn for me! :)

  51. Olivia says:

    Wonderful song. Finn is the luckiest kid in the world. The world is a better place with dads like you.

  52. Shut up.
    Let’s make more of you, we’ll put you on sale and then every little boy who needs or wants a dad can have one worthy of having.

    Baby Mine. Dumbo. Clearly, because I bleed Disney.

  53. Josh says:

    I started singing to my son Benjamin before he was born, but the he loves the following “lullabies” today.

    “Cecelia” – Simon and Garfunkel
    “3 Little Birds” – Bob Marley
    “You are my sunshine”

    Thanks Charlie & Andy for all that you share. Your blog makes my laugh or cry nearly everyday. I have to check it out before I show things to my wife so that I can have my emotions under control :-)

  54. Sakinah says:

    What a beautiful song. I absolutely love the lyrics. Your voice sorta make me think of Incubus with a mix of red jumpsuit apparatus. Great job. :)

  55. Inga says:

    Nice post, just got my first baby. This is very useful for my husband. Forwarding this to him!

  56. Julie says:

    Tim Minchin – Lullaby. The song is hilarious and makes for middle of the night singing more bearable. As for regular evening cuddle sessions I sing to my boys what my mom sang to me. Lots of 50’s and 60’s songs where coincidentally (or not? Thanks mom…) everyone dies! Beautiful tunes tho

    Playlist is:
    Moon Mullican – The Leaves Musnt Fall
    Dicky Lee – Patches
    Ernest Tubb – Missing in Action
    Kitty Wells – How Far Is Heaven

    You know… Good wholesome, sad songs to lull them to sleep. Haha

  57. Allen Baranov says:

    I have a ton of different songs and not only English ones either… But you can’t beat “Good night, sweetheart” which I stole from 3 men and a baby… All 3 of my kids got to enjoy that. :)

  58. From about age 1-2 my son’s bedtime lullaby was the theme song to Cheers.

  59. Tim says:

    So nice to read the bit about not singing the same old songs. I’m a teacher and I refuse to use the same songs day in day out. The kids get bored of them! And who could blame them??
    My boys are 5 and 3 and I have to admit I’m amazed how great they are at going to sleep.

    My oldest’s called Finn too

  60. Deb says:

    Charlie, I declare you the MASTER of underselling and over-delivering! Based on your build-up, I expected your Finn song to be you sort of croaking a few bars acapella. Instead, I heard that lovely song with guitar and back-up vocals! Relative to the build-up, it made me laugh. But the song just made me smile. It’s lovely. And what a gift to your son.

  61. Chris says:

    Damn it, Charlie.

    That said, I also sing to my Finn every night, but nothing like this. It’s short and to the point, but that’s generally because his needs sort of mandate short bursts of connection. He doesn’t always like it when I sing for more than 30 seconds at a time.

  62. It will probably come as no surprise that most of my favorites are from musicals.

    http://open.spotify.com/user/rageagainsttheminivan/playlist/6RMbsvpYGkOVxQKWZA7EVa

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