“Chickity China the Chinese chicken / you have a drumstick and your brain stops tickin' / Watching X-Files with no lights on …”
I freeze. I look toward my father, hoping he knows the next line, but he’s stuck, too.
“One more time?” he asks. I nod as he presses replay on the car stereo.
A big breath in and … “It’s been one week since you looked at me / cocked your head to the side and said ‘I’m angry,’” we sing in unison.
I’m nine years old, and we’re parked outside Baskin-Robbins because we’ve promised each other we won’t go inside until we nail this last Barenaked Ladies verse. I can’t remember if we ever actually figured it out, or if we even got the ice cream, but what I do remember is: That moment and that music were ours.
I wasn’t just my dad’s little girl, but his roadie as well. Riding shotgun, I’d accompany him on weekend errands and, between Home Depot and Chief Auto Parts, we’d blast 98.7 K-LUV (the local oldies station) while he’d quiz me on every song. I could never understand why the world needed a band called The Monkees and one called The Turtles (to say nothing of The Animals), but I do know that those father-daughter musical car rides defined me.
As a nine-year-old in the second grade (among all the pink ribbons and curls), you could find me in an androgynous hoodie, hair pulled back, chatting with Blake — the resident elementary school guitar player — about Led Zep and his “sick chords.” It was clear: I was a daddy’s girl.
And then, just two years later, the music in my life stopped and everything changed. As my mother and I walked out of my father’s funeral, "Wild Horses" by the Rolling Stones played, and I knew this would be my last conversation about music with my dad.
I was eleven years old when I lost my father, and by the time I was sixteen, I had developed into a delicate, soft-spoken, hyper-feminine teenager. My musical taste turned to classical (my mother was a pianist who worked for the London Symphony) and my hoodie was replaced by soft pink lipstick. All of a sudden, I was a momma’s girl — maybe because that’s all I had left or maybe because it was simply too painful to remember my dad.
By the time I graduated high school, I had pushed my father out of my memory enough to fool myself into thinking I had moved on. A few months later, I was packing up my room to start my contract with Louisville Ballet, when I discovered something in the back of my closet — my father’s copy of “Sticky Fingers.”
I wasn’t sure what my friends would think if I hung this ancient album cover — a record I knew nothing about, complete with its infamous bulging package — on my wall. Would I be that girl who wears the Clash T-shirt, but only knows “Should I Stay or Should I Go”? I didn’t care. I knew I had to take it with me.
That album cover has followed me everywhere I’ve moved since, and it was hanging on my wall when I first fell in love a few years later. His name was Tom Petty. Weeks into my new relationship, I had “Into the Great Wide Open” on repeat, and at the third listen, I felt a sharp pain in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t know what to do except grab the phone and dial.
“Did Dad like Tom Petty?” I asked.
There was a pause on the line that felt like forever. What if he hated him, and it turned out that we really didn’t have the same taste after all?
“He loved him,” my mother said, finally.
I thought this would somehow relieve my anxiety, but it instead unleashed a Pandora's music box of fear. If it took me until I was 20 years old to discover Tom Petty, what else of my father's musical taste had I missed out on? And more importantly, what else had I missed about him?
And then, a few months later, a minor mother-daughter fight gave me the answer to my daddy identity crisis. At lunch with John, a longtime family friend, my mom and I were bickering like an old married couple, until I finally crossed the line, causing her to storm out of the restaurant. John started to laugh.
“What?” I snapped at him.
“You know why she’s pissed, right?” he asked.
“No! That’s the problem.”
“You’re exactly like your father," he said, "and it’s driving her crazy.”
I just sat there and smiled. I might not be the same daddy’s girl I was at nine, but he was in there somewhere, and I was okay with that.