The Times They Are A-Changin'

By breaking my beloved record albums, my father did me a favor—he gave me permission to rebel and become my own person

I was not a rebel. I didn't cut classes in high school, smoke behind the cafeteria or do things with boys in the backseats of cars. I wore pleated skirts with matching knee socks and turned my homework in on time. My crowd didn't smoke weed, drink or curse. (Not yet, anyway.) We played guitars, folk danced and pored over the text on the backs of album covers as if they were the Rosetta Stone.

At the time, my record collection was comparatively tame. The only questionable album was "The Greatest Hits of Ray Charles," which contained grunts and groans of a decidedly raunchy nature. But that wasn't what drove my parents over the edge. It was a Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" which, for reasons that only make sense to a 15-year-old, I played over and over, at considerable volume, trying to memorize the words. "Come mothers and fathers throughout the land / don't criticize what you can't understand …"

Admittedly, Dylan's voice could test the patience of any parents who came of age to the silky crooning of Sinatra. Somewhere between a creaking door and a goat being slaughtered, Dylan aimed for "authenticity" over harmonics. The summer day in question, the windows were open and my father was mowing the lawn. You would think that a mower could drown out Dylan's lament. "Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command."

Apparently not. Somewhere between the sixteenth and twentieth time I lifted the needle to replay the song, my father had enough. He stopped cutting the grass and charged up the stairs, two at a time. Without a word, he snatched the album off the record player and broke it over his knee.

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"But that's not mine. I borrowed it," I cried.

That didn't stop my father. He proceeded to snap six vinyl albums in half as if they were cookies. Not just Dylan, but Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary. Watching him, something inside me snapped too. It was the first time I saw my father's rage directed not at something I had done or said, but at an idea that challenged his authority. No man in his late 40s wants to be told "Your old road is rapidly aging"—especially not by his teenage daughter.

I realized, in those moments of sheer rage, that my father was angry because he was frightened. Not of folk singers. But of a future that was spiraling out of his control. "Better get out on the new one if you can't lend a hand / Because the times they are a-changing."

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Were they ever. Within three years, I would be doing all the things that terrified him. Having sex. Getting high. Having opinions. Some of which were so threatening to his worldview that he used my mother as an intermediary. I got phone calls.

"Your father saw you walking down Chestnut Street today without a bra. It upsets him," my mother said.

What? I wore a 32 AA. Or this:

"Your father says you are going to NAACP meetings. Is this true?" asked Mom.

"Um. No. Where did he get that idea?"

"He says that every Thursday night you go to a meeting."

"I'm taking an evening class in belly dancing at the Y."

Silence. That might've been worse than the NAACP.

In retrospect, by breaking my beloved record albums that day long ago, my father did me a favor. He gave me permission to rebel, to be my own person and to recognize "fellow travelers" of which there were millions. We were easy to spot: long hair, faded jeans, gypsy skirts, no bras. We traded in our parents' values for our own: shacking up, not marrying. Working just long enough to buy airfare to Europe. Staying in crash pads, not hotels. We even had our own soundtrack. Whether you were a Deadhead or a fan of the Stones or Beatles, to this day, there is an album that tells your story.

Me? I remained a Dylan follower until his 1969 "Nashville Skyline" album. After that, there was too much happening to hum along. Vietnam. Nixon. Woodstock. Altamont. The My Lai massacre. The Manson murders. Three hundred students shutting down Harvard. The Chicago Eight. Stonewall. If you were singing, you weren't paying attention.

These days, I listen to new music on local college radio stations while driving just to stay "relevant." I mean, who doesn't bust a move to Bruno Mars "Uptown Funk"? However, when the news cycle threatens nuclear war, political mayhem and doughnuts that glow in the dark, I flash back to the soundtrack of my youth.

"There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'."

My father may have broken my records, but the spirit of the '60s will live on forever.

Tags: family

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