Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hip Hop and My Path to Fatherhood

[caption id="attachment_78530" align="alignnone" width="640"]The author Shea Serrano with his Dad, circa. The author Shea Serrano with his Dad, circa 1983 at a bar in Germany.[/caption]

Have you ever seen real, live, functioning intestines? I don’t mean in-the-movies intestines, bro. I'm talking about BOOM!, all-in-your-line-of sight-intestines. Makes no difference small or large, just so long as their fresh. I have. Twice, actually. Matter of fact, intestines were the very things I saw immediately before I celebrated my first Father's Day.

When Wife and I started out, I wanted one daughter. I'm still waiting on her. I have three sons currently. There are the twins, five-year-old Bay and Meech, who, were I to guess, are operating under the assumption that the highest order of existence is some sort of simultaneous karate kick/butt joke combination. And then there's The Park Show, six-months-old, who is only concerned with trying to spit up on my shirt the split moment before I leave for work each day. One morning he somehow managed to throw up on me WHILE farting in my hand. I didn’t even know one could simultaneously expel from both ends. I imagine he felt the same kind of universe altering power Neo felt when he stopped all of the bullets in midair.

The twins were born on Father's Day in 2007, if you can even believe that. They weren't supposed to be born until a week or so before August, but Bay was not being a chillbro in the womb so the doctor ordered an emergency c-section (that’s how I saw the intestines, duh). I don't remember exactly what it was that they said was the problem, but I think it had something to do with him trying to cook meth in there. Or, I don't know -- maybe I'm getting their birth confused with Breaking Bad. Sometimes that show is all I want to talk about. I had a student named Jesse L. this year and everyday for probably the last two weeks of school every time I saw him in the hallways I'd shout, "JESSE, WE NEED TO COOK.” If at the c-section the doctors had cut my wife open and pulled out an autographed photo of Walter White, I would've been pretty excited, definitely.

Anyways. The boys were born on Father's Day, which is a pretty neat thing. I was (am) fortunate enough to have a very engaged, active dad growing up. He’s still around today, actually. He’s this mean-looking round little Mexican man with a shaved head and a goatee and a fondness for beer and corn tortillas and the San Antonio Spurs and concert DVDs.

He always played music around the house when my three sisters and me were kids. ALWAYS. He used to have this great big stereo system that ate up an entire wall in the living room. It was one of the things he loved the most. He’d play Stevie Ray Vaughan (on Saturday mornings while we cleaned) and Jimi Hendrix (on weekend nights when he was feeling especially poignant) and Led Zeppelin (whenever he felt heavy) and Journey (whenever he felt like he wanted to sing, even though I’ve never in my life, not one single time, ever heard him sing) and Rush (when he wanted to make me mad) and all of the other bands like that dads play. He’d play Bob Marley (for my mom), La Tropa F (for my Tio Will and Tia Dora), Madonna (for my sisters), Gloria Estefan (for himself, because all older Mexican men LOVE Gloria Estefan) and, were it truly a glorious night, Will Smith or Digital Underground or Vanilla Ice or Montell Jordan (for me).

When I grew older, after my family’d moved in with my grandmother so she wouldn’t be alone (Mexicans don’t put grandparents in nursing homes, we just move everyone into one house together) he transitioned over to watching old concerts on TV. I suspect this was done, at least in part, so he wouldn’t disturb Grandma while she slept.

I’d come home from being out doing hoodrat shit with my friends and he’d be sitting in the living room in a t-shirt and cloth shorts wearing these great big headphones that were plugged into his stereo that was plugged into the television while he watched someone very good on the guitar be very good on the guitar. More times than not, it was Stevie Ray Vaughan, long his favorite guitarist, and if that was the case it was almost exclusively the Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble Live From Austin, TX DVD (it truly is a remarkable watch).

He’d notice me come in, remove his headphones, call me over, make me sit next to him, put his arm around me, then explain to me why SRV was so good (mainly because you could FEEL the music, same as you could feel heat and same as you could feel an ax kick to the spine). I think we had that same conversation maybe 40,000 times while I was in high school. I’d sit there and pretend to listen and raise my eyebrows and sigh a lot through my nose. I was such a prick. But it’s because I just didn’t understand what was happening, is why.

I didn’t understand that, for him, that was the most vulnerable he’d ever allow himself to be with me, that that was the way he chose to show me that he hadn’t always been a dad, that he used to be a regular non-dad human. I couldn’t have understood it then because that’s a thought pattern only dads with sons can process. I understand it now though. What’s more, I can synthesize it.

I feel this whole cycle repeating itself with my sons already. They’re still of the mind that I am what happens when you multiply the Incredible Hulk with Ironman with Jean-Claude Van Damme’s biceps, so they listen plenty when I play music for them and explain why it’s good (same answer as Dad, btw). But eventually they’re going to be sitting there pushing their eyebrows towards the sky, sighing at me, waiting for me to stop talking so they go in their room and then talk about how dumb I act when everyone else is asleep and I listen to old rap music. And I’m just going to have to sit there and pretend like I don’t know their sincerity is only paper-mâché thick.

I’ll try in earnest to explain why Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak is nothing short of perfect and Q-Tip’s The Renaissance was so thoroughly underappreciated and those are the only two things musically I care to remember from 2008. They’ll scoff. I’ll tell them about the time their mother and I watched Bun B perform his verse from “Murder” and a fight broke out in the crowd and she ran away because she’s smart but Bun didn’t stop so I stayed and watched because I’m dumb and they probably won’t be all that impressed because they’ll probably have just come from a Bun B concert because I’m confident Bun B will rap well into his 200s. But their hollowness won’t matter to me same as mine didn’t matter to my dad because I’ll know same as he did that they won’t realize the gravity of the moment until a decade later.

They’ll get up and walk away and I’ll call them to stop. When they turn around, I’ll say something like, “Have you boys ever seen intestines? Real, live, functioning intestines.” And they’ll furl their faces up and look at each and then look at me say, “Umm, whaaaat?”And I’ll smile and turn around and click on some old UGK concert footage on whatever piece of technology it is that we’ll have streaming information directly into our bloodstreams or whatever in ten years.

Rap is the music I chased down as a kid. I love it. I grew up on it. It helped me move out from under my father’s arm. I hope it’ll be imprinted on my own sons’ DNA, just like my dad put Stevie on mine.