As kids head back to school it's time to get nostalgic for adolescent days and the milestones that come with them...that first kiss, getting your driver's license, prom.
And then there are the milestones that parents are often dragged into...whether we like it, or not.
I had no one to blame but myself for being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 128. In the backseat were two 14-year-old girls playing an endless game of “Would You Rather...” Ever hear of it? It goes like this:
“Would you rather you had a boyfriend who was very cute but spit when he talked, or would you rather have a boyfriend who volunteered at an animal shelter but wore Drakkar Noir?” (Insert here answer for which actual 14 year-old contemplation is given).
We were all driving to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts because I was taking my daughter, Lily, to her first real concert (she saw the Wiggles when she was five and insists that that doesn’t count).
This is a monumental moment in the life of an adolescent: to be in the same venue with your musical heroes while tens of thousands of fans just like you sing along. I remember when my parents took me to see Billy Joel at the Hartford Civic Center when I was 14. Except for the face value of the tickets, it’s very much the same thing. Only the soundtrack has changed.
I love that I can give this gift – this rite of passage – to my daughter. I would take her to see Katy Perry or Taylor Swift or Beyoncé, but she didn’t want to go to those shows. She wanted to see One Direction.
If you never heard of One Direction, here's a primer: They are a five member British/Irish boy band that has captured the hearts of tweens and young teens all over the world. They’re the only group to have their first three albums all debut at number one (I know – I can’t believe that’s true either).
The individual group members were contestants on the British version of “The X Factor,” when judge Simon Cowell (arbiter of all things excellent) put the five of them together in one group. The band came in third, but super-stardom awaited “1D.”
If you take one look at my daughter’s room – with its posters and books and 1D action figures – this was definitely the concert I was destined to take her to. There was only one problem – I didn’t want to go.
Related: If you want to see the guys from 1D audition on The X Factor, here's a video. You're welcome.
It’s not that I don’t like the music (but no, I actually do not like the music), it’s because thousands of girls were going to shriek at 130 decibels during the whole show. Instead of putting myself through that, I gave the second ticket to Lily’s friend, Elizabeth, another 1D fan. She’d take the bullet for me.
My inner monologue went something like this: Would you rather be a grown man at a One Direction concert, or would you rather pierce both your eardrums with a sharp stick?
Someone get me a stick, because I sure as Shinola was not going to sit through two hours of girls screaming while five guys sing “Live While We’re Young.”
“Young” is the key factor here. When we arrived at the stadium, the crowd streaming in was made up mostly of girls who looked so young I’m wasn't sure they should cross the street without someone holding their hand.
Thankfully, it turns out I wasn't alone in my decision to skip the concert. So many parents were just like me – dumping their kids at the turnstiles and fleeing – that there was a designated parent drop-off point.
So here’s the big question: what were thousands of parents supposed to do for a couple of hours while their kids screech to One Direction?
Tailgate, of course.
Wandering around the parking lot, I met Mark and Michele Pare, sitting on the back of their F-150, drinking beer and trying to forget exactly where they were. They told me they've tailgated before plenty of concerts like Ozzy Osbourne, Bon Jovi, and Slayer – but they'd never brought any kids to those shows.
We had a good view the people streaming by toward the stadium entrance. The kids looked excited. I asked Mark and Michele how the adults walking into the stadium looked. Mark shook his head. “They look miserable.”
Once the opening act hit the stage, the up-and-coming boy band Five Seconds of Summer - or 5SoS, pronounced “five sauce” for short – the adults disappeared from all of the parking lots.
What I hadn’t considered was that the stadium is ringed by an outdoor shopping and dining venue called Patriot Place. I joined the crowd of adults heading there, noting that so many adults wandering dead-eyed as a sound wall of pre-pubescent pop music crashed over them looked a whole lot like the leftovers after the Rapture.
Inside Patriot Place, I met lots of parents who'd traveled hours to bring their daughters to see 1D, including a mom from Pittsburg, PA. They all told me pretty much the same thing, that they were
thanking God they didn’t have to sit in the stadium so thrilled their children could enjoy one of the top-grossing concerts of the summer.
Wayne Chase of Syracuse, NY helped his wife get four 1D concert tickets online. He told me that soon after, his anxiety that he would have to take one of the seats grew. No one said anything, so Wayne didn’t bring it up. Finally, when asked if he would act as designated driver and not party-goer, you’d think the Governor had called the warden and given him his reprieve.
“So essentially,” I pointed out, “what you’re saying to your daughters is, ‘I love you enough to get you these tickets, but I don’t love you enough to watch this concert.’”
“Yes,” Wayne said, good-naturedly, “I’d love them to experience it without me and then to share it with me later.”
“But you know why?” I replied, “That’s what makes you beautiful.”
Maybe I should have mentioned that “What Makes you Beautiful" is the title of One Direction’s monster hit, If you haven’t heard it, it’s a five-part serenade...and the girl who’s shy and insecure is told she doesn’t even know how pretty she is. What mp3-downloading teen would not melt hearing that? It’s the One Direction formula: positive messages that build girls’ self-esteem sung by five cute boys.
Cha-ching! 1D's "What Makes You Beautiful" has all the swooniness a teenage girl needs. Check it Out:
Maybe we adults have just forgotten how that feels - to be young and unsure and to hear someone singing all the things we feel coming through the radio. That’s exactly how I felt when I went to my first concert. Come to think of it, “Just the Way You Are” was a pretty corny song too. There was no choreography to it, but still….
After the concert was finally over, thousands of hoarse teenaged girls streamed from the stadium like they’d been released from the Pied Piper’s cave.
Lily and Elizabeth told me they had a great time - a much better time than if they dragged me along. They said they sang and screamed and took selfies. It was clearly an experience my daughter will remember for the rest of her life.
Look, if it came down to it...of course I would've taken that seat next to my daughter. But I got the tickets for her, not me. And it’s way better for her to be with a friend who’s a fan, someone who will sing and scream and dance along – not someone who will lie and say, “Oh, I thought it was over. I had no idea they’d come back on stage for an encore.”
But maybe a teeny part of me thinks I’m missing out on something special with Lily. That look on her face when the band hits the stage. Those Beatlesque scream-tears on her cheeks. The ecstasy when she thought they’d skip her favorite song and then the moment when they finally played it.
There’s a lot to that. And maybe something to consider for the next time One Direction comes to town.
Would you rather… have a tender, father-daughter evening listening to One Direction play an extended dance mix version of “The Story of My Life,” or would you rather sit on a car bumper waiting for this night to be over?
I guess it depends. Am I allowed I bring that sharp stick?