“You have to have a little bit of Dora the Explorer in your life,” he says. “But you can do what you can to mute its influence.” Okay. “And there’s no shame, when your kid’s watching a show, and you don’t like it, in telling him it sucks.” Yeah! There’s no—wait. What? “If you start telling him it sucks, maybe he might develop an aesthetic.” Sorry, son. No more Thomas the Tank Engine for you. Thomas sucks. Stop crying. Daddy’s helping you develop an aesthetic. Now Daddy’s going to go put on some thunder music.
But isn’t there something unsavory in the idea of your kid as a kind of tabula rasa for you to overwrite with your tastes? Less a child than a malleable Mini-Me?
“It’s hard to say right now, because most of these kids are between the age of zero and 5,” says Pollack. “So they’re still . . . I don’t want to say accessories, but they’re still moldable. You can still sort of play with them.” Although, if you’re planning to take this parental approach, you’d better make damn sure you’ve got good taste. “I find myself arguing with dads about the music their kids like,” he says. “One guy was telling me his son was really into Wilco. And I was telling him that’s lame. Because Wilco is so over.”
I don’t mean to be so hard on Pollack, who does seem genuinely interested in exploring a new kind of parenting—a kind that doesn’t involve totally losing any sense of who you were ten minutes before your baby was born. In fact, I got a much saner version of more or less the same philosophy from Adam Levite and Francine Hermelin, a couple in their thirties (he’s 38, she’s 36) with three (yes, three) kids: Asa, 6; Dora, 3; and Ester, 0.5. Levite directs music videos for artists like Beck and Interpol, and Hermelin spends most of her time with the kids while also organizing events like Downtown for Democracy’s mock election, in which 8-year-olds ran for president. Levite wears cool little geometric glasses and Hermelin wears slightly thinner cool little geometric glasses. The family lives in a large white envy-inducing loft apartment in Tribeca that looks like a design-magazine photo shoot. As you enter, you’ll find Levite’s guitar collection propped against the wall, right next to which you’ll find similar, miniature versions of the same guitars for his son, Asa. “From a very young age, we’ve always decided to try not to, you know, vanilla the kids in the things that we present to them,” says Levite. A-ha! Here we go—thunder music. “We’ve been listening to the Beatles since the moment they were born. They’re classic pop songs, but not full of anger and angst. And we still listen to some kids’ music. Music for Aardvarks is really great.”
“It’s really important for us to be whole people, and not feel like our kids have . . . look, we love our kids,” says Hermelin. “The point isn’t to raise cool kids. We want passionate kids. And I think that by us doing the things that we love to do, that models that passion for our kids.”
Later, when I talk to Andy Chase, the dad–slash–rock star, he says almost the exact same thing. “How great for a child to see their parents loving what they’re doing? It’s a delicate balance to strike, but when you maintain that balance, its a great thing to teach your children—that they can look forward to doing something they love doing.”
“Of course, there have to be some priorities,” says Levite. “Even if you come home and you just bought a great new CD, and you really want to listen to it with your kids, sometimes it’s their bedtime. You just learn. You can’t always play guitar with them.” I wonder, though, what will happen when Asa becomes a teenager. Will he still want to jam with Dad on matching guitars? Or will he find his own way to grow up? The last time teenagers weren’t expected to rebel, it was because they were heading off to work in the coal mines at age 13. Can we really expect to be cool parents and also raise cool kids? Is this youth big enough for the both of us?
Or perhaps we can look forward—at least if Family Ties can be trusted—to a new generation of buttoned-down, high-strung Alex P. Keaton–type conservative teenagers. This is something the Grups have considered. When I asked Hermelin her worst fear, she laughed and said, “Our kids are going to become Republicans.”
In college, I remember a friend of mine playing Public Enemy at high volume at his mother’s house, at which point she sputtered into paroxysms of clichéd parental dismay, saying, quite unironically, “Turn that off! It’s nothing but noise!” Later, we tried to imagine what kind of high-decibel air-raid-siren music our teens might one day listen to, causing us to react the same way. It’s a concept that Pollack, for one, seems literally incapable of processing. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen with this generation,” he says. Besides, he explains, the alternadad’s worst nightmare isn’t that his kid will grow up to be something he doesn’t want him to be. “The worst nightmare for a quote-unquote alternadad,’ ” he says, “is that he’ll grow up to be something he doesn’t want to be.”