You're The Oppressor Now
Revisiting Linkin Park because angst is eternal
Yesterday was a bad day. Life and career is an endless cascade of failure that ideally are part of an upward trend toward improvement. Let’s just say that it was one of those not so great days in the journey in terms of the 9-5 hustle.
I came home with a chip on my shoulder, wounded pride and a lot of doubt about the future I am working toward. So, like a moderately well adjusted adult, I put on my running shoes to go run out all of the yuck.
My daughter, who I hadn’t had much quality time with that day, was nearby so I told her to go grab her bike and come with me. It was a beautiful late-afternoon and she had been inside all day with her studies. Immediately, I detected apprehension. I don’t know what it is with this girl and her aversion to biking. She just doesn’t love it or appreciate the freeing feeling of the wind in your hair the way that I do.
I had two goals: she gets some outside time, and its time we spend together.
Then I started to get pushy. “Come on, shoes on.” She is almost a teenager, and go figure, she didn’t really want to. “I’ll just go on foot with you,” she says, sliding on her tennis shoes.
“I’m running. You can’t keep pace with me, that’s why I suggested you bike,” I snapped. She was put off. I had no intention to slow down in my run, after all, this was ultimately about me blowing off some steam. No surprise, she said she’d just stay home with the dog. I really did want to have her nearby. Just that sense of togetherness, even though you’re not actively talking or engaged.
“Fine,” I said back, and then swiftly left the house.
I didn’t slam the door, but I didn’t close it gently either. Not a great look. This is not the way.
Last week my old musical haunt, Linkin Park, released a “new” song from their untapped archives of music from the early 2000s. Originally cut for their second album, Meteora, this song “Lost” has been getting quite a bit of play on my Spotify. It’s very good. So I threw on a Linkin Park playlist and let it soak up my hurt from the day.
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It’s funny how when you’re in a low place, you go back to these familiar places for comfort. Maybe it’s the church pew, an old friend from decades past, or in this case a band that eased the emotional pain of puberty. These foundational things gave us strength and stability when we needed it most, then when we’re strong enough to walk without them, we cast them aside. Like the stuffed animals or toys that comfort a toddler, bands get this treatment all the time. “OMG I used to love Linkin Park” is a pretty common expression in my generational bracket. “In The End” “Numb” “Breaking The Habit” or “Crawling” was there for a lot of people, whether they care to admit it or not.
But anyways — I was running when the GOAT Linkin Park track makes its way to the top of the cue. “Numb” begins. You know the song. It’s pretty archetypal teenage angst material centered in the music video around an artsy young girl breaking away from the control of her mother. The mother isn’t a bad person, she just seems to have not wanted the art school-theater kid and maybe would have preferred a Young Life youth worship leader or something.
I'm tired of being what you want me to be
Feeling so faithless, lost under the surface
Don't know what you're expecting of me
Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes
I’m moving along at a brisk pace, singing along, stewing in my discontent about the day I just had. This song is once again about me.
I am tired. I am confused.
I am feeling lost in a whirlwind of expectations.
Me me me!!!
Then came verse two.
Can't you see that you're smothering me
Holding too tightly, afraid to lose control?
'Cause everything that you thought I would be
Has fallen apart right in front of you
Y’all. This is not a particularly profound insight, but it felt huge in that moment. So much so that I stopped running and just sat down on the concrete for a minute to think about it.
OH NO. WHAT HAVE I DONE? I AM THE PARENT IN THE MUSIC VIDEO NOW! I AM NOT THE GLOOMY KID TRYING TO GROW BEYOND THE VISION OF MOM & DAD, I AM THE FREAKING DAD. I AM NOW THAT MOM IN THE MUSIC VIDEO WHICH I WATCHED 300x WHEN I WAS 14 YEARS OLD. I JUST STORMED OUT ON MY ADOLESCENT CHILD IN PART BECAUSE SHE HAD OTHER THINGS SHE WANTED TO DO BESIDES THE THING I WANTED TO DO. SHIT.
The rebels become the empire. The artist becomes the CEO. The emo kid becomes the parent. The cycle of life and responsibility is a real doozy, and it’s not hard to forget where you’re at in the cycle. Let’s face it. Most of us function as the hero of our own story. That focus on the self can be benign on a good day, and really shameful the next when we fall short of new duties demanded of us by this pesky thing called time.
The point I’m hoping to make here today is a touch abstract. I’m deeply concerned with adults of this day-in-age refusing to grow up. I talk about this most often in the context of Star Wars’ constantly embittered fanbase, made up of multiple generations now who all see themselves as Luke Skywalker looking out on the Twin Suns of Tatooine dreaming of a more meaningful life. Aspiration is great, but so often we forget that idealistic heroes like that of Skywalker end up being forced to grow up by way of tragedy or circumstance. They become the Master and a mentor to someone else because life happens and they face it head on. Then that hero raises the next generation. They become uncentered from the narrative.
Ego dies on the altar of duty.
I had a bad day. In that momentary stew of narcissism I forgot something I’ve known since I was 13 and found my muse in Linkin Park: parents/mentors/masters have to hold on loosely. That doesn’t mean you set your child free without guardrails or rules for navigating the world, but you’ve got to let them find their way using the tools you’ve hopefully given them. It’s hard to share tools for living with another person when every day is about you.
If you’ve messed up and made everything about you this week, it’s okay.
And I know
I may end up failing too
My favorite part of “Numb” is that bridge. It’s a moment of empathy in a song that is otherwise an exercise in self-absorption. The subject of the song turns to the person cast as the oppressor, and recognizes that they have almost certainly been the oppressed once too. “And I know, you were just like me with someone disappointed in you.”
I said “I’m sorry” to my daughter when I got home. I gave her a hug, and asked what she wanted to do. The answer is almost always “a board game.” So that’s what we did, and it was wonderful.
This is the way.