The other day, I happened to burst into song (something I do from time to time, to the embarrassment of my family and loved ones) with a few lines from “Señor Don Gato,” a song we used to sing in first grade. (It was the part about him jumping so happily that he falls off the roof and breaks his ribs, whiskers, and solar plexus.)
I couldn’t remember the last line of the verse, so I went onto the Internet, where I found several recordings on YouTube. And then I had to play them for my children as a relic of my long-vanished youth. They laughed — and promptly started singing it themselves. It was a Bonding Moment. Or something like that.
The Internet is an unequalled resource for taking trips down memory lane, either alone or in the company of those you love — and love to irritate with tales of Ye Gude Aulde Days. Many’s the time I’ve insisted to my children (and sometimes my wife, though I’m more cautious with her), “You have to come see/listen to [some specific cultural relic from the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s]!” And they come, and watch, and shake their heads and walk away, muttering something about how it makes sense that I’ve turned out this way since I’d been exposed to that stuff while I was growing up.
My children — I hesitate to admit this — had never heard of The Brady Bunch before I told them about it. Or Gilligan’s Island. Or The Bee Gees. (Heck, I don’t think they’ve heard about The Bee Gees yet.) Or The Monkees. Or Saturday’s Warrior. They can’t tell you who are these children coming down like gentle rain through darkened skies. They don’t know the anguish of wondering: What about Naomi?
For that matter, I’m not sure my wife (5 years younger than me and an oldest child, so she didn’t have the corrupting influence of older sisters growing up) had been exposed to all those things either. I know for certain that she’d never heard In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida before our marriage — though strangely even after that gap in her knowledge was filled, she still doesn’t seem to appreciate its true importance. It is indeed a mystery.
The sad truth is that even I’m a cultural illiterate in many ways. Happily (or perhaps not), the Internet provides opportunities to catch things I missed the first time around. Have you ever watched Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon video? If not, you have a real treat to look forward to! Go — right now. Get on YouTube. I’ll be waiting.
There. Wasn’t that one of the most bizarre things you’ve ever seen? You had not truly lived until watching that video.
It works the other way too. Our oldest child is a connoisseur of webcomics, making recommendations for what different people of his acquaintance might like — including his mother and me — much the same way I used to recommend science fiction and fantasy books to my friends. We’ve become fans of homestarrunner.com. Our whole family can join in singing the theme song from Portal (courtesy of GLaDOS, the psychotic computer). We score high on the geek test at www.innergeek.us.
We don’t have a working television in our house. This isn’t a matter of principles, but rather laziness: we put up an antenna back when our youngest was still in the womb, but never drilled the hole in the wall to run the cable down to our television. It’s never seemed worth it since. He’s 10 now.
Which isn’t to say that we don’t have zombielike TV-watching-type behavior in our home. Our kids watch videos. They watch YouTube videos. They play video games. They watch YouTube videos of other people playing video games — something I can’t help but think takes passive involvement to a whole new level.
I’m not a great video game fan. I grew up at just the wrong moment to develop the dexterity needed to be any good at them. So that’s one bonding opportunity I pretty much miss out on. (Anyone who thinks family members can’t bond over video games hasn’t seen my brood.) And we’re all — I hesitate to admit — just a bit too flabby to do well with physical activities. I admire the families in our ward who go on 20-mile bike rides and run the decathlon together, but we won’t be joining them anytime soon.
The point is: my kids are true members of Generation whatever-we’re-up-to-now. (Klingon, maybe?) The Internet is where they live. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still do fun things as a family. If that involves looking up things together on the Internet — and snickering about the weird songs Dad used to sing in school Way Back When — then so be it.
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Jonathan Langford, www.langfordwriter.com, is a freelance writer and editor who lives in western Wisconsin with his wife and two children (his oldest is currently serving a mission in western Washington state). His first novel, No Going Back, a 2009 Whitney Award finalist for best general fiction by an LDS author, describes a Mormon teenage boy’s struggle to remain faithful despite his homosexual feelings. Langford is also coauthor of the Latter-day Saint Family Encyclopedia, published by Thunder Bay Press in November 2010.