“Don’t take any SH__ from anbody!” – Fatherhood Lessons from Billy Joel


Billy Joel by David Shankbone

My very first album ever was Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” which I got for my birthday when I turned 12 years old, from the moment I listened to it I was destined to be a lifelong fan. He indirectly encouraged me to continue learning piano. He has traveled with me on road-trips via my car stereo. I have visited with him along with a small group of a few thousand other fans on more than one occasion. Now I can add to that list that he has taught me lessons on how to be a good dad. In fairness, I may have done a little of the heavy lifting on determining what these lessons were, nonetheless here are 5 Fatherhood Lessons via Billy Joel:

1. Learn to tell a good story

Billy Joel is a fantastic storyteller, his songs tell a story, whether it is the a night in the life of the piano player in a local bar or a recap of the 20th century. One of my favorite things to do with my kids is telling a story. I do it in so many different ways. Sometimes I am reading to them a story of their choice. Other times I am filling in the background for a movie we are watching, like Thor or Captain America. Even other times I find myself relating complex issues in the world like politics, history, religion, or even family dynamics and framing them in a story that is a bite-sized piece that they can understand; and that we can build upon as they grow. Learning to tell a good story has easily been one of the most valuable skills I have in my “dad utility belt.”

2. Don’t be afraid to tap into your emotions

Billy Joel uses a huge range of emotions in is songs and it is a large part of why I love listening to his music. I always know there is a song that matches my mood.  If I am feeling nostalgic I may listen to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” or “Two Thousand Years”. If I am sad or depressed “Downeaster Alexa” or “A Minor Variation” hit my playlist.  If I am feeling a little defiant then I cue up “Angry Young Man” or “You May Be Right”.  Whatever my mood I know Billy Joel has me covered.

As a dad, I need to let my kids know I have them covered. I think one of the best ways to do that is let them see you in various emotional states. If your kids know you have the same emotions they do then they know that on some level you can empathize with them. They also have a point of reference to share their feelings with you because they can associate it with a time they watched you experience the same feelings they are having.

3. It’s okay to borrow lessons from others

Billy Joel often talks about how he was inspired by other artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Dave Brubeck and Bob Dylan. He would put his own spin on their style or even add his own style in the form of a cover like with “Too Feel My Love” or “Live and Let Die”. He also seems pretty proud that his song “Shameless” became a huge hit for Garth Brooks.

As Dads and parents we can make each other stronger by learning from one another and sharing our experiences. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel for every challenge we face as a parent, someone else has probably already done it… we just need to tailor their solution to our family. Some of the great groups that I learn from and share with are City Dads Group,  Life of Dad, and The At-Home-Dad Network.  I am always interested in other great groups so if you find one leave a note in the comments.

4. Challenge your kids to take action

Billy Joel always ends his concerts by telling his audience: “Don’t take any shit from anybody!”, and after every concert I have been to of his I always leave with a little feeling of yes I can go out and not take anybody’s shit.

As parents, we have an opportunity to guide our kids and help them become engaged in their world. We should look for opportunities to encourage them to take a lesson they have learned through discipline, dialogue, or personal experience and apply it in life. Whether it is something like being picked last for a team or learning about the value of recycling, asking questions like “now that you know this what will you do with that knowledge”.

5. Know when to back off 

Billy Joel quit making albums at a time when he could easily have kept churning out records. What would likely have happened is we would have watched a bunch of lackluster albums chart his lack of fire for writing music. Now he does concerts on his own terms. He goes to colleges and does music and lecture series without having to worry about writing new albums and scheduling new tours for those albums. He can enjoy his success and engage it on his own terms, and if his current residency at Madison Square Gardens is any indication retirement has been very good to him.

With my kids, I find it is important to carefully navigate the line of when to be actively involved with my kids and when to be a spectator. If they are ever going to learn to handle difficult situations they have to be free to try. Playing at the park or at school they need to learn how to navigate relationships and conflicts. I can’t swoop in and solve things for them all the time. The same is true with schoolwork, once they know how to do something they need the space to try. Yes they will make mistakes, yes the will struggle and yes they will be better for it in the long run.

I love listening to my Billy Joel albums, I enjoy the fact that now my kids are even beginning to have a little appreciation for him. I never thought I’d learn parenting lessons from him but stranger things have happened.

Now get out there, and don’t take any shit from anybody!



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