A note from Valerie: My friendship with Aaron Williams goes back to the first day of Kindergarten. Not ours, though. It was the first day of school at Manzanita Elementary, 2002. My daughter and his oldest son Brady were in the same class, and we both stood at the back of the room smiling as our kids quickly forgot we were there, and settled into being students.
Over the years Aaron and I spent many a morning chatting on the playground after dropping the kids off at school. He was usually bleary-eyed and dog-tired, after pulling an all-nighter, writing up last night's high school games for the newspaper where he was sports editor for many years. He also had some radio gigs, and has developed a relationship to music that is very similar to mine, and like me music has played a big part of relating to his offspring. His love of music was definitely picked up by Brady, who sadly perished a year ago in a vehicle accident.
Just recently Aaron and I had the chance to hang out and chat again. I told him I would've loved to spent a day in his shoes at his last job, teaching radio to the kids at Central Valley High, and he mentioned that he would love to have a shot at filling in for the Mistress of the Mix sometime.
What better time for Aaron to do that than the weekend we reserve to celebrate fatherhood? It's a job he knows a lot about, and is so much more qualified than I to discuss. And so, I present to you my friend Aaron Williams. We'll call him the Master of the Mix. Because I said so.
By Aaron Williams
It’s the most important job I’ve ever had. Some days it’s a real challenge, while other days it’s a breeze.
And the pay? The riches are unimaginable – hand-made Christmas ornaments; adventures that make real work seem a million miles away; the smile when they hit the game-winning shot; watching your little boy turn into a kind, thoughtful young man; the promise of seeing them become loving husbands and fathers themselves.
Being a father isn’t necessarily something you can list on a resume, but make no mistake, it’s a full-time occupation.
Father’s Day is a mixed bag for me. I’m blessed to have had five wonderful young men in my life – three (Brady, Tanner and Nolan) that come to me naturally and my girlfriend’s two (Jeff and Robby) that I’ve been fortunate to - in small part - help raise. Yet, the loss of my oldest, Brady, just over a year ago still leaves an unfillable void that has made everyday - let alone holidays - difficult to navigate.
Music has always been a huge part of my life. It’s given my life a soundtrack. I remember times, places and events by songs and artists.
My parents loved music. I am an audiophile. My kids have developed wide and varied musical tastes. It’s amazing to watch the soundtrack of my life meld and grow with theirs.
My Father’s Day playlist includes your father-and-son staples – “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens, “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, “The Living Years” by Mike + the Mechanics and the anti-dad “Father of Mine” by Everclear.
Of course, the gold standard is Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” I swore when I was about to become a father that I wouldn’t be the dad in Chapin’s haunting tale about missing out on his son’s youth only to have the tables turned as his boy grew to be a man.
But most of my playlist are songs that take me back to times and places with my boys and our many adventures.
My mom used to sing Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” to me as a boy; something I did when my kids were younger.
As they grew, we’d visit grandma in the Bay Area or go hiking in Tahoe and listen to music as we traveled. Songs like Cake’s “The Distance,” Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” and Daft Punk’s “Da Funk” all were regulars on road trips.
Of course, tunes like “I Like to Move It” by Reel 2 Real (off the Madagascar soundtrack) always got a laugh and would become an ear worm – a song that you just can’t get out of your head. As young boys, they always laughed when King Missile’s “Detachable Penis” would come on … because what boy isn’t deep down a little bit Beavis and Butthead (huh, huh, he said penis.)
As they grew older, we’d play iPod roulette on car trips, with everyone getting a song and then passing it to the next person. We’d always get a random and diverse mix that included everything from “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies to “Battle of Who Could Care Less” from Ben Folds Five to “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay and my choice of “Subdivisions” by Rush.
Some songs in our soundtrack were from concerts we’d see – “Numb” by Linkin Park, “How I Could Just Kill a Man” by Rage Against the Machine, “The Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance” or “The Pretender” by Foo Fighters. Silversun Pickups always were a staple, as was rap – my boys are all well-versed in Wu Tang, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Notorious B.I.G.
Along the way, they learned to like some of my music and I even have introduced some of theirs into my soundtrack. For example, hearing Tanner sing “Danny’s Song” by Loggins and Messina always makes me smile and tear up. On the flip side, he turned me on to baseball-player-turned-rapper Mike Stud with “These Days” and he’s now on the iPod and someone I’ve seen in concert.
After Brady died, I started listening to some of his music – he was well on his way to being a bigger concert-goer than I was at his age. Some of Brady’s music I could take or leave, but some of it has been a big help in the healing process. There are days when Circa Survive’s “On Letting Go” album is on repeat. And if it’s not Circa Survive, it might be Silverstein or All Time Low’s new album, which was on repeat as I wrote this.
I’ve learned along the way that it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters most in life. I’ve been fortunate to be part of a journey that’s seen five boys turn in to kind, caring, loving and pretty remarkable young men. And our journey has had a pretty kick-ass soundtrack.
Happy Father’s Day.
To enjoy the music on today's Father of Sons playlist, click on the play arrow below, or access the playlist directly at Spotify. And please share the songs that define your parenthood soundtrack in the comments section.