A lot of metal fans will tell you that the genre has taken them on journeys to dark, unexpected, and wholly beautiful places, leading them to question nature, reality, and the meaning of existence. Well, welcome to parenthood! It’s pretty much the same, and often twice as loud. Parenting is livin’ after midnight by default at lot of the time, and two die-hard metal fans and parents, Craig Hayes and Matt Hinch, are here with Full Metal Parenting — a series devoted to sharing tales from parenthood’s trenches, with lessons torn straight from metal’s scriptures.
“Heaven and Hell(o, what have you been looking at on the computer?)”
No matter how honest and open-minded you are as a parent, talking to your kids about sex can be simultaneously flustering, hilarious, and bewildering — kind of like trying to remain a Megadeth fan these days.
Just this week I had to have one of those awkward and altogether cliched father/son conversations with my nine-year-old, where he was extremely surprised to discover that the computer keeps track of exactly what he’s been looking at online.
That’s the way with kids. Cute and curious questions from toddlers soon turn into more complex and furtive inquiries, often answered by wildly inaccurate information. To try and counter that, we’ve a got rule in our house — you can ask anything, and we’ll do our best to answer — which is the polar opposite to any rule I had in my conservative household as a kid, because my parents never spoke to me about sex at all.
When I was growing up, there was no internet to enlighten or misinform me, so everything I learned about sex came from one well-worn book in the school library, one frighteningly severe biology class film, slow motion replays of bouncing breasts on B-grade horror videos, Buck Roger’s reruns (Oh, Wilma), and, eventually, repeated viewing of Mötley Crüe videos.
In hindsight, that combination probably wasn’t the most accurate form of sex education. But in my teens I discovered punk rock, which opened my eyes to a whole world of issues, like sexism, misogyny, and homophobia. I’m forever indebted to punk rock for providing me with a set of values to begin shaping my life around, and, in many ways, they’re much the same values we’re trying to teach my son.
However, he faces a very different world than the one I grew up in. He’s bombarded with infinitely more sexualised imagery and language in films, cartoons, music, and advertising—and the perils of the internet loom large for him too.
As parents, we do our best to filter what he’s exposed to, but he lives in the house of a diehard metal fan, so there are shelves filled with representations of sex that are anywhere from ridiculous to delusory to objectionable—even though we ensure there’s nothing graphic on display. Now, some people might presume there’s really nothing positive kids can learn about sex from the way it’s presented in nasty old metal (with its scantily clad vixens and leathered-up rootin’ tootin’ road-dogs) but I’d entirely disagree.
Listening to Judas Priest has meant my son and I have had discussions about Rob Halford coming out, and the importance of supporting LGBTQ rights. Iron Maiden’s “Women in Uniform” might not seem like an obvious segue into discussions about representations of women in the media and feminism, but when my son asked what the song was about, it led to that exact conversation.
I’ve had a heart-to-heart chat about representations of bodies in art with my son, because he plucked Peter Beste’s True Norwegian Black Metal from the bookshelf one day. Motörhead frontman Lemmy might not be your first choice for in-depth discussions with your kids, but when my son saw the Lemmy documentary cover—with its 49% Motherf**ker, 51% Son of a Bitch subtitle—that sparked a conversation about swearing, drugs, tumultuous relationships and (of course) why Motörhead are Gods.
The thing we’ve always tried to impress upon my son–especially where issues of sex, relationships, and depictions of men and women in the media are concerned—is that what he sees in the entertainment sphere is often far removed from the real world.
The line between fantasy and reality can be blurred when you’re still developing the emotional maturity to differentiate fact from fiction in the multimedia world that my son inhabits. However, the great thing about metal is that fantasy versus reality is what it’s all about.
Sure, metal has problematic elements in its depictions of sex, particularly sexual violence. But I can also point to metal when explaining to my son how music provides an outlet and cathartic space for people to deal with, debate, and express their own conflicted and/or dark thoughts about many topics, including sex.
I want my son to grow up feeling emotionally equipped for life’s hurdles. That means I have to talk to him about sex, sexual identity, and respecting others. However, rather than metal being some shocking secret to lock away in a cupboard, I’ve found it to be the perfect creative doorway to frank and enlightening discussions with my son.
Probably no one is more surprised about that than me. But then, I’ve been listening to metal for 30 years, and I turned out okay.
— Craig Hayes
“Um, maybe go ask your mother?”
Like Craig, my parents never really sat me down and talked about the things I shouldn’t be doing until I was old enough to do them, i.e. sex. Almost. My dad did tell me to “Just… be careful. Please.” And I did. Because I was scared shitless of having a kid before I was ready. I mean, because I was a good little boy. Yeah, right.
And from my step-dad I got something along the lines of “When you’re young, go ahead with the big boobs. Cuz they’re still firm. But when you get married, marry one with little boobs so they won’t sag when she gets old.” Uhhhhh…
Beyond the snicker/giggle-fuelled sex-ed classes at school, I got by on the occasional porn mag that circulated around the block and the lucky times an episode of Bleu Nuit came through on cable. No Crüe videos or Whitesnake album covers for me! I was far from prepared. And now that the generation has turned over, I’m still not.
Here’s where the differences begin. I have a trio of little girls as opposed to Craig’s young lad. It’s a whole different game, brother. They don’t seem as curious. They never pull out any of my albums or anything. I keep my CDs in the garage because that’s as far as I wanted to carry the cabinet when we moved and they don’t go in there much. My LPs are out but there’s nothing provocative there unless you have a thing for Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. Or Peter Frampton. But it’s not like I’m hiding them from any sexual imagery that may be seen in my metal collection. Ok, so maybe I am.
I sort of try and protect my girls from all kinds of sexual imagery, not just the kind depicted in metal. It’s just my instinct. My oldest turns ten this year and things are starting to uh, change, and I don’t want her or her sisters comparing themselves to the type of unrealistic standards seen in the media. Mainly mainstream. Which brings me to the other day.
My six (almost seven) year old was home sick from school and we were watching music videos on Vevo. I had it on the metal channel because I try and ram it down their throats any chance I get. She didn’t like Chimaira, she sat, I cringed through FFDP and Black Veil Brides (lyric video), then came some band named Amaranthe. Now we’re onto something! Female singer! And she’s not portrayed like a piece of meat! I asked my daughter what she thought of the singer. She says “I wanna be like her. Well, her hair. I wanna be like her hair.” I guess that’s a win?
After vetoing the Volbeat video she said she didn’t want to listen to “Daddy’s music” anymore. Hunny, none of that is “my music.” I wasn’t ready to give in to pop yet so I switched it to the alternative channel. It couldn’t have been much more than a minute into the second video and I turned it off. Why? Sex. It was a 30 Seconds to Mars video and a bunch of nearly naked women were writhing around Jared Leto. Nope. Not happening. Knee jerk. Seeing my daughters watch something like that makes me terribly uncomfortable. They’re only innocent for so long. They don’t need to see that and I don’t want them to.
Craig mentioned fantasy vs. reality. And that’s the crux of it. When it comes to sexual imagery, the line between fantasy and reality is harder to see. They see me watch The Walking Dead. They know it’s not real. We listen to Cannibal Corpse at the dinner table (when Mom’s not home). That’s just “rawr rawr rawr” to them. Heck, one of the videos we watched showed two teens killing themselves after being bullied. (It had a happy ending.) I was fine with that. We talked about it and it was good but perhaps that’s a subject for another post.
But the suggestiveness of much of pop music anymore makes me want to shelter them with metal even more. Because eventually it will lead to questions, and for that I defer to Mom. The thought of talking to my mom about sex was mortifying so the thought of my girls talking to me about sex is equally uncomfortable. I had a hard enough time explaining why I had to sit with a bag of frozen peas between my legs after my vasectomy without getting into the mechanics of procreation.
“Say girls! Why don’t we watch some bearded guys fight with swords, or even some pig fetuses getting mutilated! But we’re gonna skip Miley mmmkay?”
— Matt Hinch
Stay tuned for the next installment of Full Metal Parenting — an interview with writer and parent Beth Winegarner.