Family patterns are something we hear about, but many people do not understand them, or how they might apply to one’s own life. A great example of this is a song written and sung by Neil Young.  From his many great songs, I chose Old Man, as it goes nicely with the past few postings around parenthood and provides some continuity in this vein.

Old Man could be interpreted as commentary on family patterns that have a way of repeating themselves over and over again through the generations. For better or for worse. Many times, they are what are considered to be unconscious patterns, ways of being that are not fully in one’s awareness. In this particular case, it seems as though the subject of the song speaks his truth as he comes to some recognition and resignation that at the young age of twenty-four he is behaving in ways that he doesn’t really respect, potentially the same way his own father did.

Old Man look at my life, I’m a lot like you were
Old Man look at my life, I’m a lot like you were

Old Man look at my life, twenty-four and there’s so much more
live alone in a paradise that makes me think of two
love lost such a cost, give me things that don’t get lost
like a coin that won’t get tossed rolling home to you

Old man take a look at my life I’m a lot like you
I need someone to love me the whole day through
Ah well look in my eyes you can tell that’s true

Lullabies look in your eyes, run around the same old town
doesn’t mean that much to me to mean that much to you
I’ve been first and last, look at how the time goes past
but I’m all alone at last rolling home to you

As a contrast to the story presented in Old Man, I wanted to revisit my previous post Lullaby, where I referenced Billy Joel’s song and the touching conversation he had with his daughter. The conversation that inspired him to write the music, as his daughter asked him about death and what occurs when people die. Thus, the difficult topic of separation. Joel’s love for his daughter is apparent as he promises her, “I will never leave you. I will never, never leave you.”

Joel shares this story of Lullaby‘s inspiration with master music students. In the midst of his performance, he stops and walks away from the piano, presumably because the song is bringing up strong emotions for him. However, later on in his demonstration he returns to the piano to finish that which he had started, and plays Lullaby from where he had left it.

I wonder if Joel reflected on his actions during the performance and considered how many times he may have encouraged his daughter to stick with something, to not give up, to not quit. Or times in his own life where he had quit or given up. Perhaps he wanted to stay true to advice he had given his daughter. Perhaps by walking away Joel felt that he had somehow left his daughter, something he had promised never to do.

Whatever the reason, what he did showed a lot of character and insight, and even courage. It appeared to be unprompted and genuine. He made an effort to correct something he felt fell short of how he wanted to be as a person. Admirable. Very admirable. Those family patterns can keep rolling on, or can be consciously disrupted, if folks are aware of the patterns and want to change them.