Full Metal Parenting #3: Image

Full Metal Parenting

The birth of this Full Metal Parenting series is all thanks to one offended parent.

Let me explain.

Last year, as I waited to pick my son up from school one day, a parent told me that my tee shirt, which happened to feature a picture of a church in flames on the front, was inappropriate schoolyard attire. Now, I am aware that kind of imagery might tweak the giblets of some sensitive souls, but given the last time anyone had complained about a tee shirt I was wearing was decades ago, I genuinely thought that parent must be joking or teasing.

So, I laughed.

As I quickly discovered, not everyone shares my sense of humour, and that parent didn’t giggle when I said that I felt my tee shirt delivered a heartfelt message that all children should embrace. From my point of view, a burning church on a tee shirt isn’t gruesome or shocking at all. It’s not as provocative as Cradle of Filth’s “Jesus is a cunt” tee-shirt, which, in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have mentioned to that already agitated parent.

That parent and I had ourselves a hearty verbal tussle that day, and it’d be fair to say that we didn’t part friends. However, that testy tête-à-tête got me thinking about all the other disapproving looks I’ve had cast my way over the years, and voilà, Full Metal Parenting was born.

burning church merch courtesy of Gorgoroth

burning church merch courtesy of Gorgoroth

The whole aim of this series is to highlight that parents come in all different shapes, sizes, and colours, and any judgements made about us based on how we look are, well, bullshit. I mean, the music I enjoy certainly reflects a really important part of my personality, and I’m very happy to emblaze that across my chest. However, metal’s livery doesn’t tell you anything about my abilities as parent, or my capacity to love my son.

Many of us proudly wear metal’s badges, but some parents clearly don’t enjoy metal’s regalia, or its image overall, and on occasion, public perceptions about metal do mean other parents cast disparaging gazes our way. In fairness to those wary-eyed parents, I probably am the kind of guy you might see in a newspaper photo and think, “well, he’s either been arrested for selling stolen panties out of a meth lab, or he’s just won a signed copy of Dune in a bookstore giveaway.” It could go either way. I am scruffy, and a little too dandruffy, and I definitely look like a guy who played way too much Tomb Raider in the ’90s. Still, what I’ve always liked about the image I project is that it tells you a few simple things about me; namely, I like heavy metal, its culture, and yeah, its provocativeness too.

My image, like yours, is simply a form of social shorthand; but it’s been a hard fought battle to hold back the onslaught of peer pressure around issues of image for my son.

He’s nine years old, so how he chooses to represent himself is obviously informed by every social cue that tells him what’s de rigueur for a kid his age. As much as I’ve tried to encourage him to discover his own sense of self, he’s getting to an age where fitting in counts. There’s not much I can do to combat that pressure, and I understand that my son doesn’t want to stand out right now.

That’s fine, in a couple of years he’ll be exploring who he wants to be, and all I can do is remind him that the world is stratified accordingly to some very stale rules, and that he’s free to choose how he expresses himself. Just like his dad chooses to wear a tee shirt that might make others a little cranky sometimes.

Really, I just want my son to kick about like a ragamuffin, and not worry about how he looks. But, as my son has pointed out, I am a complete hypocrite about the supposed freedom of choice he enjoys in that regard.

I still find myself making an effort to ensure he looks nice and tidy for guests and special outings. I obviously do that so no one judges me as a parent, which is ridiculous, because it runs counter to the “never judge anyone by the way they look” lecture that my son has to endure every week.

My hypocrisy about image doesn’t end there either.

For example, I like nothing more than seeing an out-and-out punk rockin’ parent because that underscores the wonderful diversity of parenting. Clearly, some folks like to see things differently, and they will point a finger if you’re not adhering to some imagined parental archetype. I could grumble about that, but to do so would be sanctimonious on my behalf. I mean, I’ll puff out my chest if anyone dares judge my family, but I still make judgements based on how people look every single day.

I can’t help myself. I’ve just always rooted for the underdog. If I see another metal parent I’ll always give them a respectful nod, but every button-down parent with their smartphone out in the playground is an automatic arsehole in my mind.

I know that’s wrong. I know that says more about me than them. I also know that’s really poor role-modelling for my son, so I don’t verbalize those thoughts in front of him. I guess it shows that I’ve got some work to do, which is fine, because the lessons of parenting never end.

Thankfully, I’ve got an utterly wonderful partner who works hard to impress upon our son that,  “yes, dad does like to strut about like an unkempt peacock on its last legs. But, always remember how other people dress isn’t necessarily an expression of what’s in their hearts at all.”

In truth, I have conflicted feelings about my image anyway, especially how it impacts on my son;s life. I know that wearing a tee shirt that spells out that I think religion is toxic does have an effect on my son’s social circle, because there are parents who obviously steer clear of saying hi because of the way I look.

In one sense, I don’t care if those parents don’t want to talk. Because why would I want to hang out with them anyway, and one less play date to arrange sounds good to me. Yet, I also worry that I’m limiting my son’s network of friends, and hindering those socialization skills that he needs to develop because of how I present myself.

That might sound a little defeatist, but I live in a tiny suburb by the sea, and my son goes to a small school too. You do tend to gravitate to like-minded parents for support and friendship, but there are no obvious fellow metal fans in my kids schoolyard. I do feel isolated, and so, perhaps, the pressure to conform is a little more acute.

Ultimately, I know I won’t ever be buckling. I won’t be censoring myself to appease the uptight, because I have different ideas about parenting flowing through my veins. All I can do is keep pushing forward, looking a little out of place in the schoolyard. Hopefully, that means my son will appreciate that everyone choosing to express themselves in many different ways makes for a more colourful and interesting world. Fingers crossed those other parents sitting in judgement might realize the same too.

— Craig Hayes

 “Pffft. Check out the dude in the Slipknot shirt.”

This past winter, at least I hope it’s past, we had a bit of an eye-opening moment with our oldest girl. She recently turned 10 and we are realizing that her world is changing in a number of ways. One of those ways is image. Both in how she chooses to present herself and how she is perceived by others.

So here’s the story. We got a smokin’ good deal on ski jackets and snow pants for our oldest two at an end-of-season sale. The next day they wore their killer new threads to school. When they got home my oldest says, “Thank you SO MUCH for getting me a new snow suit! Now my friends will actually play and talk with me again! But I didn’t wear the pants.” Wait, what?! You’re friends weren’t… what?

As it turns out, the one-piece suit she had been wearing before wasn’t cool despite its obvious practicality. So in what could possibly be a bit of an exaggeration on my daughter’s part, the group of ten year olds shunned her because of what she was wearing. Apparently even wearing snow pants isn’t cool. By trying to save a few bucks on next year’s gear we inadvertently helped her overcome a social hurdle. She fit in again.

As parents we were floored by what she told us. At 9-10 years old what you were wearing actually had an effect on social standing? Since when did kids get so cruel? I shouldn’t really be surprised though. I was always an outcast, or at least I felt that way, and I bet much of that was due to my attire. Stupid sweatpants. And even in high school I got called out on my Pantera shirt. Because of the pot leaf on it, not the fact that it was Pantera.

My wife and I have always been very diligent in teaching our girls that how you feel and what makes you happy are the most important. However, we’d never knowingly subject our children to ridicule just to drive a home a lesson. We reinforced that teaching after the revelation and accepted the fact that she’s come to an age where image matters. We’ll keep pushing inner beauty but now we’re conscious to the fact that she is in fact growing up.

So where does metal come into play? Well, I’m flipping the script a little. Instead of talking about how being a metalhead relates to parenting, I’m saying there are parenting lessons to be applied to being a metalhead.

We’ve all been to a metal show before. I hope. We’ve carefully chosen which band shirt to wear or not wear, usually in hopes that some random dude will compliment our kvltness. I mean, the Anciients show isn’t happening for over three months from this writing and I already plan to wear my Bison B.C. shirt. And we all know there will be at least one guy/gal there that will cause a snicker, a side-eye, or at worst a drunken “Check out this fuckin’ guy!” because of their choice of shirt. A Trivium shirt to a black metal show, a Killswitch Engage hoodie at a death metal show, a nu-metal anything to anything, whatever it might be.

I’m as guilty of that sort of judgement as the next guy but we shouldn’t be. But I don’t judge the person so much as their music tastes. And that applies to everyone. Ha! There could be a number of reasons for what they’re wearing. Maybe that’s the only band shirt they have and it was passed down from a big brother. Maybe that particular band really helped them get through a tough time in their life and, like we all should be, they’re not ashamed to wear it.

don't judge

“So what if someone’s wearing a Slipknot hoodie at the Carcass show? “

Maybe we need to take a look at ourselves a little and think about why we’re wearing what we are. Am I wearing this Cattle Decapitation shirt because I love the band and I don’t care who knows it, or am I wearing it to attract attention for being more metal than you? As much as we want to think that we don’t care about what people think of us, we do in some way. So even when I wear my Goatwhore shirt to the grocery store, I don’t care what the granny in the produce aisle thinks but I still made a conscious decision to wear it knowing someone will have an opinion. Would I wear it to my daughter’s dance recital? No. Why? Because I know I’d have dozens of eyes judging me and I might end up seeing them every week.

Just as we teach our children not to judge others based on their appearance, whether it be attire, looks, or even handicap, but by the kind of person they are, we need to do the same as adults. Especially as metal-loving adults. The genre has become so fractured that at times it feels like an Us vs. Them mentality has developed. Being metalheads to begin with is an Us vs. Them battle (with “acceptable” society”) so there’s no need to create divisiveness internally. So what if someone’s wearing a Slipknot hoodie at the Carcass show? They’re probably just as passionate as the next person. And they’re AT the Carcass show! Isn’t that enough? Just as we wouldn’t want someone judging our child because they’re wearing corduroy pants, or they don’t have the latest style of sneakers, we shouldn’t be judging others in our metal brotherhood.

As the mantra in our house goes, “It doesn’t matter as long as you’re a good person.” Now I’ll just have to try and remember that the next time I think some dude is just a poser. Do as I say, not as I do. Right?

— Matt Hinch 

Internationally published writer, columnist, and radio producer.

Keep up with all Matt's exploits on Twitter @Kingdomofnoise!