Sunday, January 31, 2016

Alexander, My Daughter and Me

My 12-year-old daughter has become obsessed with Alexander Hamilton, and I don't know what to do about it.

That’s one sentence I never imagined I’d write. Really didn’t see this one coming. But it’s true. Alex, as she calls him, permeates her every waking thought.
You’d think a typical dad like myself would be pleased that his precocious and energetic child was focusing her young intellect on the life and philosophy of one of the greatest minds in American history. But no.
I fondly miss her past days of being singularly pre-occupied with a certain insufferable British YouTube duo, named Dan and Phil, which she still is when not talking, singing, or reciting random facts about our nation's first secretary of the treasury.
What's next, a musical about math?
Or cumulus clouds? Or cats?
... Oh wait, never mind. 
(I also just noticed the "Parental Advisory"
label -- wish I saw that earlier).
And what ever happened to the happier days of her youth when she would endlessly belt Fall Out Boy lyrics, or wistfully engage in a game of name that obscure Disney tune with her siblings. Ever heard your kid sing “Great Spirits” from Brother Bear? I have. Or at least, I used to.
Now, she’s more likely to rap the preamble to the Constitution, or shake her shoulders and sing, “I’m not throwing away my … shot.”
Not to mention, she knows more random facts about Alexander Hamilton than any 12-year-old should. Heck, I have a graduate degree in political science – which I’m still paying for, by the way – and she has more Hamiltonian and revolutionary facts stored in her young brain then I was ever exposed to in all of college, and I had a whole grad-level class on Alexander Hamilton and the constitutional convention, taught by a renowned expert on Hamilton. This play's soundtrack has taught her more about the founding of our country than I learned in grad school.
Sure, that was a while ago. But I didn’t recall that Hamilton wrote 50 of the 85 Federalist Papers.
[Daughter chimes in]: “Actually, he wrote 51, dad.”
“The plan was to write 25. John Jay got sick after writing 5. James Madison wrote 29. Hamilton wrote the other … 51.”
Oh. Thanks.
“He also wrote an 80 page essay to a supporter of King George III named Sam Seabury about how colonial England was a tyrannical government.”
See what I mean. It’s not that I have anything against Hamilton, though truthfully I always considered myself more of a Jefferson guy. It’s just kind of weird to have my days filled with all these random facts from American history.  You know, I mean, political philosophy and the fundamental questions about democratic principles have their place. But do we really have to talk about Hamilton’s design of our national financial system at the dinner table. Can’t we just talk about how school went today?
I’m sure many people reading this know the root cause of my problem. It’s her mother. She’s the one who studied theater in college, and turned my daughter on to classics like Les Miserable, years ago. The soundtrack to Les Mis was actually the first album she put on her first MP3 player when she was little. (Yes, that was her first electronic gadget – a true gateway electronic, if you ask me).
She used to sing “On My Own” ad nauseam when she was a spritely 7 years old. Which, in hindsight, was kind of cute.
Which gets us to the actual cause of my Hamilton-obsessed-child problem: Theater.
For those who don’t know, and I counted myself among you until recently, there is a new “smash hit” on Broadway about the life and times of, get this, Alexander Hamilton. Apparently, it’s a cross-genre, hip-hop and classic, historically accurate, tear-jerker of a musical that follows this founding father through the revolution and early years of our great democratic experiment. It sounds like a total flop, right? But the aptly-titled Hamilton, which began off-Broadway last January, made the move to the bigger stage in August and is now sold out for the foreseeable future and, good-money has it, it’s a shoo-in to win a bunch of Tony Awards. I heard that last part.
About a month and a half ago, my daughter was introduced to the soundtrack by one of her theater friends (a reminder how important it is to make sure your kid hangs out with the right crowd).
Anyway, flash forward to now, and she’s singing, dancing and rapping about the founding of our country and one of its chief architects.
Worse yet, she forced me to start listening to the darn thing as prerequisite to writing this – I’ve gotten through the first act, so far -- and now I’m hooked, as well. It’s amazing, on so many bizarre levels. Genius, really. Who would’ve thought the subject I studied in boring grad school classes had the makings of a Broadway classic. Not me, for sure.
And now I’m learning random facts about Hamilton that I never knew, or completely forgot.
For instance, I did not even recall that he and Aaron Burr were actually friends going way back.
“They were quite close. Their rift had to do with Alex’s belief that Burr was unprincipled and an opportunist, and that’s what led to …”
Stop. Don’t give away a spoiler.
“I can’t spoil it, dad. It’s actual history.”
Oh. Right.
Anyway. This is our latest obsession. And maybe sometime in the not too distant future, we’ll feed this obsession with a trip to New York and a visit to Broadway. If we can even get any tickets.
In the meantime, I’ve got a soundtrack to finish.
I wonder how it’s going to end?

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