Every day, life gives you the opportunity to learn some real lessons. A recent one for me is that singing along to Teenage Dream with your father is awkward.
I learned this when the cast from the hit TV show Glee rolled into Toronto earlier this month, performing their slate of cover hits at the Air Canada Centre. Most of the audience was under 20 - tweens with their BFFs, girls of all ages dragging their boyfriends. And me? I was there with my whole family: sister, brother, mother and 59-year-old father, who bought the tickets for all of us.
There I was, almost 27 and singing a Katy Perry song about going "all the way tonight" next to my Pops, who wasn't exactly loving every minute.
When I was growing up, live music was a bonding experience for me and my father. It didn't matter who I wanted to see, he was always willing to be my chaperone. But I got the sense he didn't actually enjoy the experience. Maybe it was the crushing crowds or the piercing screams, but I started to notice a pattern of anxiety in him at these events.
My dad took me to my first concert when I was in Grade 6 - Alanis Morissette at Molson Park in Barrie, Ont. She was at the height of her fame, so this was a full-on rock show - complete with crowd-surfing and beer-spilling - and there among the throng of Jagged Little Pill fans was 12-year-old me, wearing my pink Northern Reflections sweater with matching stirrup leggings.
To avoid the crush of people and traffic, my father insisted, despite my protests, that we leave before the encore. The spoiled brat in me still feels ripped off that I didn't get to see her perform You Learn live.
The next year, my dad took me to see No Doubt at Maple Leaf Gardens. He sported a leather jacket, folded arms and ear plugs.
Soon enough I reached the age when I could start going to these shows with my friends, so the father-daughter concert bonding became less frequent. I can only imagine this was a relief to my dad.
So you'd think that when it was finally his turn to pick the show, it would be something along the lines of James Taylor, Paul Simon or Elton John. Nope. He wanted to see Glee Live. And he was bringing the whole family.
Though everyone in my family watches Glee regularly, my dad has always been the biggest fan of all of us. He'll cut dinner short when it's on and is loathe to miss an opportunity to misquote ornery cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester or praise the talents of recurring guest star Gwyneth Paltrow. The show's numerous soundtracks play on repeat in his car.
Alas, the Glee kids did little to calm his arena-concert anxiety. An hour before the show, he started scoping out the emergency exits, telling my mom, "We should make a game plan in case we get split up."
And things didn't change when the show began. Mostly plugging his ears when the fans' shrieking started, he wasn't afraid to share his opinions on the group's star Rachel Berry ("too shrill") or "the new guy" Sam Evans ("totally lip-synching").
My mother, who had just finished a particularly stressful week, was too exhausted to give the show her full attention. Which only made the critical analysis she shared with my father all the more amusing. "Where's the guy with the tomahawk?" she asked, referring to Puck, the guy with the mohawk. "They've hardly given him any songs at all!"
And, wondering about the whereabouts of the dreamy glee club teacher, played by Matthew Morrison, she asked, "Doesn't Mr. Schue travel with them?"
"No," my dad responded in frustration. "He tried to have his own tour for his solo album, but it didn't work out. Now he's opening for Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block."
Of course. We all knew that, right?
It's not that we weren't enjoying ourselves. But maybe we were all past the age when it was possible for us to dive into the experience together - to dance with pure silliness, belt out the tunes and feel the unadulterated joy of being a fan.
Then came the show-ending anthem, Somebody to Love by Queen.
When the cast started channelling Freddie Mercury's miraculous falsetto, my whole family was, suddenly, in sync. My sister initiated a ridiculous hand-flapping dance that perfectly paired with the song's rousing crescendo (I'll let you picture that for yourself). We all sang our parts - I pride myself on being able to harmonize perfectly on this one, thanks to my karaoke skills - and we didn't care what we looked like. Even my too-cool-for-school little brother joined in.
Finally, I saw my father's concert anxiety disappear. It was like he was a kid again, and it was infectious. We haven't felt so much collective glee as a family in years. It took a group of talented (and slightly cloying) singer-actors covering a 35-year-old hit for my dad - and by extension all of us - to really start believing.
I have a feeling I'll be eternally grateful for that experience. When, for just a few moments, we all got to be ourselves and sing at the top of our lungs like no one was listening.
As we were leaving, my mother had one final criticism: "I wish they had performed that song from Witches."
No, they didn't perform that song from Wicked. But it sure was a wicked-good time.
Sarah Lilleyman is assistant editor of Globe Arts and lives in Toronto.
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