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Illustration by Drew Shannon

Last May, just as the world was awakening from COVID lockdowns, my 15-year-old son, Benjamin, informed his mother and me that he would like to attend an upcoming concert. Apparently, the rapper Kendrick Lamar was coming to Toronto and, also apparently, Mr. Lamar was the “best ever.”

We informed my son, in no uncertain terms, that he was too young to go to a Kendrick Lamar concert in Toronto alone. I naively took, “you can’t go alone” as “you can’t go” and thought nothing further of it. But my son and his friend, Josh, refused to take no for an answer.

A couple of days later I received an excited text message from Josh’s father: “How about taking the boys to the Kendrick Lamar concert!?”

Unlike me, Josh’s father is cool. His name is Ash, after all. He drives a Porsche, plays electric guitar and has a sound room in his basement where he and his son “jam.” He can have an hours-long conversation about the different stitching on various Nike sneakers. I, on the other hand, have an office in my basement where I read. I wear Skechers.

This explains why the boys approached Josh’s “cool” father about taking them to the concert rather than me. Instead of two boys and two fathers heading to the concert, the night seemed to be shaping up as three hip, cool people and … well … me. By this point it was impossible to say no. Not only were the boys dying to go, but Ash was just as excited as either of them. He also knew how to get tickets and had started planning the whole evening. Within a week we had four seats to see Mr. Lamar a couple of months hence. I couldn’t imagine anywhere I would fit in less.

A few weeks later I happened to be in Ottawa visiting with my octogenarian mother and her sister, my Aunt Martha. I relayed to them the absurdity of my situation, a man in his fifties attending a Kendrick Lamar concert just so his son could go, for goodness sakes! Wasn’t parenting, I mused, so much simpler before TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat?

My mother and my aunt listened to my complaining attentively, looked at each other and then burst out laughing. What was so funny? The more things change, I was told, the more they stay the same. The trials of parenting apparently hadn’t changed at all. Then they told me a story.

In the summer of 1964, Martha, then an 11-year-old girl living in Ottawa, informed her mother she would like to attend an upcoming concert. A wonderful, dreamy band from England was planning to play two shows in Montreal. Apparently, they were the “best band ever.”

Of course her mother, my grandmother Audrey, informed her, in no uncertain terms, that she was too young to go to a concert in Montreal. And anyway, who was this band? What was so special about them?

The band was The Beatles, and it would end up being the only time they would ever play in the city. Martha, just like my son Benjamin, refused to take no for an answer and pleaded with her father.

My grandfather Cuthbert was not a Beatles fan. He was born in 1903, just two years after Rachmaninov had finished his Piano Concerto No. 2 and slightly before Claude Debussy’s La Mer premiered. He grew up listening to classical music. He wore bespoke three-piece suits, half-moon glasses and had been a colonel in the Canadian army. If he was feeling adventurous, which he rarely was, he might listen to some “big band” music. The Glenn Miller Orchestra maybe.

Still, he was a father first, and his little girl wanted to go and see this new “rock and roll” band, and so, to keep her happy, he sourced some tickets, fired up the Jaguar and drove Martha and her friend from Ottawa to Montreal to see the Fab Four.

As soon as the band came on stage the crowd exploded. Girls were screaming, Several fainted. The Beatles were literally hollering (their first song was Twist and Shout). Poor old Cuthbert didn’t know what had hit him. It was, as he would describe it later, terribly uncivilized.

But after a while something unexpected happened. As the band broke into renditions of She Loves You and Can’t Buy Me Love, Cuthbert found he was getting into it just a little bit. His foot was tapping. Only slightly, and involuntarily, but tapping none the less. These British chaps, it turned out, could actually carry a tune, even if they could do with a trip to the barber (you couldn’t even see their ears!).

By the time McCartney broke into his screaming rendition of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally, Cuthbert appeared to have forgotten entirely that he was a respected lawyer whose daily lunches at the Rideau Club included two dry martinis and six oysters on the half shell, accompanied by subtle Chopin nocturnes.

As they left the concert for the ride back to Ottawa, the girls were floating on clouds and Cuthbert needed a cocktail. That was 58 years ago, and now history was repeating.

Well, if Cuthbert, could attend a Beatles concert at 61 without embarrassing his daughter, I could do something similar for my son. The first thing to do, then, was to learn something about Mr. Lamar and his music. I duly downloaded and listened to all his albums (total potty-mouth, apparently swearing was not frowned upon in the Lamar household!), focusing on his most recent. I had several discussions with Benjamin about what to wear. After almost my entire wardrobe was vetoed, we eventually agreed on “something dark – not a suit’” So, with me kitted out in denim jeans and a plain black T-shirt, we headed down to the Scotiabank Arena.

The truth is the concert was great. Really, really impressive. The best part, of course, was how happy my son was. I stood when appropriate, I didn’t dance, and every now and then my son gave me an encouraging, accepting nod. Mr. Lamar has sold more than 70 million albums and won 14 Grammy awards, so there must be something to him and his music. So while Kendrick Lamar may still not be my favourite artist, I’m glad my son introduced me to him, and I’m glad I went, just as Cuthbert was always glad he went to see The Beatles.

It’s so easy to sit in our silos, divided by age or upbringing or political affiliation. Often, we don’t keep an open mind to new things, new experiences. Fortunately we have children, like Benjamin and Martha, to help us do that. If, of course, we have the sense to listen to them.

Mark Angus Hamlin lives in Toronto.