One Good Phrase: Jason Boyett (What song would you like to sing?)
Jason Boyett and I go way back. Way back all the way to my beginnings. (He was around for a few years prior.) So, I know all about his stress hives when he was sixteen. And I used to tiptoe around his room when he was in high school and sneak peaks at his journal. (He was a writer even then.) Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever confessed that to him. (Sorry, Jas.) It’s a little odd to introduce my own big brother. But I should say if there was anyone in my world who gave me permission to read poetry and secretly LOVE my high school English classes, it was Jason. He painted poetry on my walls for my seventeenth birthday. John Keats is still there in my parent’s house, waiting for me every time I come home. Thanks for being here today, Jason.
People know me as a writer. Where I live, in Amarillo, a few people also know me as a designer or advertising hack. But only a small group of people—my family, close friends, church members—know me by as a musician.
It’s not on my business card or anything. I’m by no means any kind of professional. But Micha and I come from a long line of musicians. Our dad plays the violin in the church orchestra. Our mom plays the piano. Between them, our three aunts play the cello, viola, and flute. Our grandmother was a church organist for decades and our granddad sang the deepest bass you can imagine. All three of us Boyett siblings took piano lessons. I was one of eleventy-jillion youth group kids who taught himself to play the guitar in high school. After that, I progressed to the hammered dulcimer (yay Rich Mullins!). I just finished a 15-year stint playing drums for our church worship band.
We Boyetts have music in the blood. And what I’m about to admit might be the kind of thing that embarrasses me or my kids a few years from now, but here it is: Every night, rather than just sending our 10 year-old son and 13 year-old daughter off to bed, we still follow a bedtime routine. We talk to them about their day, or about what’s coming up tomorrow. We pray with them. Then I ask, “What song would you like to sing?”
They choose a song, and that’s the last thing we do before we say goodnight. We sing together.
We’ve done it since Ellie was an infant. As a new father, I adapted the lyrics from the traditional “Texas River Song” (my favorite version is Lyle Lovett’s) into a time-to-go-to-sleep lullaby and sang it for her, and then Owen, every night as we tucked them in. Once our kids grew older, I began writing other songs, with original words and melodies. A couple of songs about bedtime. A song about colors. A song about a giant motorhome, or about all the different kinds of trucks on the road. Eventually we built up a roster of 8-10 songs, and every night they pick from the list.
We pray. We sing. We say goodnight. We do this seven days a week.
I started this tradition for a couple of reasons. In his book Multiple Intelligences, the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner identifies a number of innate intelligences that humans share. There are the usual ones like linguistic intelligence, math intelligence, even interpersonal intelligence. But he also places musical intelligence right up there with those others in terms of importance. And of course we’ve all heard the studies about the link between music and language development and math skill and firing neurons and creativity. Which sounds very smart, and I won’t pretend that wasn’t part of my initial desire to sing nightly songs with my kids. It made for a good public explanation, should I ever need one.
The private reason, however, was stress relief. Music calmed my kids down as they listened. Sometimes it made the crying stop. And it soothed me just as much as it soothed them. Our family embraces routine, and the routine of a song before bed was good for the kids and good for us parents. That was then.
It’s still true today.
And while routine and stress relief is one reason I persist in ending every day with a father-kid duet, the biggest reason is a simpler, more gut-level desire: they still let me do it. They still want a song. So do I. It’s our thing. It’s what we do. It ties us together.
Our 4th grader and 7th grader can certainly go to bed without my guitar. At this point, their brains are good and developed. Their personalities are solidifying. They read books and make sophisticated jokes and have Instagram accounts, for crying out loud. Ellie is about to become a teenager.
That hasn’t stopped me. I still offer them a song every night, just because I can. Because they’ll still let me. Because I know this time is fleeting. Because I know one day they’ll decide they’re too old to sing with Dad.
But I’m banking on the fact that such a decision won’t come tonight. Tonight I’ll ask “What song would you like to sing?” I’ll hold my breath. I’ll wait.
They’ll pick a favorite. Maybe it’ll be “The Color Song,” or “What Did the Mommy Say?” or “What Time Is It?”
They’ll choose. I’ll exhale—one more night—and we’ll sing together.
Tomorrow night, I’ll ask again.
Just for fun, I’ve included a video of the kids and me singing “What Time Is It?”, a fun call-and-response countdown we wrote together and have been singing since Owen was a toddler.