It gives me an artistic outlet for expressing what I think a man is, or should be. It’s a theme that comes up a lot in my art, be it in my writing or song lyrics. I used to write a lot about being shy and anxious, so this theme of masculinity would come up a lot. I thought being shy and anxious was an emasculating feeling. There was a song called “He Didn’t Do Anything.” It’s about a kid in band class, who’s good at what he does, he’s just shy. It’s kind of an anthem for that kid. It’s about a song that rocks, but he’s too shy to play it at the concert.
If you had a son, what are the three things you’d tell him he needed to do to be a man?
1. Be thoughtful. Be cognizant of other people.
2. You have to be willing to give other people space and freedom to do whatever they want. Don’t try to control the world around you.
3. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Be true to yourself—which is not a good thing unless you’re being thoughtful. As long as you continue thinking, you’re okay.
Tell me about your dad.
He’s amazing. He’s very shy too. Recently at a wedding I became very anxious and shy. There were a lot of pretty girls and I wasn’t talking to him, so I was down about that. I said Dad, I feel anxious, I don’t want to be here anymore. I asked if he could take me back to the hotel room. He took me back to the apartment, and asked me if I was okay. I said yah, I just need to sleep and wake up. The next morning he asked if I was okay, and I said I was. He didn’t make me feel bad–that was a major example for me.
The other incident that really stands out for me is a moment of speaking up. I was spending a summer in Chicago with some friends. My dad came to visit. When we were walking him to the metro station, early in the morning, this guy came up to us who was a little roughed up, maybe drunk. He wasn’t talking very coherently. He told this story of how his girlfriend hit him with a car and had come to the conclusion that “women ain’t shit.” My dad said, “I don’t know if I can agree with that.” (laughs.) We wanted to say, dad, it doesn’t matter. The guy kept insisting. My dad continued to say, “No, I can’t agree with that.” The guy put his hand on my dad, making my dad very uncomfortable, but my dad kept asserting. The guy eventually leaves, and I was really impressed that not only did my dad stand up for women, he gave this guy the time of day. He felt this guy was worth engaging with and discussing it. The issue was important enough that it was worth being uncomfortable.