With A Heart Wide Open

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I wouldn’t be surprised this week if there’s a stronger-than-typical response today when Tom Breihan reviews Creed’s Number One hit “With Arms Wide Open.”

After all, both Mike and the Mechanics’ 1989 chart-topper The Living Years and Harry Chapin’s 1974 hit Cat’s in the Cradle inspired more comments than most of their contemporaries.

Fatherhood – or, to put it more broadly, parenthood – is not the most common Top 40 topic.

Songs like these, as well as non-Number Ones like Dan Fogelberg’s Leader of the Band or John Lennon’s album track Beautiful Boy touch a part of us not explored as often as, say…

flirting…

dancing…

or heartbreak.

In part because of that relative lyrical novelty, Creed’s Number One hit earns two grades from me:

As a recording, it’s a 7.

I like its juxtaposition of the sensitive topic matter and the pop-grunge music (even the remix that plays up an orchestral segment works fine).

But as an example of vicarious parenthood, it’s a solid 10/10.

I’ve always had a complex relationship with the notions of being a father. I’m part of the last generation of gay men for whom coming out meant wrestling with questions of letting go of becoming a father.

In 1981, the year I came out, IVF was still relatively new. My cultural sense of gay men leaned more toward the Village People (only some of whom were gay) or Elton John (then known publicly as bisexual) than to any paterfamilias. I knew very few same-sex couples, and none were raising children. The few gay men I knew who had children had been married and become fathers before coming out.

At the same time: as a young adult, I faced the same questions my heterosexual friends did:

  • Would I be happy being a parent?
  • What did parenthood mean to me?
  • Was parenthood the only way or the best way to contribute to the betterment of the world?

  • Would I have regrets if I became a parent or regrets if I did not become one?

Making my way through the challenging 1980s – discerning my own code of ethics and approach to physical and relational intimacy – meant my own growing up. That consumed my energy for years, and questions of parenthood went on the back burner.

It wasn’t until the early ’90s, on the cusp of turning 30, that I felt ready to look more closely.

By then, I had met a man 18 years older than I who had long since worked through that internal dialogue and did not desire to be a father. I still wasn’t sure whether I wanted parenthood. But I knew, more firmly and clearly than almost anything I’ve ever known, that I wanted a relationship with that man.

In a few months, we will celebrate our 30th anniversary. In all those years, I’ve become close friends of heterosexual and LGBTQ+ adults who have children. I’ve also become close friends of heterosexual and LGBTQ+ adults who, like us, do not. 

What those years have taught me is that there are myriad ways to be generative and to create and cherish family.

All contribute to a better world.

Having recently turned 59, I’ve been reflecting with gratitude on the journey I’ve taken. At the same time, I’m grateful today’s LGBTQ+ young people can detangle understanding their sexual orientation and gender identity from considerations of potential parenthood.

Each process is essential to healthy development, and each deserves its own space and time.

In With Arms Wide Open, Scott Stapp of Creed sings:

“I don’t know if I’m ready to be the man I have to be.”

Though I’ve never experienced hearing that I’m about to be a father, that’s a question I’ll readily co-sign.

I’ve certainly felt that doubt of stepping into a new phase of life, one for which I feel completely unprepared.

Maybe that’s why this song resonates so with me.

Let the author know that you liked their article with a “heart” upvote!”

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Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 8 years (together 30 this November).

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Phylum of Alexandria
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September 2, 2022 10:14 am

Beautiful post, Chuck. You’ve even managed to imbue Creed’s song with a little more worth in my head than it previously had. That’s some magic right there!

Early congratulations on your coming 30 year anniversary! 

Aaron3000
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September 2, 2022 11:13 am

Got a little misty there for a moment, man. I definitely need to reassess my opinion of this song. At the time it was big, the lyrics didn’t resonate with me at all, and the incessant airplay led me to not want to hear it ever again. But after raising my wife’s great-niece for going-on-six-years now (a role neither of us was really prepared for) I think I can revisit the song and appreciate it more.

ArchieLeech
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September 2, 2022 11:26 am

Thank you for the heart-warming read. All things humanistic and empathetic should rule in all we do.

Should. I’m afraid my eternal memory of this song will be when I went to karaoke with my boss and his mullet-headed, plaid-shirt-and-Yankees-cap-wearing lesbian friend sang it with full triumph-posing, deep-voiced nearly-but-not-quite-camp accuracy. ‘Twas a wondrous performance. Make me laugh, made me smile, made me remember.

My favorite parent-child song is McCartney’s “Put It There.” Mama Leech loved Helen Reddy’s “You and Me Against the World” – even young mild-mannered me was too macho to be comfortable with something so nakedly emotional.

But I know now it takes guts to lead a person through life. Congratulations on being able to enjoy that mission, Chuck.

Last edited 26 days ago by ArchieLeech
cappiethedog
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September 2, 2022 11:46 pm
Reply to  ArchieLeech

My favorite parent-child song is Pedro the Lion’s “Big Trucks”. It’s written from the perspective of a young boy. If somebody held a gun to my head, and that’s what it would take to get me on stage, this is the song I’d perform. It’s the song I like to sing most in the car.

Virgindog
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September 2, 2022 11:31 am

Given your day job, Chuck, I have to assume that you’ve been, and still are, a father figure to dozens of kids. When spring rolls around, do something to celebrate Father’s Day.

JJ Live At Leeds
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September 2, 2022 12:52 pm

I’d never heard the song until today, Creed didn’t have much impact over here. My first listen doesn’t have me eager to hear it again but as ever its the wonderfully subjective nature of taste that for you it resonates so strongly particularly as it plays on such a personal issue.

Your take on family shows you’re a kind and thoughtful soul and I’m sure you’ve had a positive impact on many of the people in your life, young and old.

Congratulations on 30 years.

dutchg8r
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September 2, 2022 5:28 pm

Awww, chuck, this was exquisitely written. Well said.

Pauly Steyreen
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September 2, 2022 8:30 pm

Chuck, thanks for reminding me that no matter how much I think Creed sucks (and boy, do I), it’s still cool that they can have a positive impact on great dudes like yourself.

I think in your job, you get some taste of a fatherhood-like role (and not the easy one like grandparents get). But you get to come home and sleep well, not having the hellions in your actual house.

(Kidding about the hellion thing, in case it wasn’t obvious. I’m sure they’re mostly great kids.)

cappiethedog
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September 2, 2022 11:46 pm

Great essay, Chuck. And you got me to listen to Creed.

mt58
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September 3, 2022 9:12 am
Reply to  cstolliver

I’m just the guy that hangs the curtains.
Our phenomenal contributing authors are the ones that make this site sing.
Thanks to Chuck for his impassioned writing, and thanks to everybody for your involvement and support.

Last edited 25 days ago by mt58
LinkCrawford
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September 4, 2022 7:14 pm

Disappointed in the omission of the most famous/infamous approach to parenthood, Paul Anka and Odia Coates. That one was famously awkward. It should have at least been called “You’re Having Our Baby” (better pronoun and no parenthesis). I give that song way more benefit of the doubt than most…I think Paul was trying to do the right thing, but the words got in the way. And its tootling flutes made me like the music despite the lyrics.

I appreciate your defense of “With Arms Wide Open”.

Last edited 23 days ago by
Ozmoe
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Ozmoe
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September 5, 2022 9:30 pm

Always enjoy hearing a different perspective on a song I don’t like when it points out elements I’ve overlooked or maybe unconsciously avoided. Thanks for sharing this and great job, Chuck!

Logan Taylor
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September 5, 2022 11:16 pm

This is wonderful, Chuck! Just now got around to reading and I’m glad I did.

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