Parenting Tips... with Damian Abraham

Damian Abraham is the lead singer of Fucked Up, which must be a really tough sell at PTA meetings.

Being a parent is the most rewarding job any person can have, ever. Think about it: You're responsible for shaping a human life, instilling all of your loves and hates in a child until they basically become a mini version of yourself! Sure, it can be grueling work. Tantrums are obnoxious, cleaning up my language and their butt chocolate is frustrating, and not getting any sleep for about two years (if you’re lucky) may drive you temporarily insane. But it's all worth it, right? And who really needs sleep, you know? Yeah!

As a fan, a father, and writer of music, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of a musician being a parent. I have a nine-to-five day job where I stare at a computer and go home every night for dinner and bedtime: Knowing how exhausting my life can be, I can’t imagine how it is for a musician, who has to tour the world, play an hour of so of music every other night, and then consume of drugs, alcohol, groupies or whatever. No, I don’t mean people like Steven Tyler, who either have six nannies, or people like ODB, who maybe don’t even know they have kids. I mean touring musicians who seem down to earth, somewhat normal and probably lead a somewhat normal life of domesticity.

Damian Abraham, who fronts Fucked Up, is one of those people. I know this because I sit across from him at MuchMusic, where we both work. Damian hosts a “indie/alternative” video show called The Wedge, which I am a part of. And while we do talk an awful lot about music, we also talk a lot about being dads. Let’s just say we have a lot more in common when it comes to child rearing than we do music. I decided to call him up and ask how he manages to raise two kids while simultaneously being one of the most recognizable front men in indie/punk rock.

Damian and his son, Holden.

Noisey: What's the single greatest struggle of being a parent in a touring and recording band?
Damian Abraham: Touring, by far. It’s really the only struggle. I don’t have any moral quandaries or anything like that. I’m really happy that my son likes the band, so really the only problem I have is being away and knowing that I’m missing part of their life. Sometimes I can reconcile that lots of people have jobs that take them away, and I think I could definitely find a job that keeps me at home every night throughout the year. If I worked at MuchMusic three days a week, I don’t think I could survive on it but at least I’d be home all the time. That’s really the only difficulty for us at this time.

You had a second child last year. How did that affect your life as far as the band is concerned?
Having a second child really just made it more difficult for my wife, when I’m away from home. It also made it harder on Holden, my older son, because Lauren’s taking care of the baby, so I’ve become the de facto lead parent with him, and she’s become the de facto lead parent of the baby. Then when I’m away that’s my buddy who has to deal with me being gone. So it’s made things harder on him, which makes things harder on me to go away. It’s also made it harder on Lauren, which makes it harder on me too (laughs).

Did the band’s touring change after you became a dad?
We did scale back touring. I was never a huge fan of touring before I had children. Now it’s worse. But I think we all wanted to scale back on the touring. Josh also had a kid recently, so we adjusted focus then. I think we did try to find a way not to tour as much though. I might be putting words in the rest of the band’s mouths in that regard, but I’m sure they would like to tour more than we do now. I do think we would have scaled band had I been barren (laughs).

Did Josh having a kid benefit you? Now you have an ally in the band who can relate to your life…
Definitely. It’s changed the power dynamic, because now there’s someone else who understands. I don’t want to bring up that old trope of “If you don’t have a kid you don’t understand” but if you don’t have a kid you can’t understand. So now Josh backs me up and he’ll say, “I don’t wanna do this.” And I’ll say, “Yeah, me neither!” (laughs). I’d always been the one who said “I don’t wanna go away,” so when I said that after having kids it almost felt like a cry wolf situation. Whereas Josh had always been gung ho to jump at any opportunity, so for him to say no, the band realized things are a little different now. If one band member has a baby, we can have a split band!

You don’t sound as though you enjoy touring.
I’ve always been a homebody. I think you’re either a nester or a traveler and I’m a nester and a roamer. I like my records, books and know all of my favorite restaurants in Toronto. That’s not to say I don’t like going away. I think it comes from my mom being a flight attendant when I was growing up. We flew stand by all the time, so I have a lot of anxiety around traveling. So yeah, I never really liked it, and having a baby just reinforced that.

Have you ever taken the kids on tour? Or is that just a terrible idea?
We’ve taken Holden to a couple of things: Matador 21 in Las Vegas, a show in New York and a bunch of stuff in Toronto. But never on tour. We’re not really at that point. You have to be at a certain level of comfort to have a kid there. We have hotel rooms, but there’s two of us per room, so it’s not really feasible at this point. It’s not a punishing lifestyle like how it is to get up and pave roads for eight hours a day. But it is draining emotionally and mentally. Having your family there can be fun, but it’s like having your family around for the worst parts of having your family around, which is sitting in a cooped up car all day. Even on a nice big bus, the novelty would wear off. Even without the family, the novelty of a bus wears off, even with distractions like alcohol, which a kid wouldn’t have. It drives adults to drink, it would only drive kids to madness… or candy, I guess.

How does having kids affect band rehearsal?
What rehearsals? (laughs) I’ve always been a jerk when it comes to rehearsal. I think for Josh it makes a difference. He has his kid in care every day because he practices with the band a lot and writes songs. In the last six years, I’ve only really gone to practice for something specific. They normally just give me tape and have me write lyrics or Mike writes lyrics and gives those to me on tape – I say tape, now it’s MP3, it used to be tape – and then we go from there. Rather than me sit there and watch while they jam it out. Actually, I could go to rehearsal now that I’ve broken straight edge. I could have an okay time. I don’t know if the rest of the band would though.

This guy could be your dad. Photo by Terry Richardson.

What would you say to a musician who’s looking to have children?
Really think about it. Obviously when you’re child comes, most people will love their child unconditionally and won’t be able to imagine a world without them. But that said, I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were some things in life that wouldn’t be easier to deal with now if I didn’t have a kid. That being said again (laughs), I cannot imagine my life without Holden and Dorian – they’re the loves of my life. I’m very grateful and lucky that Lauren is such an amazing person that is able to deal with this, but I could see this causing an unbelievable amount of strain on some people.

What about a parent looking to become a full-time musician?
Don’t! Really don’t. (laughs) It is not a very secure income to have come in. Fucked Up has been around for ten years now and we’ve established a fairly consistent amount of money. But I have no way of predicting what’s coming in week to week. Some weeks there’s nothing, but I have another job to cover it. So think about it before you quit your day job.

How successful are you at influencing your son’s taste in music?
It’s hard to say. I try not to be derogatory towards something that’s popular, unless I find something wrong with the video or in the lyrics. I think I have though. Holden came to awareness of Fucked Up as David Comes To Life came out, or Lauren playing “The Other Shoe” for him, or hearing it live with kids singing along to it. That’s his favorite song now, and I have to sing it to him before bed every night. So, I guess he’s a fan. I haven’t tried to put it on him. Growing up my dad taught me that Pepsi was better than Coke because he worked for Pepsi. I still think Pepsi tastes better. When my dad was playing Madness or Ian Dury, that was my favorite music as a kid, just because I heard it. So Holden likes Desperate Bicycles and Integrity, but for better or for worse, his favorite band is Fucked Up… which probably means when he gets older he’ll hate us and never want to hear our music again.

Does Holden know your band is called Fucked Up?
Yes. It’s a weird thing to walk because swearing doesn’t offend me or Lauren, but it does offend people. So trying to get him to become cognizant of the fact that you can say this around mommy and daddy but that you can never say this in school is a struggle. I don’t want him to get in trouble for it and deal with that whole issue (laughs).

You have an impressive record collection. Has he shown an interest in it?
Oh yes. I don’t let him touch them, but I play him records all the time. Hopefully he grows up with a love for music and doesn’t rebel against it and reject it. I was raised around it but I try not to force it on him. He picks out records based on covers, and sometimes I have to flip past a cover because it’s very disturbing. I grew up with a lot of the same things with my dad, but more books and weird antiques.

Is there a record you want to play him when he gets older?
I’ve played him Desperate Bicycles’ “Advice On Arrest” but I’d like to play it for him when he’s a little older so he can understand the lyrics because I think it’s the best song ever written. It’s very catchy and sing-songy, so he likes to hear it. If he ever comes to me and says, “Daddy, what about this music?” I’ll sit down with him. Unless it’s techno, in which I’d say, “I don’t really know that much but we can learn.” Because I’d be willing to like techno for him. That’s how far I would go for my family. I feel like I’m just talking about Holden, but that’s because Dorian’s just a baby. He might just hate music completely.

Can you count on any members of Fucked Up to babysit so you and your wife can have a night out?
Hell no! Oh my god no! Josh and his partner have said they would, but they haven’t yet. I think at this point, leaving your kids with someone, you want to pay them because they’ll be putting up with a lot of shit. But no, there’s no one in my band. Mike? No. Jonah, I think would be good, but he’s never offered. Let’s put it that way.

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