Lesson learned from Dad: Don’t be afraid to be yourself, even if it makes you ‘uncool’

My dad is a loser.

Old family vacation albums reveal his stylish knee-high socks and trademark fanny pack strapped around his waist, a water bottle at each side.

While friends’ parents display old collections of The Beatles and Led Zeppelin albums, my dad still plays the trumpet at the U of I band reunion every other year and still attends the annual “Bix Fest” in Iowa where he hears the music of his favorite clarinetists, Bix Beiderbecke and Artie Shaw. Conversely, he calls Bob Dylan a “fraud” and The Rolling Stones a group of idiots.

A chemistry major in college, he would play Tom Lehrer’s “The Element Song” for my sister and me in the car every day to the point where we thought holmium and helium and hafnium may have been the names of Greek gods.

He hardly ever watches television but spends a good amount of his free time reading old Yiddish stories, obsessing over his GPS and watching Marx Brothers films.

When I was younger, I liked my dad’s music. I didn’t mind the fanny pack or the chemistry references.

Then my friends took notice.

“Why is your dad so strange?” I remember a girl in my summer school class asking once after he dropped me off at class one day.

I couldn’t give her an answer, because I didn’t know what she meant. Then she mentioned the “awful” music he was playing in the car (Mickey Katz) and confusing references to old scientists or jazz musicians.

I started to pick up on it. My dad was not cool. From his clothes, to the way he talked, to everything he knew and didn’t know about pop culture. How did I not realize that before?

One day in the car, after we were halfway through a Benny Goodman album, I confronted him on it.

“Dad, why do you always play such horrible music? You’re such a loser. No one listens to this stuff but you.”

“I know,” he said. “So what? I’m a nerd, Rebecca, but let me tell you something: Nerds rule the world. So I don’t care what other people think. I’m not afraid to be uncool.”

He shrugged me off and kept on whistling.

His shrugging fazed me. My dad didn’t allow my words to affect him.

Ten years later, I find myself in a situation not too different from my dad’s. I don’t have any Top 40 artists on my iPod but still love blasting my favorite Van Morrison songs for my unwilling friends to hear. I ride a bike probably half the size of a normal frame and wear a helmet twice the size of my head. The other week I ordered a beer at Murphy’s Pub, and after a first sip, I admitted to my friends I wished I had ordered a cherry Coke.

“What is wrong with you, Rebecca?” my friend Rachel said. “You’re in college — you aren’t supposed to be acting this way! It isn’t normal.”

She was probably right. But I didn’t really care.

That’s not to say that with age my values of ‘cool’ were suddenly replaced, but they were somewhat renewed in a way.

I understand that certain trends will always dominate; charisma will always reside in the George Clooneys of the world as opposed to the Urkels.

I will sometimes have an itching desire to “follow the pack” and have a Blue Moon even if I really want a Shirley Temple.

I also understand that putting up a constant fight to do things differently just to be different doesn’t send the right message either.

But the things my dad does — he doesn’t think about them either way. He listens to songs about chemistry because he enjoys them.

He wears a fanny pack sometimes because it’s convenient.

I’d like to think that as I grow older, I’m learning to do the same. And when I get heat for my helmet or taste in music, I’ll know to shrug it off and keep on whistling — as long as I’m doing what I enjoy.

_Rebecca is a senior in LAS._