In this installment in our series, Dad Stories, Otter Pass asks dads how they handle dilemmas in parenting or in work-life balance. This week, we asked therapist and father of two Krispin Mayfield about finding time in the midst of a demanding career and life with two young kids for his music. Krispin is a musician who just released a new album, "Hairy Arms." His indie tracks underscore and sometimes ironically set off the lyrics in which he grapples with some of the darker sides of life. Finding time for his music means sometimes incorporating kids in the mix--literally. You can find out more about Krispin's music on his website or follow him on Twitter.
OTTER PASS: A lot of dads struggle a bit with keeping up with their hobbies while managing work and life with little kids. Have you found that to be true? If so, how have you managed to find time for your music?
KM: Our family has made some intentional decisions to keep our life from getting too busy and over-scheduled, allowing us to prioritize things that are life-giving, like music, reading and writing. I still have a toddler who naps, so there’s a guaranteed 1.5 hours on each weekend day.
When you’re starting your career and have young kids at home, it can feel easiest to “veg out” and relax whenever you have a spare moment. While I love watching TV as much as the next person, I find that taking time for creative projects tends to be more rejuvenating for me, so it’s a type of self-care that I need to make time for.
OTTER PASS: Do you play music with your kids? Do you think it helps that music is a hobby that can be inclusive rather than exclusive?
KM: Mostly I let my kids play around on my gear, and they have fun trying out different synth sounds on my keyboards, and sometimes I’ll set up voice-altering programs and they have a lot of fun hearing their voices in funny ways. One of my favorite things about music is the limitless possibilities of different sounds and textures, it’s a very playful part of music, and it’s fun to include my kids in that.
While they’re not directly involved, they’re usually around when I’m working on music, and they usually make a not-so-obvious appearance on my albums. In the chorus of my song Peacemakers, you can hear my two-year-old repeating me singing “oh-woah-woah,” and that was because I was recording a demo in my living room while he was sitting at the table eating a snack.
Although I loved music as a kid, I grew up believing I never had what it took to make music. I am so I’m glad that my kids have my example of putting your heart into something creative, and seeing your ideas become reality. I write about my kids quite a bit, and whenever they hear those lines they get excited and say, “You’re singing about us!”
OTTER PASS: Your recent album deals with some difficult issues. Would you tell us more about that? How has your relationship with your family changed or impacted the way you father your kids?
KM: I’ve written songs about being a sexual abuse survivor before, but this album really focuses on the dysfunctional family dynamics surrounding the abuse. The core theme of the album is about refusing to be silent. Generally, one of the rules of dysfunctional families is to be quiet and pretend everything is okay -- even if it’s not -- and I have been committed to breaking that rule. I refuse to be silent because I won’t settle for relationships that are not as healthy as they could be.
I’m convinced that one of the most important things I can do as a parent is take time to understand and heal from my own childhood. I’ve found writing these songs has been a helpful way for me to process my own trauma. If I try to ignore the impact of my own trauma, I find that it impacts by ability to be emotionally present with my own family. Healing from trauma is not an easy, but making this music has given me a way to contain that process, and have more emotional availability.
Music is such a great medium because there’s the ability to express so many emotions. One of my primary goals as a parent is to allow my kids to express their emotions, and receive love and support -- and of course sometimes guidance in helpful ways to express those emotions. Listening to and creating music that expresses a wide range of emotions helps me remember how important it is to allow your children to have all of their emotions, too.
OTTER PASS: As a musician and therapist, how do you talk to your kids about some of the complicated stuff in families in age-appropriate ways? What strategies have you found that work well for you?
KM: I’ve been spending years trying to figure out what healthy boundaries look like, so talking about them with my kids is hard. Sometimes my seven-year-old will sing a line of my song to me, and then say, “What does that mean?” which is an opportunity to talk about healthy relationships. While there are a lot of parts of my family’s story I haven’t shared with her, we talk about how you can forgive someone, but not allow them to treat you badly in the future. We also talk a lot about how surprises are okay, but secrets are not. We'll have to continue to have more conversations as our kids get older, and find out what works well and what doesn't.
OTTER PASS: What does it look like for you to be present with your kids? What are some strategies you use for that? Have you noticed a difference in your relationship with your kids when you're more present? And what about a difference in you?
KM: I do find that creative people tend to live their lives inside their head, which makes it harder to be present with others. One approach is doing things with my kids that keeps us in the moment, like rough-housing, dancing, singing, going on walks or playing board games. We also like to play Zelda together.
Spending time with my kids has been a great way of healing. Not that they meet my emotional needs, but I get a chance to give them some of the support I didn’t receive. I also get to see how much I love them, and that’s been a huge point of spiritual growth for me. I grew up with so much shame, but I can recognize that I am loved even more than I love my own kids -- even when they’re whiny, needy and full of uncomfortable emotions. That helps me recognize my own worth, as I get to care for them.
As a therapist, I spend most of my week having very deep conversations, and then on my off-days, it’s so fun to spend time with my toddler, because it’s such a different mode of interaction. We run errands together, play games, I rock him to sleep, read books. It’s the best way to end my week.