- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

A new generation of rock 'n' roll songwriters have become the chroniclers of an old problem: the effects of divorce and parental abandonment upon children. Pop star Pink describes her childhood as anything but a cel-ebration on "Missundaztood," her new album.

"You fight about money, 'bout me and my brother/And this I come home to, this is my shelter/It ain't easy growin' up in World War III/Never knowin' what love could be, you'll see/I don't want love to destroy me like it has done to my family," she sings in "Family Portrait."

Pink's lyrics touch a raw nerve in a generation that grew up with ringside seats to divorce and abandonment. While their parents were singing songs of protest about foreign wars and civil rights, a new breed of songwriters relates more closely to the combat zone of their homes.

Rock songwriters who experienced divorce at an early age include Creed's Scott Stapp (father left at age 5), Korn's Jonathan Davis (parents divorced at age 3), Linkin Park's Chester Bennington (mother left at age 11), Slipknot's Corey Taylor, and Eminem.

"The anger hurts my ears, been running strong for seven years/Rather than fix the problem they never solve it; it makes no sense at all/I see them every day; we get along so why can't they?" asks Blink 182's Tom DeLonge on "Stay Together for the Kids," found on their latest album.

The normally whimsical Mr. DeLonge wrote the song about the devastation he experienced as an 18-year-old when his parents got divorced. Bandmate Mark Hoppus experienced the same when he was in the third grade.

"We get e-mails about 'Stay Together,' kid after kid after kid saying, 'I know exactly what you're talking about! That song is about my life!'" Mr. DeLonge told Blender magazine. "You look at statistics that 50 percent of parents get divorced, and you're going to get a pretty large group of kids who don't agree with what their parents have done.

"Is this a damaged generation?" he asks. "Yeah, I'd say so."

Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, says these lyrics make a strong case for keeping marriages intact.

"They are clearly articulating that [divorce] affects these kids, that it hurts them deeply, and there are consequences to what's been happening."

Books like Judith Wallerstein's "The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce" contend there are long-lasting effects upon the children of broken marriages, and the eruption of songs chronicling the pain of divorce provide anecdotal evidence to support that thesis.

Aaron Lewis of Staind soared to the top of the rock world as the King of Pain with his band's 2001 album, "Break the Cycle." His melancholy ballads drip with alienation and disillusionment: "To my mother, to my father/It's your son or it's your daughter/Are my screams loud enough for you to hear me?/Should I turn it up for you?" he asks on the song "For You."

Mr. Lewis' parents divorced when he was 13, after years of fighting, separating and reuniting. "There wasn't much of a safe home atmosphere," Mr. Lewis told Rolling Stone. "There wasn't the feeling of a tight-knit family. My grandfather died, and his whole side of the family may as well have died with him, because we were basically disowned. To have half of my family disappear left me with a lot of abandonment issues."

Heartbreak and abandonment have long been popular themes in rock and country music. Johnny Cash recorded Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue" in 1969 ("My daddy left home when I was 3"), John Lennon recorded "Mother" in 1970 ("Father, you left me, but I never left you"), and the Temptations turned "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" into a huge hit in 1972 ("Wherever he laid his hat was his home").

Nickelback's singer-songwriter Chad Kroeger was 2 when his father abandoned the family. In the hit song "Too Bad," he sings: "You left without saying goodbye/Although I'm sure you tried/You call and ask from time to time/To make sure we're still alive/But you weren't there right when I'm needing you most."

Mr. Kroeger says fans break down in tears as they tell him that they went through the same situation.

Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach knows that feeling. He wrote the song "Broken Home" about his father's exit at age 7: "I can't seem to fight these feelings/I'm caught in the middle of this/My wounds are not healing/I'm stuck in between my parents/I wish I had someone to talk to/Someone to confide in."

When his father left, Mr. Shaddix says he took the weight of the divorce upon his shoulders, suspecting it was his fault. Like many of these angst-ridden songs, the issue of fatherhood abandonment is confronted with furious honesty: "I know my father loves me/But does my father even care/If I'm sad or I'm angry/You were never ever there/When I needed you/I hope you regret what you did."

This genre of family counseling under the bright lights of the stage found national prominence when Art Alexakis of the band Everclear penned the 1997 megahit "Father of Mine," about the day his father walked out on the family. "Father of mine tell me, how do you sleep?/With all the children you abandoned and the wife I saw you beat?/I will never be safe. I will never be sane/I will always be weird inside, I will always be lame."

Mr. Alexakis was 10 when his father left. A few years after "Father of Mine," he wrote the song "Wonderful," zeroing in on the breakup: "I hope my mom and I hope my dad/Will figure out why they get so mad/I hear them scream. /I hear them fight/They say bad words that make me want to cry."

"There's a hole in the soul of every kid in the shape of their fathers, and for about 40 years in social policy we've been trying to fill that hole with lots of other things: money, quality time, mentors," says Mr. Warren of the National Fatherhood Initiative. "These things are important and they all certainly have their role, but what is clear here is not only that these artists are saying this but we're finding this also when you communicate with kids that aren't famous. They long for family and they mourn the fact that they didn't have a family."

The band Good Charlotte from Annapolis has been capturing the attention of the MTV crowd with their punchy pop-punk songs. On their debut album, songwriting twins Benji and Joel Madden describe the stark way in which their father walked out on the family on Christmas Eve.

But they also praise their mother. "I'll always thank you/More than you could know/Than I could ever show," they sing in "Thank you, Mom."

"There's nothing I won't do to say these words to you/That you're beautiful forever/You were my mom you were my dad/And even when the times got hard you were there to let/Us know that we'd get through."

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