I notice every fresh grey hair on my father’s head. Hair I used to run my fingers through whenever he would hoist me onto his shoulders. Hair that was once thick and appeared as a dark forest in old photographs. Hair that was once long and likely swayed whenever my father drummed in his band or tied back when he would wrestle in his native Odessa, Ukraine. Now, my father’s hair is grey and thin and whips about in the wind when we go to the flea market or grill outside in his backyard. He jokes he has three hairs on his head and while it’s good he can laugh at getting older, every new grey is a dagger to my heart.
My father was my hero before I understood what a hero could be. He saved me daily, in his little ways. Whether it was by carrying me when I could not walk as a kid, or, when I got older, bringing me a handle of vodka and taking shots with me after a long day. Or, cutting up my food and feeding me when I was in the hospital. He gave me his whole heart whenever I would make a passing comment about needing something, and it would turn up at my door in the days to come. I have always loved my father, always wanted to be like him, and always wanted to know him.
Not much of a talker, all of the stories I’ve heard about my father have come by way of my mother. From a young age, I wanted to dive into his struggles and triumphs. I wanted to know everything about this man that seemed a Goliath to me—even though we’re both not much in the realm of height. But for as many tales as my mom could summon, for as many offhand quips my father could stumble into, neither of my parents could tell me the thing I wanted to know most: What was my father’s favorite genre of music?
It wasn’t until a few months ago, on a car ride to visit my grandmother in South Brooklyn, that I got a taste of the music that made my father happy—truly happy. My father has lived a long and painful life. Immigration, homelessness, sleeping on roofs in New York, a messy divorce, and now the slow death of his mother-in-law, for which the formal care has fallen on his heroic shoulders. I have often wondered what gives my father reprieve from his years of trauma—trauma he does not even understand.
I wanted to share hip-hop with him, and while several songs have caught his attention in passing, mostly selections from Mac Miller, rap never brought him peace as it brings me peace. So as we began the trek to Brooklyn, he turned on the radio and I’m greeted by the familiar baritone of Bad Bunny—apparently one of my dad’s favorite artists. As soon as I identified Bad Bunny, my father stormed me with questions about where he was from, what he was like, and if I had talked to him. It was one of the most impassioned conversations we had in years. All the while, he was tapping the steering wheel and singing along in his broken-Spanish-by-way-of-Russian accent.
As the ride went on, my dad let off a series of hot takes. Namely, that Drake should have been left off “Mia,” and that Latin trap will be “very big over here.” His enthusiasm was precious, and as we finished our drive, I realized that my father was only aging in the physical sense. His spirit was young and enlivened, and despite his harrowing past and the weight of the present, he could still find lightness in music, as I could find lightness in music.
Last week, I took him out to dinner before a trip to Boston. I put on Bad Bunny’s impeccable X 100pre. My dad was beyond geeked—yes, geeked—to find out that Bad Bunny had not only singles and features but an album. A whole body of work for my father to likely pirate onto a USB drive and page through. He was astounded, drumming along to the trap beats in the car, humming, and asking me more questions about Bunny.
Often surly and wounded, angry and temperamental, my father was giddy and came alive in the car. At stoplights, I would glance over at him and notice the apples of his cheeks bounding up, his smile too big for his face. I noticed his grey hair, too, but it seemed so minor compared to his joy. We don’t exchange many words, but in communing over Bad Bunny, I got the sense that my dad was telling me not to worry about him. He was showing me he had life in him yet.
On Father’s Day, I sat outside reading, waiting for my father to get back from the gym so we could spend some time together. The neighbors were playing YG’s cross-over—albeit sloppily composed—“Go Loko.” All I could imagine was my dad dancing to the fly percussion and losing himself in the creeping rhythms. I couldn’t wait for him to get home so I could share yet another gem in the pantheon of music that keeps him young and thriving.
Whenever Latin trap comes on, the grand and pressing turmoil of my father’s life melts away and he becomes the hero I knew him to be as a child, and the hero he was in his youth. Latin trap keeps my dad young and spry, and it keeps him happy. As a daughter, as a human being, and as a lover of music, there is little else I could ever ask for. Grey hair be damned, my father has a lion’s soul and, like his daughter, fantastic music taste.