Also: Big, big thanks to Michelle from Your Parents Hardcore for giving us this idea. This interview is co-published through her site at https://xparenthoodx.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/two-punk-dads/.
And: These are excerpts from a very long interview. There’s been some gentle editing and grooming of our responses to complete sentences or thoughts and remove the tangential sprawling and nonstop superfluous language that flows from our mouths.
-Brian Gorsegner (BG) and wife Amanda have a little girl named Dorothy (aka Dottie).
-Dottie was born in Long Branch, New Jersey in 2013.
-While also a nod to Pee Wee’s would-be girlfriend, Dottie is named after the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy Gale. The trippy sequel, Return to Oz, being an early point of bonding between the two parents.
-Ken Ramsey (KR) and wife Emilie have a little boy named Robert.
-Robert was born in NYC in 2013, and now lives in New Jersey.
-Robert is named after Robert Matusiak from Refuse Records, an old friend of Ken’s. Ken is named after one of his father’s best friends who passed away. He always liked the idea of naming his child after a close friend.
How do you reconcile the arrested development nature of punk with starting a family and actually raising your own kid?
BG: Well, it's an interesting question because I don't really have an answer for it. That's kind of working itself out as time goes on. I remember when it was Damaged City fest a couple years ago and I was telling some people that my wife and I were going to have a baby. I remember talking to one of the guys from Cülo and him being like “oh man I'm really sorry,” as if we had missed the window to have an abortion. I was like “no man, we did it on purpose.” He wasn't being a jerk, he was legitimately shocked because I guess he just didn't know anyone that had had a child on purpose. It's kind of two-fold because there's people that, you know, are just irresponsible and maybe shouldn't have children. Then on the flipside, there's the category of people who just don't think it's economically smart or they just don't want to be bound down by a child. I totally get both. But Amanda and I always wanted one child. It was just something we always intended on doing. I like to travel the world and play stupid punk songs and stuff like that, but there can be a parallel.
KR: I don't think they have to be mutually exclusive. My answer for that question is, I never saw a conflict, I guess. I knew that I like the idea of having a kid and I wanted to raise a kid and be a responsible dad and have a family. But it doesn't mean I'm not going to shows anymore or I'm going to give up this hardcore bullshit. I think things can run concurrently. I'm not in a band so I don't have maybe the same levels of pressure. One thing that always stuck with me is, I saw Mark Andersen, who wrote the “Dance of Days” book on D.C. hardcore, speak once and he said one of the most punk things you can do is raise your kid the right way. I thought that was pretty fucking awesome. It basically sums up exactly what I think on the subject.
BG: Yeah. I actually totally agree. On the other hand, for punks it's just not a common thing to go to high school, go to college, get married, get a job, and have a baby. To a lot of “real lifers” that's kind of the path that is expected of you. But punk rockers are pretty much off the path as soon as they realize that the path exists. Then it just becomes something where you want to get as far off track as you can. You want to, like Void says, live by your rules and so doing exactly what your parents did might not be your idea of a good time. At the same time, I also have friends that are like “oh never, it’s the worst, kids are awful, it's a terrible idea to be a parent, I just want to be able to drop everything and go.” I mean I get where they're coming from but they should also be understanding and accepting of somebody who wants to do the opposite. Because I'm making my decisions for me and I'm making my own choices for me because I do everything in my life that way. I'm not doing it because it's a projection that was laid out for me. I'm doing it because it's what I've always actually wanted to do. And I think that's a good reason to have a child. Unfortunately, that's not, in my opinion, the reason that most people have a child. I think a lot of people have children because it’s what you do. It's what's expected and it's just the next life step and that's why I think the world's a piece of shit, because stupid fucking people have stupid fucking kids (laughter).
A lot of choices we make for ourselves as adults can have a huge effect on children. How do you choose what's best for your child or their mental and physical health and development, while not abandoning your personal beliefs?
KR: OK. So I think probably the short answer for this is, I would like to think that I'm confident enough in my own personal leanings and beliefs as being good or being positive to pass them on to my child and that he understands and embraces those things as good for him.
Personally, I fall under the category of I just absolutely know that there is no god. There is no in-between for me. So to raise a young child who isn’t thirty years old with that mindset, I don't know that that's necessarily the right route to take. I'm not going to start going church or take my kid to church because I don't believe in that at all. But I'm also not going to hard sell it the other way. It's a really gray area. When I was a kid I do think that there were some principles behind it all that were instilled in me that did some good to some degree. So it's like where do you land? Of course you get to a point where your child can think for themselves. But for the next sixteen years, what do you do? I think everybody's situation is different but it is a weird thing.
KR: On the religious thing, I was raised religious too and I'm not religious at all now and I understand the system of values that was presented to me in that context when I was
growing up. When I think back on it now, my parents had a huge part of that and I had a pretty good relationship with my parents. So I wonder was it church telling me to like be good or do good things in a fucked up world or was it my parents? Where did that come from? I don't know? Like I said in the first part of my response, even without a formal system of beliefs that religion brings with it, I know I'm still passing on good values.
BG: Yeah, but even more than values, I'm talking about, the concept of all dogs go to heaven. You know if I die tomorrow, I cease to exist. There's no heaven. There's no afterlife. I'm not coming back as something in another life form. I'm done. That's it.
KR: It's kind of a morose thing for a little kid to hear.
BG: Yeah. Those are my beliefs, but they’re bleak as a motherfucker, so I'm not trying to pass that on to a four-year-old. I think you need to be old enough to make that decision for yourself and understand that concept. So when the family cat dies when Dottie’s seven, I need to tell her something. And if it’s “cat's dead, not coming back” versus “the kitty went to heaven” - that holds more water for me now than it has in the past twenty years. I’m kinda like, shit, I do see the merit to something like that because you don't want to teach something so bleak so early. It’s a pretty harsh thing. Am I really going to teach my daughter that concept?
KR: Right. It seems sort of callous. I learned about death through watching the movie Watership Down…about the rabbits. Spoiler alert, when the main character dies at the end I remember going, “uh what?” And my parents saying “he's dead.” And me throwing an absolute shit fit, like had to get like drug out of the room, drug to bed, close the door, screaming, throwing things, I wouldn’t accept it. So that was my introduction to the concept of death. (laughter)
BG: And did you start wearing a cloak and a hood to school the next day? (laughter)
KR: No, no and who knows maybe it was because there was this imaginary heaven thing that my parents were talking about, but I don't remember that being a part of the discussion. I just felt like it was “dead is dead and that sucks.”
BG: On the physical development side, I haven't eaten meat in like six months, which is a bit late to be trying something like that out... My question is, if you know that doing something that you're morally opposed to could be better for your child's development, do you do it or do you not do it because you're morally opposed? When Amanda was pregnant she had been vegetarian for ten years and she started eating fish because she thought it could be healthier for her and the then unborn Dottie. Does Robert eat a strictly vegan diet because you guys are vegan?
KR: He eats a vegan diet at home with us. When it comes to school and treats and things like that, we don't tell his teacher he can't have this cupcake that everybody else is enjoying because it’s not vegan. They know that he's vegetarian. We're not ready to like single him out. If he goes out with grandparents and they feed him something stupid, then so be it, he gets
to try that and make his own decision, but our house is going to be vegan.
BG: Is that, in your opinion, the healthiest choice for him?
KR: For him, we absolutely think so and we have yet to get any pushback from any doctor, including Em’s when she was pregnant. We were even pleasantly surprised, one of the be all end all’s of child development, Dr. Spock, advocated a vegan diet for children. I don’t think we’ve ever been challenged on it, in fact, as it’s just becoming a normal alternative in our society. It’s more than just feeling morally opposed to meat, we think it’s a healthy choice. Hypothetically, if that belief changes because of one reason or another, then we’ll adjust his diet.
BG: I'm sure you guys have looked into it because you care about your kid and you're not just going to feed him…
KR: He's not just getting french fries. But, side-note, he had french fries tonight.
BG: Dottie had fuckin’ tater tots for dinner.
Have you ever received any flak or disdain from so-called normal or non-punk parents?
BG: You're absolutely 110% right. It sucks and it says a lot about our society. And dads need to step the fuck up to the plate…
KR: And make it normal.
BG: Yeah - you couldn't be any more right about that. What I'd say to the question is, I know some like uber-religious, just boring fucking people, a married couple and they already think I'm like this huge fuck-up because I'm in a band and have tattoos. One thing that they think is absolutely bonkers is that I tour without Amanda. And they're like “well what does she do when you go away?”
KR: Hide in a corner!? (laughter)
BG: That shouldn't be the question, the question should be, “have you two never been apart?” That's
why you hate each other and that's why it doesn't work. She just thinks it's so crazy. Now she thinks it's really crazy that I would leave my wife and child and go out and do this foolish thing. I'm like, well this foolish thing keeps me grounded. It makes me a better dad overall and I know that. It's what makes me, me. So I'm not just going to abandon that and be resentful at home. This was part of the plan when I had a child. It's me having my own identity and being a father. Those things can still exist and it seems like so many people just, whatever you did in your previous life, before your child, you just hang it up and “aw man, I was going to be in the majors, but then I had a kid and now it’s all fucked.” Well no one told you you had to stop playing fucking softball on Sunday with your friends, you idiot.
Any cool punk rock baby stories that highlight the experience of having a kid within this community?
What's your kid's current musical taste? Has she or he ever shown any interest in some cool weirdo music?
BG: She kind of likes everything. We put on records and we dance in the living room almost every day. She’ll love listening to The Replacements but then we'll watch some show where they just sing “Wheels On the Bus” for thirty minutes. So at this point she just likes music. Like we get in the car and she has to turn on music. When she was really little, within the first month or two months, the Dwarves “Are Young and Good Looking” was a record we’d play. She would just cry and cry and cry at night, there was always this two-hour period where she would just go. I would try to put on different music and for whatever insane reason, I would put on that record and I would rock her back and forth in my arms and she would fall asleep. We did that every night, for months. That was just the go-to. It’s so weird and Amanda says that she was listening to that record a lot when she was pregnant. So I honestly don't know if it was something recognizable. I think it would be too bizarre to be any other reason, really. Unless Blag’s vocals were just this soothing thing.
KR: I should start by saying before Robert was born we made a playlist, Emilie’s push list, to play while she was giving birth. Rather than having like new age music or peaceful music, she wanted music that gave her energy. She wanted songs that sounded like “Kickstart My Heart.” So we had a two-hour playlist and it took exactly two hours for Robert to be born. And the very last song on the playlist when he was born was “Monkey Business” by Skid Row.
BG: Holy shit, that’s cool.
KR: Early on, when we were just having some father-son time, I would put on some kind of random hardcore record, like a new record I got. I would put on the Altered Boys 7” and mosh around the room and Robert thought that was hilarious. Eventually, he would start imitating me and throw his arms around and stomp around the room with me. But something happened- we were in Home Depot and they were pumping in the radio or whatever. Robert was pushing the shopping cart and a Taylor Swift song came on and he immediately started getting down in a way that I had never seen him get down before. I was like OK we're getting this kid pop music. Any pop music that he wants. That's totally fine. I want him to embrace the love of music, whatever it is. That being said, “Wheels On the Bus” is his all-time number one favorite song and if he could have it his way, we would have to sing it to him until we literally died and fell over as a corpse. (laughter)
Everyone’s child will get into something you don’t agree with or care for, where do you draw the line between what you find acceptable versus things you will absolutely not tolerate?
BG: The only thing I think we would ban at her age is, we’re not going to do any guns. That’s a weird one, guns were like my go-to when I was a kid. Playing guns, playing war, playing cops, that was my thing.
That’s just something that’s a society flaw. There’s no need.
KR: We have a fucked up culture when it comes to guns. I agree, that’s exactly how we would be with Robert.
On another thing, I'm sort of a walking contradiction when it comes to this. I played football when I was a kid. Backyard and then played high school football and then got into punk and totally gave up on organized sports. I thought it was all stupid. As an adult, I have gotten back into football and watch football with my son. And he likes it. But I would never let him play football. I mean, I’m still dealing with a knee injury I got when I was in 11th grade. I was like seventeen and I've got a sore knee for the rest of my life. That's messed up. There's just so much stuff coming out now about injuries and long-term damage, that the idea that I would put my growing, developing son in football pads and go out on the field and potentially injure himself, I don’t see that happening.
BG: But what if he really wanted to play football?
KR: I still think it would probably be a no. That's where I would draw a line. I saw a lot of injuries and there are horror stories out there. I just don't see the benefit of it.
BG: It's a pretty heavy contact sport for children to be playing. Another one is, my mom
really wants to get Dottie’s ears pierced. It's become one of those things where I see kids with their ears pierced and I just think their parents are fucked. Like kids don't care. They don't know that earrings exist. So to do this thing that you think is ascetically cool or whatever. Like do people even give a fuck about earrings? It's 2016, who gives a shit? To do that to your two-year old and puncture their head with holes so you could stick fucking jewelry, I think that's barbaric and insane and I legitimately think less of people that do that to their children. Even if it's a friend of mine or somebody I respect. I just cannot see how or why you would do that.
KR: So the same question you asked me - when Dottie’s of a certain age and says “I want my ears pierced,” how do you handle that?
BG: Fuck yeah. I don't care. But I'm not going to be one of those parents who… I used to work with a guy who was this biker dude covered in tattoos - this is 100% true - when his kid was six, he tattooed an L on the left hand and a R on the right hand to teach his child left and right. That's a pretty unrelated extreme. But you know there's going to be those super cool parents who when their kid turns fifteen and wants to go get a fuckin potato underneath their eye, they're going to go do it just because they want to be the cool parent. I'm not going to do shit like that.
When does Dottie get to go to shows and see Night Birds?
KR: We decided that maybe when Robert’s four we would get the heavy-duty construction noise blockers so he could see the spectacle of a show. But we’re not going to take him to a show that starts at 10:00 pm. He’s gotta go to bed. It will have to be under a very specific circumstance.
BG: In my opinion, I think that's still too young but it's the kind of thing that I haven't researched, it's just a gut instinct. I think it would really depend on the situation, I guess.
KR: Yeah, we're not going to some sketchy. D.I.Y. show, like a fire hazard in a New Brunswick basement or something.
When my old band reunited over the summer, our guitar player brought his little girl, who was not quite five. She had the noise blockers on. I think it was maybe her first or one of her first live music experiences. It was so cool that she was there to see her dad playing, but it was also strange because I'm singing and cursing like a sailor. There's my friend’s daughter and I'm saying stuff I would never say in front of her in a non-show environment. Hopefully those noise blockers worked. I also sang towards her and smiled at her and I just got back that stoic little kid expression, like “this is really weird.”
BG: Yeah I never really thought about it like that. If one day we took her to a Night Birds show just so later in her life she remembers her first musical experience being seeing her father play music, that's something that probably sticks with you. But I've never really thought about it.
KR: As a parent to a daughter, you have different pressures or stresses that exist that I don’t have as a parent to a son. I think there are different ones that a boy might have but women in general are more vulnerable, because of how fucked up our stupid society can be. Does that keep you up at night?
BG: Not yet. Because I think a big part of that is the kind of woman that she turns out to be and she's two and a half now. So I have no idea. We're doing our best to make her a well-rounded human being who is aware and can think for herself and make her own decisions. But you only have control over so much of that. We might have created some total dumb ass, in which case, yeah, of course I'm worried. I don't need a pregnant fourteen-year-old.
At the same time, when Amanda was thirteen, she’d fuck you up if some guy came up and gave her lip. She was already a strong independent woman when she was thirteen years old. That also will determine a lot of what I will be accepting of her doing, as far as letting her go to shows or parties or whatever. If she's a total dumb ass I'm going to be worried to let her do anything. But if she's the kind of woman that I hope we are raising, I think we're going to be able to be as trusting as I hope we can be.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a parent?
KR: For starters, we’re first-time parents, so we don't know what the fuck is going on half the time. Right around the time that Robert turned two and went to his check-up, the doctor was asking about his speech and we’re like, “he doesn't have much speech, he's just got like “mamma” and “dada” and even those come and go.” He said his own name for a while, “Obert.” So his pediatrician noted “oh, well, he's two, he should definitely have more words than that.” So he got involved in Early Intervention. This is where, up until the age of three, he can get different therapies or different services to help him catch up on some of the things that he's lacking. They come out and they do this assessment and speech was like hugely delayed. So he immediately started getting Speech Therapy and eventually we put him into preschool and almost overnight he just started talking. It was kind of incredible to see that. It's really a transformation between a baby and a boy. At two years and six months, they do another evaluation just to see where he's at and he’s still really delayed despite his advances and he may be eligible for a special pre-school and hey, you may want to get him on some occupational therapy.
When these reports from the school start coming in, their findings are all really different from the external evaluations that we’re doing. They're all like “oh, he's fine, just put him in regular school.” Now there is this push-pull as a parent. You want to hear that kind of stuff. He’s fine. But it contradicts what you're hearing on the other side, so you want to make sure that he can avail himself of services that are going to help him. It's an odd duality to face as a parent.
Anyway, we go to this meeting to determine if they’re gonna’ let him in the school and we're already going into this with our eyebrows raised. With us was our dynamite Early Intervention Service Coordinator who is really assertive and pro-active. My wife and I are both former case managers and we really had them on the defensive, in defending all of their evaluations, because it really contradicted everything else that we’re hearing. The whole meeting was two hours-plus of your word versus mine. Basically we just had to go at it like lawyers in a courtroom. We just cross-examined each other for two hours. They're basically saying no he's not eligible for this program and in the state of New Jersey, it's like “uh, sorry, you're on your own.” Long story short, we're going into an appeal process now. I've been so stressed out over this entire thing and depressed.
It all amounts to just getting him ready for kindergarten so he can start being a good kid in school, follow directions and communicate with his friends. His attitude and his eagerness to be involved and his overall social nature are going to help him. But we have to make sure that things that his body can't do or can't control now, that we help those parts along as well. We don’t want the things he lacks to frustrate him and eventually crush that positive nature he has going for him. That has been consuming my life for the past few months.
BG: Yeah that's an insanely tough one because it's like you're straggling this line of “are we overthinking this, are we being overprotective or are we being proactive?” With the teachers it's like, “yes he is definitely off or we don't think so, we think it's probably fine.” It's like the acceptable amount of rat feces in the food that we eat every day. I prefer no rat feces, how ‘bout that. This is your child, it's the most important thing to you, so any portion of rat feces is too much.
KR: Right and like I said, there’s this cascading nature to it where, before you know it, you’ve got all these appointments set up. And you’re saying “holy fuck I'm like involved in all this and this is life.” It’s really kind of crazy.
BG: Because there's no hooking them up to monitor and saying “yes, you're sick or you're not sick. You know he doesn't have the flu, you can’t say “yes, and now here’s the solution.”
KR: Well he just plays with toys and they check boxes. And then they add up all the checks and they say “oh, he's at this level.”
BG: There's so many people. And there's so many children. And they're so many overprotective, crazy parents. And then there's so many parents who are fucking idiots who don't give a shit. You guys are smart parents who just want what's right and you want your kid just to get the amount of attention that they deserve and need.
KR: We’re tenacious parents and so it's very hard for us to go “oh ok, he's not accepted, oh well.”
BG: Yeah. Of course it’s not going to go like that. You're going to be the school’s squeaky wheel.
KR: I guess that's a punk rock thing, honestly. You see something broken and you fuckin’ deal with it. Or you know, you don't go along with the status quo or you don't necessarily buy everything that everybody tells you.
Update: After agreeing to an additional evaluation, the school ultimately accepted Robert into their program. Just this month, he began receiving daily classroom instruction in a language-rich environment coupled with speech therapy twice a week. In just two short weeks, we’re already seeing a difference…