Beautiful Freak: The Eels, my daughter, and me

Guest post by Rob Rummel-Hudson

You’re such a beautiful freak
I wish there were more just like you
You’re not like all of the others

Photo by Rob Rummel-Hudson.
[My daughter] Schuyler has always loved music, which is no surprise given that she’s been surrounded by it from day one, and I’ve always sung to her. In recent years, we’ve sung to each other, in those moments we share alone. Schuyler and I spend a great deal of time together, particularly once she’s out of school. She accompanies me to work most days, and in the long car ride, we sing, a lot.

The other day, we were singing an Eels song, which is hardly surprising to anyone who knows us. The music of Mark Oliver Everett has always been ours, Schuyler’s and mine together, ever since she was a baby and I would sing My Beloved Monster to her. It was fitting; she was my strange little monster, even before I knew why, and we really did go everywhere together, as we still do today. As she grew older, particularly in the dark days after her diagnosis, I would sing her to sleep with The Stars Shine In The Sky Tonight (“It’s not where you’re coming from / It’s where you’re going to / And I just wanna go with you…”), thinking of a future where she might have to go forward without me, or me without her.

But this week, it was a simpler, happier song, Beautiful Freak. Every time I sing it to her and point to her, she laughs, and the way she sings it back to me, in her strange tongue that so few in the world are privileged to hear and even fewer to understand, it makes my heart soar. We have so many nicknames for each other (her current favorite for me is “Daddy-O”, which I adore beyond description), and few of them are gentle. Dummy. Butthead. Buggin. Space Monkey. Freak.

And that is why I love you
Beautiful freak, beautiful freak
That is why I love you
Beautiful freak, beautiful freak

“Daddy,” she asks, “Am I a freak?”

I look at her face carefully, searching for anxiety. Is this a word she’s heard before, from the lips of mean kids? But no, there’s nothing there. She’s smiling. She just wants to talk.

I want to say no, but it doesn’t feel like the right answer.

“We’re all freaks,” I say. “Everyone in the world feels like a freak sometimes.”

“Is it bad?” she asks.

“It’s not bad,” I say. “Sometimes people use that word to be mean, but it’s only mean if you take it that way. Everyone is different, and you’re more different from most, you know? That’s why you’re my beautiful freak.”

Some people think you have a problem
But that problem lies only with them
Just ’cause you are not like the others

I’ve always maintained that the only things I could really promise Schuyler are love and the truth. And so I’ve never pretended that she’s not different, or that her difference wouldn’t be difficult to bear sometimes.

Schuyler knows she’s different. And when we sing, when she’s a beautiful freak and she’s loved for it, she’s okay with it. It’s a hard life for her, and it’s not going to necessarily get that much easier, but it’s hers and she’s making her peace with it.

And I think it’s pretty clear that Schuyler has figured something out about her father, something that the song reaffirms but which she’s probably known all along, longer than I’ve been aware, even.

She knows that my love for her runs even deeper because she’s different. That her difference fuels my affection in a way that is impossible to understand or define.

Too good for this world
But I hope you will stay
And I’ll be here to see
That you don’t fade away

When Schuyler and I move through the world together, we do so in a way that is different from her other relationships. It’s different even than those moments when anyone else is around. Schuyler gives her attention to others in a way that can be intense; I can only assume that there are a few restraining orders in her future. But when it’s just the two of us, when no one else is there, we occupy a space that is ours and ours alone. Schuyler holds my hand when we drive. She claims one shoulder for her own and just holds on. We share food and we sing songs and we say snotty things about other drivers. We find vending machines and eat bad snacks. We count airplanes overhead, every day.

I frequently write about Schuyler as a child with a disability because that’s the thing that we struggle with the most, and the thing that speaks to a larger community the most clearly. But it’s important to understand that the experience isn’t hard because of her. It’s hard because of the world. It’s hard because society requires her to fit, in a way that she doesn’t do easily, and while I would love to change the world, that’s not ever going to happen, not to the extent that it should.

I can’t change THE world, but I can try to change hers, to build a space around her where she can exist on her own terms, at least enough to regroup and recharge before she goes back into the fray, back into a land of passing, of trying to fit, and of trying to hold her head up while a dumb world expects her to apologize for being a beautiful freak. I can try, for as long as it is within my power, to see that she doesn’t fade away.

You’re such a beautiful freak
I bet you are flying inside
Dart down and then go for cover

Schuyler needs to be enabled. She needs to be given tools to communicate, options for freedom, opportunities to love and be loved. Schuyler could be an amazing big sister to someone, and she is easily the very best friend that anyone could have if only they would ask her to be. Given the right environment, Schuyler will thrive. She will grow wings and she will fly away, far from the doubters and far from these who would limit her and diminish her value and her humanity with their lack of vision.

And far from me one day. I hope that she can, even as I hope she never does. For like every other dad since the beginning, it is the fate of this father’s heart to be broken, in ways I could never see coming, and could never, even in my most selfish moments, ever deny my beloved monster.

And know that I
I love you
Beautiful freak, beautiful freak

Comments on Beautiful Freak: The Eels, my daughter, and me

  1. Thank you so very much for sharing that. I’m in tears over here! My daughter doesn’t have a disability , and also I’m a mamma not a daddy , but you have really inspired me to have some more confidence in my parenting. To be more of the parent my daughter needs me to be , not the one society thinks I should be , and that I in turn feel pressured to become. Thank you Thank you Thank you. Really , I wish many more book deals in your future! Your writing is AMAZING!

  2. Absolutely beautiful. I remember my Dad singing ‘beautiful freak’ to me when I was an angsty morose teenager, and it’s lovely to hear that this is a tradition other dads and daughters share. Muchos respect to you.

  3. Beautiful! I work with adults with DD (developmental disabilities) and/or traumatic brain injuries as an independent residential manager- we facilitate independence and choice as much as humanly possible and fostering a people-first community. Your dream for Schuyler is one that I think we should foster for ALL folks with DD.
    Schuyler is SO LUCKY to have a great dad like you. You’re giving her an amazing foundation to start from, one that I wish a lot of my folks had. One person at a time, we’re changing the world!

  4. I would love her to be a big sister or friend to my children. 🙂 Any person would be so lucky to have her in their lives. There is something amazing about people who are different, they show you what it is to be human.
    Keep up the amazing work of being a dad.

  5. Oh my… Just wow. I’m 22 years old and that album was the first record I ever asked for/bought at the tender age of seven 🙂 I really related to the quirky girl on the front cover for some reason, haha! I heard the song, Beautiful Freak, and immediately fell in love. It’s a love which has carried me through my dark and angsty child-to-teenager-to-young-adult transition periods and remains my absolute favourite song in the whole, entire world (I plan on walking down the aisle to it, next year… And, morbidly, being buried to it as well 😛 but that hopefully won’t be next year!!). I always thought of that song as ‘mine’ because the words ring so true to me and all I’ve become, how I was brought up (in a positive, liberal environment where differences are celebrated and not scorned) and all I want to pass on as my legacy. It warms my heart more than I can possibly say, that another special little girl has sought comfort and solace in Mr E’s ethereal, gravelly voice and haunting lyrics. I hope she holds it in her soul that she is perfect just the way she is. Lots of love, peace and cookies to you, Rob, and your Beautiful Freak 🙂

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