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Spotify playlists are letters to my children

Unable to catch my breath, I laid with my back on the wood planks of our attic floor. I remember Elton John’s “Your Song” echoed in the background. Air slowly came back to my lungs. It felt like hours before I could breathe deeply again.

It was June 2005 and I was about to embark on two major life changes. I was starting a new job and, more importantly, our first baby was due at any moment.

I chalked up the episode to a panic attack. Stress was never a big deal for me, but it seemed the only logical explanation.

I later found out I nearly died on that floor. With two 100 percent blockages, a few smaller blockages, massive cholesterol problems and skyrocketing blood pressure, I probably should have died. The heart surgeon said as much as he chiseled through one clog to place a stent, noting that the other blockage healed itself with collateral arteries.

I now take a complex cocktail of heart medications each day to keep death at bay.

That said, I’ve thought a lot about my demise since those days. Morbidly enough, I’ve thought about my death every time one of our kids was born. “I need to tell them (fill-in-the-blank) before I’m gone.” It was rarely ever earth-shaking advice, mostly random thoughts about my worldview.

“I’m going to write her a letter,” I told my wife before our first kid was born. “Just in case, I’m going to tell her things that I’m thinking about her now. If something happens to me, share it with her.”

I never wrote the letter.

Life got in the way of good intentions. I’m still here, so life also got in the way of death. No letter needed. At least, not yet.

I’m teaching my kids about the world, teaching them stuff they probably won’t learn in school. They don’t always listen. Still, I persist.

For example, we learn about music together. We share a love for songs that they don’t share with their mother. This is completely OK. Our favorite songs make us feel things in ways she can’t appreciate (note: my wife has musical anhedonia, which means she’s in the 5 percent of the population who simply don’t enjoy listening to music).

We have a family account on Spotify. We share a list of songs for the others to play when they’re bored. What my kids don’t know is that I’ve created my own lists for them to hear.

There’s one for each kid. They’re the letters I’ve never written. The lyrics are words I might say to them in case I never get a chance to actually write. They’re songs that make me feel things about them, lyrics that brings back memories of their young lives, music that teaches them about how I see the world.

While I still plan to write to each of them, I find comfort in knowing they’ll someday hear the songs I’ve selected. Maybe they’ll share their lists with each other with comments like, “Can you believe Dad put this one on my list” or “Wow, I never knew Dad liked this song.”

This way, to paraphrase the great Elton John and Bernie Taupin, when they “tell everybody” these are their songs, it will be true because my Spotify lists for them made it so.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is a professor of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.

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