“Slipping Through My Fingers,” from ABBA’s album The Visitors, is an indie-meets-folk-and-pop song that is anything but unknown. Having garnered hundreds of millions of streams, forming multiple TikTok trends and stemming from one of the most well-known pop groups, the song is definitely well cherished. Yet, the song means more to me than just a background audio or catchy tune. When I listen to this song, I can’t help but think of my parents and how they must feel now: about how for the first time in 23 years, both their children are out of the house, whereas silence now coats the walls, pouring down from the melancholy ceilings. The song is about a mother’s realization of how fast her daughter is growing up as she gets ready for school — how she wishes to reach out and grab what’s left of her daughter’s childhood and hold her close to her heart forever but is unable to. The song reminds me of my own parents, but more specifically, my father. Perhaps it’s because my mother has always been more vocal about how she feels about us leaving. Maybe it’s because I never thought to wonder how my father felt. Or maybe it is simply because he is an ABBA fan. But regardless of the reason, for those three minutes and 53 seconds, I can’t help but think about my father and my relationship.
My father never shared much of the music he listened to with us. Since I can remember, a silence during our car rides was evaded by blasting whatever artists my brother and I fixated ourselves on at the time. It started with the soundtrack from “Barney & Friends.” Over time, we transitioned from listening to Hannah Montana, to then switching to Nicki Minaj, before finally moving on to Faye Webster. My father didn’t complain too much about not getting aux. He did, however, comment on and critique every song we played. He’d praise my brother’s pick of Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak album until he focused on the lyrics, when he’d critique both the explicit nature of the song and us for choosing to listen to it. Other times he would forcefully drum his fingers onto the steering wheel, missing every beat by a second, overpowering the sound of the actual beat when Selena Gomez & the Scene was on. Occasionally, he’d nod his head or gently tap his leg, making a crinkly noise from the material of his shorts, when I’d play Katy Perry. He’d overly compliment Taylor Swift’s soft Folklore and ask if it was her newest album that he heard about on the news and complain about how loud Icona Pop’s “I Love It” was every time I played it during elementary school. But every once in a while, he’d queue up some Bon Jovi and ABBA, a Michael Jackson CD or a few Tamil ones from a movie he’d made us watch multiple times and refuse to change it no matter how much we pleaded, pushing our hands away every time we tried to reach for his phone or the CD eject button. We complained, even more than he would about our music. To us his music was antiquated, older than the thrifted dresser plopped in the guest room that my parents bought when they first moved to America. It’s older than the scratched green Toyota Camry that has sat still for years in front of our house with broken brakes and an obnoxiously loud engine that my father somehow refuses to get rid of, and older than my mother’s collection of crumpled sarees that haven’t been worn in over 25 years, carefully placed in broken suitcases that smelled like faded mothballs above my mother’s closet. It was old, and seven-year-old me hated every second of it.
I don’t remember the first time I heard the song. I can’t remember if it was one of the few ABBA songs my father played during a road trip, if it was on the way home after he picked me up from elementary school or if it was a song I just stumbled upon on one of my long playlist-making nights, searching the entirety of my Spotify recommended for the perfect song to fall asleep to. But I do remember the first time it meant something.
I was sitting in my father’s makeshift study that he first built for my brother and me to do our homework next to him as he worked. My father was cleaning and reorganizing the study, which had spent the last year filled with almost as much clutter as a few of the houses on “Hoarders.” In the back corner of the room above a giant roll of orange wire too heavy for me to pick up sat the new vinyl player my brother and I had gotten him for Christmas, which he had just mounted onto the wall. It was mounted on the perfect spot since it covered all the blemishes on the faded sky blue wall that was painted with the leftovers from my brother’s room. I was too scared that I would break it to play anything. I think he was just as scared as I was since he rushed over to show me how to turn it on. As you can guess by the title, “Slipping Through My Fingers” played. And while I had heard the song a million times, I pretended it was the first, something I have done with many of the songs my father has shown me recently.
The melody cools my skin, icing it from the warmth of the study and the heat from the outlet the record player and speaker connected to. It’s light and airy as if the second the fan oscillates towards me, I can float away above the study’s stale basement air and into a blue sky, much darker but less faded than the old paint of the walls. But something reaches from the white carpet underneath me and tugs my leg, slowly but still fast enough that I have no choice but to sink into it. The lyrics and the pain in the singers’ voices fill my heart with a heavy sorrow, too heavy for me to float away into the worryless air. So I just stand there, half resting on the table where I grew up writing out spelling words next to my dad because my knees are too weak to hold me up as they slightly buckle from hearing the first note. The song consumes me, steadily eats away at me, but not in the way that I can get lost in the words or fade into the melody, but where the pain in her voice twists my body, wringing it until every drop of reality drips out, enough to get lost in my bittersweet memories. Where my body uses every bit of energy it has to fight it and bring me back into the study, but subconsciously refuses from the comfort the bittersweet memories bring.
And within seconds of the song’s beginning, I am transported back under my pink and purple cheetah print sheets that defined my elementary and middle school experience, where I’d get mad at my dad as he wiped a tiny bit of warm water on my face to wake me up for school though he was late for work. I am now sitting in the backseat of the green Camry as he pulls over a couple streets before my elementary school and refuses to drop me off until I finish the breakfast I haven’t touched. I am now helping him build countless IKEA furniture sets for the house as he lets me drill one or two nails in. I am crying at the airport entrance saying bye to him as we leave to go to India while he stays home to work. We are picking out paint colors at Walmart for my room that he has repainted too many times since my favorite color would change every year. I am posing for the hundreds of pictures he takes of me every time I try to leave the house wearing something other than old pajamas. He is sneaking packed food into my backpack to take back to my college apartment because my parents don’t want me to worry about cooking and not eating enough. He is helping me memorize my times tables and then years later helping me draw out my physics diagrams, which he researched just to be able to help me. He is painting my nails because I couldn’t get the designs right and asking to do my hair or pick out my outfit for the day (usually sarcastically to point out that he thinks his style taste is better than mine). And he is constantly driving to Ann Arbor and back just so he and my mother can see me every single weekend.
And after three minutes and 53 seconds, I can rip myself out of that spot of now darkness and tear stains, but a part of me still remains there and always will, the same way the residue of every Command hook I’ve tried to rip out of my apartment cleanly, like the packaging promises, stays partly stuck to the wall for years. Where a part of me will never recover from the pain-stricken yet oddly comforting experience. But it’s also a reminder that my father is more than just my father. With every song he plays for me, I learn a new part of him. And because of this, I ask him to pick the music on our car rides back to Ann Arbor, and every song means something. It’s where he can pick a song and tell me about its significance in his life or what the words mean to him. Where I can learn that the first English song he ever heard was surprisingly “Rasputin,” by Boney M., or that he loves the “Grease” soundtrack, or how he likes “Bee Movie” because it features “Here Comes the Sun.” He is a man with an entire life before my brother and me and even my mother, and sometimes I forget that. And with music holding such an importance in my life, being a way I feel and communicate, there is no better way for us to bond. And since he spent over 18 years listening to whatever music I picked, I’ll do the same. So when he plays for me another song that I have heard a hundred times, I’ll pretend it’s the first.
MiC Columnist Roshni Mohan can be contacted at email@example.com.