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Saturday was the 89th birthday of Pete Seeger, and Saturday afternoon I found myself listening to a Seegerthon on a radio station in Waco, Texas. I was on my way to give the full secular parenting seminar in Dallas, driving from Austin, where I’d given a secular parenting talk.

During my 24 hours in Austin, I learned, and instantly adored, the unofficial slogan of the city:

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Austin is weird in that college-town, blue-dot-in-a-red-state way. Nonconformity was on my mind anyway, since the parenting seminar (which I gave on Sunday in Dallas) includes a segment on the importance of helping kids resist pressures to conform and find the courage to be a dissenting voice when dissent is called for.

Ten miles out of Waco, I heard Seeger sing a song I haven’t heard in maybe 25 years — a pretty little waltz concealing a howl of protest against numbing conformity:

Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of tickytacky
Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes, all the same

There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of tickytacky and they all look just the same.

Even in the middle of relative nowhere, the song seemed to comment on my surroundings — the thrum of tires on the road, the repeating green EXIT signs, McDonald’s and Burger King signs looming over alternating exits, little tickytacky developments scattered around the Waco fringe.

And the people in the houses all went to the university
And they all got put in boxes and they all came out the same,

And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers, and business executives
And they’re all made out of tickytacky and they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course and drink their martini dry,
And they all have pretty children and the children go to school

And the children go to summer camp and then to the university
And they all get put in boxes and they all come out the same.

Gotta talk to the kids about that sometime. Work it into a conversation, the whole thing about not being a sheep, about being proud of being different, even knowing it can make things harder.

Wait. Pfft! Not a conversation! Why yak it when you can sing it?

And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family
In boxes made of tickytacky and they all look just the same.

There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of tickytacky and they all look just the same.

After four days in Texas, I got home tonight in time to sing it to the girls at bedtime. Instant hit. They asked what it meant, what tickytacky is, what a martini is. We sang it again.

I kissed them, turned off the light, and went into my room to blog. I could hear them singing it quietly in the dark, giggling each time they got to “tickytacky.”

Nine-thirty — time to go sing to the Boy!

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.