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The Two Lessons Imbedded in Kelly Clarkson’s Heartwrenching American Idol Performance

The first time I watched Kelly’s achingly lovely homage to her devoted husband and concurrent condemnation of her far-from-ideal father, I cried. Then, when I saw it again, my eyes welled up a second time.

And I’m not the only one who was so moved. Idol judges Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez’s expressions during Clarkson’s “Piece by Piece” were beautifully empathetic. Anyone not affected by her from-the-soul lyrics has a questionable capacity for compassion.

Two tender lyrics are especially evocative and worth analyzing.

1. “But your love isn’t free. It has to be earned.”

Kelly felt she had to earn her father’s love. How pitiful is that? No child should have to earn her parents’ love. Parents should love their children unconditionally. Yet this doesn’t work both ways. Parents, especially fathers, should have to earn their children’s love.

How can a daddy do that? By showing up. By being there. By being devoted. By providing limitless support—even when he’s exhausted, not in the mood or feels like he should be or wants to be somewhere else. By lighting up when his baby girl or boy enters the room. And, as much as he can, by loving and respecting the mommy.

The only free love any of us should ever expect is parental love. Everyone else’s love needs to be earned.

2. “Piece by piece, I fell far from the tree.”

Typically, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. When I get a great kid in my class, I’m rarely surprised when I meet the parents. And when I have a “challenging child,” well, I’m rarely surprised when I meet the parents.

Tragically, though, there are times when we teachers have to encourage our students to be like Kelly and fight desperately to be unlike their parents. She’s a fabulous role model for them because she has proven that when it needs to be done—when it has to be done—it can be done.

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