The other day, on a wet and chilly morning, I suggested to my daughter Pickle, recently turned three, that she wear a coat for going outside. Giving my children suggestions about what clothes to wear has been an ongoing battle for me ever since I became a parent. That at age eight I chose to wear the same green T-shirt every day for an entire summer mocks me from my past.

Pickle glared at me and shook her head. She was wearing purple shorts, an Ozzy Osborne T-shirt (amazing what you receive in a hand-me-down box), and her mother’s high-heeled shoes. She looked like an aging carnival worker gone seriously to seed.

“How about I kick you back to Buffalo,” she said with a snarl.

Pickle’s retort, so vicious seeming as if we were two men disagreeing down at the local pub and about to take it outside, caught me off guard. Then I remembered she was quoting a song lyric from the new man in her life and I felt a rush of fatherly pride. The man’s name is Mr. Bruce Springsteen.

I grew up in New Jersey. Down there the Boss is not so much a star as an essential ingredient to living, like breathing or playing baseball. He made the simple act of going to the beach, or shore, a mythic journey, something that did not just guarantee a tan and a cooling off but rather a quest that would change our hopes and dreams forever. Such is life growing up in New Jersey.

But I hadn’t been pushing the Boss on my daughter. Honest. He arrived in the most unlikely manner. My wife, Cathlin, returned one evening from a leadership conference. Evidently, the facilitator had used Bruce’s conducting of the Seger Sessions, a CD he made a few years ago of traditional music, as an example of perfect leadership.

The whole family gathered on the couch to check out the DVD and watch Bruce work with his band on the intro to Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal. It was a nice moment, all of us together and watching one of my heroes. But I thought it was just a blink in time, something that would disappear during the rush of the bedtime routine. The next morning, however, while driving with the radio on, Pickle yelled from the backseat, “Turn this off, I want Bruce Springsteen.”

We are now in the muck of total obsession.

Pickle refuses to listen to anyone else, especially women. “No girls,” she demands whenever I turn the stereo on. Even the young Boss won’t do. No Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town. The Nebraska album faired okay for a bit until my wife caught the two of us on the couch listening to Johnny 99.

“That’s about a man on death row,” she reminded me.

But it isn’t just when we are listening to music that Bruce dictates our lives. The other night when I put Pickle to bed, I kissed her goodnight and offhandedly said as I was leaving the room, “Sweet dreams.”

Immediately, she threw her blankets off and leaped out of bed. “I don’t have time for sweet dreams,” she said. “I’m dreaming about Bruce Springsteen.”

Last week in the kitchen I spilled a carton of milk on the floor and before I could catch myself I yelled, “Damn.”

I looked up fearing Pickle, who was standing nearby playing at her make-believe kitchen, would repeat my near swear word. Instead, she paused for a moment, arranged a few pans on her toy stove and then began singing in a low, sad tone a song from the Seger Sessions. “My Oklahoma woman blowed away, Mister as I bent to kiss her she was picked up by a twister, my Oklahoma woman blown away.”

And last night in the bathroom (Pickle is still in the early stages of her toilet training and it is usually a communal affair), she asked me to leave the room. I nodded and sat out in the hallway, my back to the wall. Soon she began to sing, “O Mary don’t you weep, don’t mourn, O Mary don’t you weep, don’t mourn, Pharaoh’s army got drownded, O Mary don’t weep.”

When you become a parent you know your life will change and that you will experience something new. But nothing can prepare you for these moments, the respite from the multiple agendas of life to a quiet interlude seated outside the bathroom listening to your three-year-old daughter singing gospel songs while trying to go potty.

I was also sent back in time to another evening of waiting almost three decades ago, this time in lawn chairs outside a strip mall in central New Jersey with my buddy Dave Serido. We were camping out all night in order to buy Springsteen tickets in the morning. There were hundreds of other fans spending the night too. Everyone had coolers, there was grilling, and during the night our other friends, Snakehead, Boog, Guzzi, Paulie C., all of them scattered about now and navigating their own midlife terrains, stopped by to check on us and supply us with more beer. I had just finished my freshman year in college and it seems, when I think of it now, a life lived by someone else.

Other than myself and an imaginary father Pickle calls Bob Cheeks, the Boss is my daughter’s first crush. I am heartened by her choice. A genuine star with deep moral values. But I also know this will not be her last love affair.

I only hope that when, as a teenager, she brings home some leather-clad suitor and I stare aghast as he blusters about it being their one last chance to make it real, that I remember the moment outside the bathroom. Even as a mere preschooler my daughter could take the measure of a good man. I will also do well to remember the other moment, so much further away as to be dim with the past, of me in a lawn chair with my high school friends, all of us spirits in the night and overjoyed to be sleeping in a parking lot.