My father wasn’t an easy man to love growing up. I was an emotional kid and I didn’t quite get why he wasn’t overly affectionate with all of his children. Making matters worse, for me, was that he always seemed to associate better with complete strangers or his students or his fellow teachers. Why couldn’t he take the time to talk to me about what book I was reading? I’m sure he would have loved “The Black Cauldron” or “The Great Brain” if he had given them a try.
When I reached high school, he and I seemed to reach a level of understanding and we started to get along. I’m not sure what happened, perhaps he had mellowed, or perhaps because I wasn’t a rebel rouser like my brother and I wasn’t angry all of the time like my sister, it was easier for him to communicate with me. I think some of the things I went through in life and imagine that my dad began to see some of his mortality and he began to realize that he couldn’t protect us from everything like he wished he could.
Besides pushing my hand through a window and requiring 35 stitches when I was, like, 5, I also needed surgery on a bone spur when I was in 5th grade. What I didn’t know at the time was that there was concern that the bone spur might be cancerous. I used to say I couldnâ€™t imagine what my parents must have gone through not being able to control things while I went under the knife. Sadly, I fully understand now what it’s like to not be able to control the health of a child. Luckily, it was just a bone spur. My foot is intact.
In 9th grade, I shredded a ligament in my right knee and required reconstructive surgery. My mom told me that my dad was white as a ghost when the rolled me out of surgery. I know that feeling, too. Youâ€™re just a body, standing there watching your child roll by. All you can is send love. A feeling. It’s not tangible, you know? You’re just sending VIBES. For a man who was raised in a fairly conservative household… a household in which expressions of love were rarely given, this must have been excruciatingly frustrating for my dad.
As much as I’d like to say I’m not like my father, I see parts of him in me every single day I walk on this earth. It’s not just the emotional things, either. I know I have a short fuse. I realize that I often lack the proper patience with the two people I love more than my life, Sophie and Jacob. But lately I have begun to notice that Dad and I are both dreamers and that without him making the career choice he did, I wouldn’t be out here in California making a go at it in the film industry. Instead of going into business like his brother and father did, my dad followed his heart and stuck with music.
My dad is a band director. A great teacher. A musician. And he’s a dreamer. He’d never in his life tell you he’s a dreamer, but us fellow dreamers can see the characteristics. For as long as I can remember, my dad wrote arrangements to marching band songs for all of the bands he directed. Not just one or two parts, but all of the parts in the entire marching band. Take a moment to think about that. He was hearing all of these notes and variations of music in his head and was able to put them on paper for a bunch of pimply kids to mutilate with their instruments. Is that any different from what I’m doing? In many ways, he was hearing the same voices I hear when I’m trying to write a script or try to piece together the images I’ve shot.
There is one lasting image I have carried with me throughout my entire marriage and my time as a father. The morning that Julie and I were leaving for California was very emotional. Lots of tears. We were at Julie’s parents house in Lakewood and it was bone rattling cold outside. As we gave our hugs and said our goodbyes, I hugged my dad one last time before we were going to head outside and drive away. Suddenly, this man who had stood over me my whole life… looming, fell into a chair and began opening weeping. “This is harder than when my dad died.” I’ll never forget those words. To me, those words meant more than “I love you”.
During my roughest period of high school, the final four months of my senior year, I was a heartbroken mess. I became a version of my father, cramming my feelings deep inside me while I hung out with my friends and attempted to be a normal kid. See, when you’re already an emotional guy, having your high school sweetheart move away can rip you up inside. At that time, I would come home and immediately go to the basement. I only had one record I would listen to at that time, Bruce Springsteen’s “Tunnel of Love”. The sadness all over that record was something I could relate to and it helped me through that difficult time in my life. That LP traveled with me to college and put me to sleep more nights than I can remember. When Julie and I settled in Lose Angeles and I began replacing my Lp’s with cd’s, one of the first one’s I switched out was “Tunnel of Love”. That memory of my dad in the Flynn’s house was with me a lot back then, and by nature, I returned to my old friend Bruce to help me through the uncertainty and lack of confidence. But I drew strength from the music, in particularly the song “Walk Like A Man”.
In the song, Bruce (or a character he says isn’t him, but we really know is Bruce Springsteen) has a conversation with his father. In it, the character has a conversation with his father, expressing in no uncertain terms how much his father has inspired him and how he plans to try and be a father like him. When Sophie was born and we dealt with the drama of her birth, and when Jacob was born and diagnosed, I kept coming back to this song. There are few songs in my life that I can point to and say, “That’s me and my dad.” There are few songs that I could probably play for my dad and not have to explain what I’m feeling (even though I have put myself out there to him on numerous occasions). This song, with its simplicity and hushed production is a basement song in the truest sense of the word. I can listen to it over ad over and over again and it never grows old. And each time I well up, not only thinking about my dad, but also thinking about my kids and the type of father I am trying to be for them. I love this song as much as any Springsteen song, which says a lot. It gets to the core of what I am and what I’m trying to be. And for that reason, it is a great basement song for Father’s Day.
To all of you with kids, I say “Happy Father’s Day”. May you be blessed like I am. And may you be able to spend the entire day reveling in the wonder and joy of your children.