Okay, only _____ shopping days until Father’s Day. Do the math and fill in the blank. (You will hear proof of how the effective lessons of childhood can be carried into the flowering of the adult person if you ask any of my grown children the true meaning of Christmas. They will answer without hesitation, “Lots of presents for Dad.”)
Unlike the moms on Mother’s Day, none of us dads really mind going to church on Father’s Day, because the expectations on us are so much lower. The standards are every bit as high as they are for moms, but nobody actually expects us to perform to that level.
Of course, what we dads trade off for missing perfection by such a wide margin is that the moms get more gifts. It’s like that scripture: where much is expected, much is given. On the Saturday before Mother’s Day the streets are lined from Orem to Alpine with little stands festooned with signs reading “Buy a ___________ for Mom!” Fill in the blank – flowers, bean necklaces, sequined sunglasses, scented candles, tamales. Not so on Father’s Day Eve. Streets still as death. Except that last year there was a little stand alongside the road at the mouth of American Fork Canyon that said, “Buy some nightcrawlers for Dad!” And then there was the one just a little downstream that cut right to the chase: “Buy quite a large trout for Dad!”
Suddenly I’m wondering if I might be wrong about this GNS on Father’s Day (“gift neglect syndrome”). Because between the last paragraph and this one I got a weighty junk-mail piece from Cabela’s pitching many toys for dads. Cabela’s is this big sportsman’s outfitter that was recently erected out on the Point of the Mountain. It’s large enough to be mistaken for the State Penitentiary, except Cabela’s parking lot is bigger. Perhaps to disguise the fact that it’s very slightly smaller than the Conference Center, Cabela’s has an actual airplane (yellow) hanging from its ceiling. (I hope the Church doesn’t take up the gauntlet, here, because the Conference Center ceiling could accommodate a couple of cruise ships, and that would look silly.)
Cabela’s is amazing! It has a shooting gallery and a restaurant (buffalo burgers – no kidding). They sell licenses to hunt deer, elk, bear, mammoth, the Seven Cities of Cibola, and the Holy Grail. It has a walk-through aquarium. (Really a tunnel with aquaria on all sides, not water that you actually share with salmon as you walk through wearing SCUBA ((which, incidentally, is what the young Italian cruise-ship steward answered when I pointed off the starboard bow in the Caribbean a couple of years ago (((while hosting a Meridian Magazine tour!))) and asked what that long hilly coast on the horizon was)) ). Rising toward the yellow airplane is a snow-crusted mountain, with many taxidermified game animals of various dimensions, from marmot to moose. On the main floor are several other life-sized (um, “death-sized”) dioramas of different habitats filled with their respective critters – desert, veldt, tundra, Central Park. And of course Cabela’s displays a plethora of decoys (real birds come in flocks, gaggles, coveys, or, in the case of crows, murders, whereas their respective decoys gather in plethoras). The kids love going there. It’s the Disneyland of killing things. Once I walked in with only an innocent yen to gawk at the prices on new Pendleton shirts, and walked out with a Colt .45.
I love being a dad. I just be one and be one and be one. I’ve been one eight times. That might seem like a lot, but my kids came in two batches. The youngest in the first batch is seventeen years older than the oldest in the second batch. Maybe one more batch and I’ll get it right. Actually, I’m so too old for that. (My current at-home kids maintain that I was too old for the second batch.)
But I’m not too old to rock and roll. This is a very cool dad thing. I may have previously reported that my four older sons, all pro musicians, conspired to form a band and then announced to me that I was to be the lead singer. They presented me with a list of my very oldest songs, most of them older than they are, and we were off to the races. Just like thirty years ago, though, it only works when it’s their idea. Any dad of any family band that was his idea will corroborate this.
(I recently worked closely with a phenomenal young musician who grew up in a family band that has become successful enough to play regularly in their very own theater at an undisclosed tourist destination in the American Midwest. The reason she was available to me in Utah is that she finally ran away from the circus to join college.)
Last Friday the boys and I got together to finish mixing our live CD (first in concert recording I’ve ever released – recorded in the Babcock Theatre at the University of Utah). Here’s a picture of it.
It will be available wherever fine CDs are sold. (Warning: Very high Stratocaster content. This is rock and roll.)
As if I don’t get enough of being the dad in real life, about half the film and stage roles I get are as the dad. I’m like the little old lady in the shoe. I’ve had hundreds of kids (if it weren’t for “The King and I,” I’d only have had a few dozen). And not just any old kids. Among my offspring are Jimmy Flinders, heartthrob of countless Saturday’s Warrior groupies.
(Here’s a great Saturday’s Warrior story: My agent called me up many years ago and said, “Hey, they’re making a movie of Saturday’s Warrior. They’re down to the final callbacks for the dad, but I think I can get you in.” Having played the part a good many times on the road from Seattle to El Paso, I said “Sure, what the heck.”
((Here’s a kind of mediocre Saturday’s Warrior story: In Seattle, a sister in the audience passed the crew a note after the show expressing her outrage over the moment when Dad slaps Jimmy (((“Jimmy” was Dave Morgan, now a greying professor in the theatre department at BYU, a fine actor among whose chief talents ((((for my money)))) was that he had a very resonant face when slapped))) with words to the effect that no good LDS father would ever slap a child. Well, first of all, the idea that this particular dad is “good” is never suggested. Second, that he’s LDS is never even hinted at. And finally, name me one good LDS dad who never wanted to slap a child and didn’t secretly cheer when I actually did it.))
Back to the great Saturday’s Warrior story: When I got to the audition, it was down to a half-dozen possible dads and a half-dozen possible moms. These folks had come from all over with high hopes and were gifted and qualified. But among them was one particular lady whom I recognized. Recognized real good, because she and I had played these roles opposite one another on a lengthy tour. The director paired up the candidates randomly and gave each couple a few minutes to look through the song “Didn’t We Love Him?” By sheer accident, he paired me and Sister Gay Parvis, my Mrs. Flinders of many one-night-stands in the Western States. The first several couples went through their paces, reluctantly touching hands and gazing into each others’ eyes with courageous embarrassment. Then Gay and I, with no more talent at all, played the scene with all this ingrained and natural blocking and intimacy and chemistry and unwritten harmonies and the production staff were totally blown away. We got the parts. I think what sealed the deal was that right after the ending of the song and spontaneous applause, I strode over to one of the younger dad candidates and slapped him. Just kidding. About a month later, we told the director, Bob Williams, the whole story and admitted that it wasn’t magic at all. It’s been long enough now that I can’t remember whether he laughed good-naturedly or got really mad. In any case, it was too late to fire us.)
Joining Jimmy Flinders, other notable stage children of mine are Shem, Ham, and Japheth, Nephi, the Prodigal Son, Huckleberry Finn, Lil’ Orphan Annie, and Audra Macdonald.
Ms. Macdonald is the winner of several Tony Awards, a couple of Grammies, and is generally thought of as Broadway’s brightest star (this would be the Broadway in New York). The reason I get to be her dad is that she’s become um, “close” to a grandson of the late Ruth and Nathan Hale, masterful theatre veterans who founded the string of Hale Theaters in the West. (Okay, we’ve got “theatre” and “theater” in the same column, and there’s potential for confusion.
This is because the Hales, being not so artistically affected and self-conscious as I, and with, unlike I, nothing to prove, spell “theatre” like confidant Americans, instead of the othre way.) The last time I saw the name of this grandson, which is “Will Swenson,” I was emerging for my very first time from the subway in New York and found myself face-to-face with the theatre (New York is as affected and self-conscious as I am) where Will was starring in “Hair,” for which he subsequently received a Tony nomination. (This is a show in which I will never be cast, even as a dad – I am, however, gearing up for the revival of “Bald,” in which I anticipate a principal role.) The last time I actually saw this grandson in person, we were on opposite ends of cutlasses in the shadow of a waterfall on Kauai, as pirates selling skin care products. (This same waterfall was where something of importance in the film Jurassic Park happened, but I can’t remember what.)
So the Hale Center (another disputed spelling) Theater in Orem was planning to mount “110 In the Shade.” Since Audra and Will had recently done this show on Broadway (chalk up another Tony nomination for Audra), the Hale descendants who run the theater these days thought it would be cool if Audra and Will could come out and conduct a sort of “master class” or “fireside” or something. Well, calendars and whims and the generous spirits of Audra and will all aligned in a serendipitous way, and these two Broadway luminaries will be starring in the first two weeks of the five-week run, as a benefit to the Hales, who are building a new theater (it’s gonna be theirs, so “theater”). And hey, the Orem theatre scene (this is again me spelling) just don’t see a whole heap of Audra Macdonald. So it will be a great adventure.
Audra will now have a crack at adding to her Tonies and Grammies a “Cody.” This is the award given for “Outstanding Performance by an Actress in the Zip Code of 84057.”
(I love these award names. I learned last week that the show I wrote with Steven Kappppp Perry, “Take the Mountain Down,” is being submitted by BYU Broadcasting for a “Regional Emmy.” Since virtually all of the television programs produced in this particular region are news or sports, we’re entered in a category called “Outstanding Television Production That Isn’t News Or Sports.” Wish us luck.)
So come and see the show (and buy the CD of my band! And heck, the DVD of “Take the Mountain Down” And my last year’s trout! And I’ll think of more! Just let me work on it!). If there’s a Gospel message in this column, it’s just that Fatherhood is terrific. Especially when you get paid for it. Of course, the tricky part is that, whereas film and theatre reviews are written by anonymous critics and should generally be ignored, reviews of performances at home are written by your children. And angels.