Much like the general populace of the planet, I spent most of my teen years misunderstanding my father. Some of my early adult years, too. He was a quiet man, someone I might call “taciturn”, if I knew for sure what that word meant. I took his silence as anger, whether or not that was the right way to consider it (much of the time it was… but not always). I felt like I could never do anything that actually made him happy. I was as vanilla a kid as I could be; school success came pretty easily, and I was involved in absolutely no true angst-driven rebellion. No drinking; no drugs. No partying or wild times requiring trips to the police station or late-night “what the hell” moments. Nothing. Just me following my creative impulse wherever it led, which usually wasn’t too far from home. He had it pretty sweet where I was concerned. So I could never make sense of what I considered to be the disappointment I felt coming from his direction.
And me being the rational soul that I am, my response to it was defiance.
My vanilla version of defiance, but still – defiance.
Since you don’t really like anything I do anyway, I thought, I’ll just make a few decisions for me only.
Yes: the hair is going to be long—with a tail, even (it was the Eighties). I’ve never pulled less than a 3.5 GPA, so deal with it.
Yes: I know attending a university sounds like a great idea from your perspective, but I’m opting out. My choice, not yours.
Yes: I intend on making a living playing music – on a synthesizer. Probably on a street corner somewhere. It’s what all the cool folks are doing these days. You’re welcome.
You can see from all of it that, in spite of making decent grades, I was kind of a stupid kid. With a smart mouth.
Not a winning combination.
I didn’t even do defiance very convincingly.
Live and learn.
It’s an age-old story, and certainly not specific to me and mine: insolent teenager taunts taciturn (I looked it up this time…it means what I thought it did) father in order to assert his power and his place in the household, and in the world at large. I figured if he wasn’t going to be on my side anyway, I might as well make the most of it.
What I didn’t understand at the time was that he actually was on my side, and always had been.
He loved me, and he loved what I was capable of. What he wanted was for me to have a foundation beneath the defiance, a platform from which I could rail at the world in whatever manner I chose once I cut the hair (because, of course, I was bound to do that at some point), ditched the synth (and that) and finished college (yep…that, too).
He just didn’t know how to express all of that in terms I could comprehend.
His way was insistence instead of instruction, expectation instead of explanation. I’m big on backstory; I need to know the reasoning for just about everything before the true necessity of it sinks in. My father simply was not this way, and I understand that now. I believe it took becoming a father myself for it to finally make sense. And because of this, I probably overcompensate with my own children sometimes, jabbering on far too much about the whys and hows of everything, when all they really want and need to hear from me is, “This is how you do it.”
In all of these ways – and undoubtedly more – I am Tyler Mills.
I didn’t mean to be. I just am.
I didn’t mean to write my teenage years into a story, either…and honestly, I haven’t. The profile of this kid is very similar to what my seventeen year-old self was—and, I’m sure, to what many other seventeen year-olds were and still are— but I only used it as a springboard for the character; the resemblance between his tale and my life end there. The same is true for Tom Mills; the similarities between him and my own father are superficial at best.
But they’re there.
“Write what you know,” as the workshops recommend. I usually write what I imagine instead. This time, I guess I took their advice to heart.
I feel like I finally understand enough of the father-son dynamic to tell a story like this one. My biggest regret is that it came too late for my father to read it and weigh in from his side, so he could tell me if I did it justice.
The best I could do for us both was to tell Tyler and Tom’s story as honestly and realistically as possible.
I think he’d be good with that.
Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing is now available for Kindle and in paperback at Amazon. If it so happens that you kindly purchase the book and read the story, I’d love to know what you think of it. Feel free to comment on the blog, tag me on Twitter or Facebook, or shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are always welcome as well. Thanks, folks.