My Masterpieces

Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him. Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them! Psalm 127:3-5

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8

I started out as a classically-trained stage actor. My BA is in Communications and Theatre Arts from Heidelberg College in Tiffin, OH. After my senior year, I auditioned and got an apprenticeship with The Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Lakewood, OH. The artistic director was Vincent Dowling from the Abbey Theatre in Dublin Ireland. My boss that summer was a newly-minted Equity actor who had himself been an apprentice like me the year before. As low man on the totem pole, Tom Hanks was given the task of overseeing us apprentices. Yeah, he was my boss that summer.

I either met or worked with a number of actors that summer who were already famous or have since gone on to very successful careers in TV and movies. Meredith Baxter-Birney came with her husband to do a benefit show for the festival that summer. She was a delight and very kind. I later worked with Priscilla Morrill who played Meredith’s mother on several shows, including Family Ties.

That summer reinforced my desire to become rich and famous. I had dreams of creating works that would still be known after I was dead and gone.

Sometime after the Shakespeare festival, I successfully auditioned to get into a graduate school program; The Hilberry Repertory Company at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. I got a two-year ride for a Master of Fine Arts in Speech, Theatre, and Acting. This is the program that produced Lilly Tomlin and Jeffrey Tambour (who came to do a master class while I was there).

Tom Sizemore was an undergraduate while I was there, and we worked together on the Boblo Boats in the summer (huge, old paddle wheel boats that took people from downtown Detroit to the Boblo Island amusement park). I was working and rubbing elbows with some pretty high-caliber folks.

Unfortunately, I was not one of the favorites of the faculty and was never cast in any standout roles. However, I turned in a breakout performance in a friend’s directing class production of Bus Stop. My master’s recital in my second year opened a lot of eyes even wider. Still, I never got a break on the main stage. I also auditioned at a professional theatre in downtown Detroit. The director, who knew me in passing at the Hilberry, paid me the best compliment I ever got: “They didn’t use you very well at the Hilberry, did they?”

After two shows at the Meadowbrook Theatre north of Detroit, I found it necessary to return to Toledo and my parent’s house. I shortly met my future wife. We were engaged in short order and married. After much discussion of what my next move would be, we planned to move to Chicago. There is theatre and media work there, so a good place to advance an acting career and move toward my masterpiece.

But those plans were challenged when my wife got pregnant shortly after our wedding. I made the decision that an acting career just wasn’t going to put me in a good position to be a provider. It was time to get a regular job.

So much for fame, fortune, and masterpieces.

Much Later, I came to realize that I would have my masterpieces. They just weren’t going to be the ones I had planned on.

My masterpieces are my daughters.

I came from a fairly dysfunctional family. Not knowing what was normal growing up, I just went with what I had. Eventually I started thinking this is just plain screwy. I also started thinking that, whenever I might have a family, I’d do it better.

Years later, married and with children, I was reunited with my second cousins, Al and Mary. I learned a lot about my family. During those long conversations about what was really going on as I was growing up, so much clicked into place. The one remark indelibly seared into my memory was her comment of their visits to us in Toledo when I was very young.

“I always felt so badly for the way you and your sisters were raised. I cried most of the way home every time we visited.”

By the time I was in junior high, I no longer had any more to do with my dad than absolutely necessary. My mom relegated most of our upbringing to her mom, who lived across the street and pretty well checked out of her involvement once I hit high school.

At some point, I decided that I would treat any kids I might have in such fashion that they would still talk to me once they hit high school and on into adulthood. Unlike how I felt toward my dad.

1 Timothy 3:2-5: “So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him.

Not that I was aiming to be an elder, although I was elected to that office at church twice. But I wanted to be the father I wish I had had, and my Christian faith showed me the way. I learned that a life of base hits was a ton better than ego-driven wishes for fame and fortune, home runs that promised better than they delivered.

Both my girls are in their twenties, and they still like their old man. They come to me for advice or just to chat. The bike rides, the walks to the YMCA field to pitch to them and run after their infrequent hits, the trips to every free diversion we could find within a day’s drive, the numerous silly games we would make up on the fly…all these and countless more times spent with them produced two fine young women who are engaged with their dad far longer than I was with mine.

Am I bragging about my time in the theatre, meager as it was? Or the famous folks I can count as former colleagues? Well, yeah! Those are some nice memories, and I still get a kick out of seeing them on either the big or small screen from time to time. It’s nice to know that I was good enough to have made it onto the same stages they did.

But I also know who and what I am. I am quite sure that fame would have ruined me. I consider Tom Sizemore to have been a friend. I am saddened by his troubles. I also realize I could have very well turned out the same way.

I have my masterpieces, two lovely girls who still talk to me and love me. I’d rather have that than the fame I craved so many years ago.

What do YOU think? I and other readers want to hear from you!

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