A Father's Pride Transcript

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I didn't actually expect to be in Asheville for the first time in my life until 3 weeks from now when my son is getting married here. Thank you. He's marrying an Asheville girl. And it was because of my son, whose name is Mike, or Michael, or Mikey, depending on what time period we're talking about; it was because of him that I discovered what an incredible disappointment I had been to my father.

And it was almost entirely the fault of the Mighty Ducks. Because shortly after we moved to America, to the frozen Midwest, Mike - he was Mikey then - went to see the Mighty Ducks and came back saying, "I have to play hockey. I have to do this. I'm gonna do this.” And he did, he learned to play hockey, he learned to ice skate. Next thing you know, I was a hockey dad.

I was a good hockey dad in that I could drive him to hockey, and I could stand in a cold shed. After that I kind of failed as a hockey dad. I was never quite sure what was happening. He actually asked me, after my first attempt to cheer him on, to either stop cheering him on, or to get the terminology right. It wasn't a “hockey bat,” and shouting, "Hit that flat thing!" was just wrong. And I apologized and was sort of silent after that, and was never quite sure what was happening, but I would keep my eye on the score. And I would know which side was his and which side was the other team, so at the end of the game I would be able to say, "Well, you did you best,” or, “Congratulations.”

And then my father came out from England to stay with us for a few days and I took him with me to a hockey match. And I got to see the joy in my dad's face, watching his grandson, part of his genetic line, play a sport, and play well and take pride in this. And I saw this amazing joy and delight in my dad's eyes I'd never ever seen.

I was the other kind of kid. In junior school where you get 2 team captains and they get to pick the kids that they wanted to play with them, and they pick backwards and forwards, they would eventually get down to a very short girl with very thick glasses and a leg brace, and me. And then they'd pick her.

I did not have what it took to play sports. I had a different kind of head. And it wasn't that I didn't want to be good at sports, I would have loved to be good at sports. I would go out onto that football field, or the rugby field, or whatever the kind of field it was, with every intention of making everybody proud of me.

And they would tell me where to go and stand, I would go and stand there and I'd watch that ball go. And I'd think, you know, that ball, it's a lot like those adverts in the back of those American comics for baseballs that you can throw and they go in all sorts of weird directions, and that's really cool. You know, that's not quite as cool though as those x-ray spectacles that they advertise, where you can not only look at your hand and see the bones, but you can also see naked ladies! And it's one dollar ninety-nine, and the Americans have to be so far ahead of us technologically. And they have sea monkeys. And I don't know what they are, but they're monkeys, and they live under the water. And somehow, the older male sea monkeys can smoke pipes – underwater. And I wonder how you smoke a pipe underwater, and just as I'm pondering the various ways you could smoke a pipe underwater, something very large and heavy and wet and made of leather is gonna hit me in the side of the face. And then I'm gonna look 'round and people are going to be shouting at me because apparently I should have known this was going to happen and done something about it. And that was how I played sports.

What I did was make things up. It was all I really wanted to do. My dad found this rather hard to understand that I had no wish to follow him in into any of the family businesses that he wanted to be in or he was in. I didn't have that. I didn't want to be in property. I told him I wanted to write. So, he tried to get me a job as somebody who showed people around a show home.

And I said, "That's not actually writing.”

And he said, "No, no, no, there's a lot of time when people won't be visiting the show home, so you can just sit there and write."

And to please him I actually went for an interview, but the man never showed up. So I got on a bus and went home and that was the end of my attempt to ever get a real job. And I wrote, and my dad was great. He was really supportive in the ways that he could be supportive. When I was a young starving journalist with 2 very small kids, he suggested that probably the best thing that he could do was he had a flat that he owned above a shop, and I could just stay. We could stay in that flat, and we could cover the bills, but we didn't actually have to pay rent, and that was great. And 18 months later when I could afford to pay rent he said, "Right, now move out. Go get a place." And I did. And it was great.

And time went by and I started to get more and more successful. And I started to win awards. And people would say to my dad, "You must be so proud of

him." And he'd say, "I'm proud of all my children," until my little sister told him to

stop saying that 'cause it was really irritating. And I was proud, too. Mike grew up and he started doing computer things.

And I discovered whenever I'd ask him what it was that he actually did, that it all went away. I'd say, “What do you do?”

And he'd say, “Well, what I'm doing right now is wah wah wah wah wah wah.”

"I don't think I got that." And he’d said, "Well, you understand Python is a programming language." And I’d say, "Yes, I've got that," And he'd say, "Well, wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah."

And it was 2009, and I'd written a book called Blueberry Girl, which was beautifully illustrated, by Charles Vess. And the last time I'd done a signing in New York it had been a horror show. It had been at Barnes and Noble Union Square. It had been at night. We had to finish signing for about 1,000 people against the clock, and all I did was put my head down and I signed. And I signed and we’d check, and we were pleading with these people keep the store open and we finished. And the last person went out and they locked the doors, and I swore I was never coming back.

And now I was coming back, but I was coming back to a bookstore called Books of Wonder, a beautiful children's store, and Charles Vess was there with me and the smartest thing we did was we were gonna start at one o'clock in the afternoon. So we didn't have a curfew. We were great. And I was in the taxi on the way to the signing when my phone rang and I answered it, and it was my sister, my little sister, calling from England to let me know that my dad had been in a business meeting and he'd asked for a glass of water because he wasn't feeling very well. And having never been sick for a day in his life, he was dead of a heart attack by the time he got to the hospital.

And I was numb. I had the taxi drop me off - actually in Union Square near that Barnes and Noble - and I phoned my children. Phoned a few people and then my agent Marilee, who was with me, said, "You could not do this. Everyone will understand."

And I said, "No, I actually really want to do this."

And I walked up to Books of Wonder. And Charles was there, and Charles showed them his beautiful paintings and I read this poem that I'd written to an unborn daughter. And then I signed for 1,500 people for 8 and a half hours. And it was wonderful. All of these people were there and each person who came up gave me something to do, and I didn't have to think about it, and I didn't have to worry.

And at the end, I was exhausted. And I was done. And I was leaving Books of Wonder and Marilee said to me, "You know the last time I saw your father?"

And I said, "No, when was the last time you saw my dad?"

And she said, "Oh, it was in that Barnes and Noble signing you did in Union Square.” She said, “He came up there. And he was just standing on the side. He was in New York and he stood on the side and he watched you. And I saw him and I recognized him and I went over and I said, 'Hello, David.' And he said, 'Hello.' And I said, 'You must be so proud of Neil.' And he said, 'I really am.'”

And she said, “So I said to him, 'But you must have known this would happen. You must have known he's such a brilliant writer. He's wonderful. You must have known this was gonna happen.’”

And my dad looked at her and he said, "No, he wanted to be a writer. I thought I was going to be supporting him his whole life."

And I thought, you know, for my dad, watching me signing at that Barnes and Noble was probably an awful lot like me watching Mike play hockey. I thought, but even so, he was perfectly willing to support me my entire life, just as I would have been willing to support Mike. And even though he was completely baffled, just as I had been baffled, he watched, as I watched, with every bit as much love.