When you’ve been in the TV, radio, film, and motion picture business for twenty years, writing “hype” comes pretty naturally. That’s why this is so difficult; the assignment is to write the truth and sometimes the truth hurts. Obviously, to write about one’s self and not go on about work and its various “ephcomplishments” probably denies the existence of two-thirds of the time spent since Williams. But, the great thing about the assignment — and, in fact, the whole notion of 25th Reunions — is the opportunity it gives to reflect, weigh, and think about things — hopefully, before mid-life crisis sets in.
My benchmark for this sort of thing is perhaps my own father’s 25th college reunion. I was invited to join him there after a year of “estrangement” following his separation from my mother. I was 15, not sure of myself, and even less sure of my relationship with him. He and I had never been close, but our drive east from the Minnesota prairies to the spring greenery of New England (after a year of living apart) gave us our first chance to come face-to-face with the reality of who we were to each other. It was difficult for me and I know now it was difficult for him. I know it even more now that I have three children of my own.
‘I sing a song to those children at bedtime (one of only three that I know, but one which they always request) which sums up the awesome power of the “life cycle.” It’s Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” (whose recording by Ian Tyson I always liked better): “The seasons; they go ’round and ’round. The painted ponies go up and down. We’re captive on the carousel of time. We can’t return, we can only look, behind from where we came. And go ’round and ’round and ’round in the Circle Game.” And, I reflect on that spring weekend with my father at his college. I had my first beer (hated it), my first true jealousy (of my first cousin, who was also there with his father and not only had a real relationship with his, but also managed to have at least one girlfriend the entire weekend, which I knew I’d never have my entire life), and my first notion that there might be more to the world than my life in Minnesota, or to loving relationships than the very strained one I had with my father.
A year later, he was dead and my mother was re-married to true adventurer. She and her five children were welcomed into his life in New England with gusto and with love — two things quite new to our family. Quite unbelievably, I now really had a father. I didn’t know it at the time, but I also had some direction. If there ever was an example of a parent practicing giving children “roots and wings,” it was this new man in my life. The Circle Game had dealt me a wonderful hand and for that I will always be thankful. He was enormously patient with my failings (which were numerous), very supportive of my successes (which were few), and is probably the reason why I managed to make it through high school and get into Williams. He taught me and my brothers and sisters that while it was okay to fail, it was more important to learn from failure, and above all, to hang in there and keep trying, no matter what the task or the risk. He exemplified exploration and travel, curiosity and creativity, patience and love.
Upon graduation from Williams, he asked me to work for him in his filmmaking studio. With no marketable skill and even less idea “what I wanted to be when I grew up,” I accepted. For seven years, we made wildlife and sports movies together. I think what was really happening was he was allowing me to grow up a little more before he set me loose on the world, and paying me too! (What other employer would allow me to take a two-month leave-of-absence, with pay, to climb Mt. McKinley?)
Although I couldn’t admit it at the time (probably because I didn’t know it at the time), I was probably given more training, more responsibility, and more experience in those years than most employees at most companies are ever given. Once again, I was being allowed to fail, learn from mistakes, and become better at my now chosen profession.
Following a now powerful wanderlust (which remains to this day), I left the “family business” and moved to the Rockies, which I had come to love. I worked for a larger family business (The Osmonds), and after a year there, got a wonderful offer to return to Boston to do a special project for a TV station there. By now, pretty much out of money (Mormons don’t pay that well), I accepted what I thought would be a six-month assignment and stayed three years. I fell in love, was spurned (mightily), felt sorry for myself and cried for a week, then went out to help a friend fix the showerhead in his rental apartment. One of the tenants was pretty attractive. She’s now the mother of my children and co-producer of our very best productions — three wonderful children. The painted ponies have wonderful colors, beautiful manes, and the carousel goes ’round and ’round.
The supposedly six-month trip back to Boston re-introduced me back to Alaska (I’ve now made three nationally telecast films there), allowed me to find a best friend (who has taught me even more about patience, creativity, and love than I ever thought possible), and launched us on a professional and personal odyssey which has taken us to Atlanta for four years (tenures with a TV station there as a department head, and another with Ted Turners “family business” as senior producer of his fifty-five-hour TV series on all me American states and territories, a two-hour Jacques Cousteau retrospective, and a history of the United Nations for CNN), eight years in southern California (as co-founder with my wife and proprietor of our own film and TV production company), and another two back in New England (attempting to teach our children that the seasons do change, the leaves that fall in autumn do come back in the spring, etc.) The Circle Game.
But, they’re not convinced. As I write this, we are preparing a return to California. Once you’ve been on Baywatch duty, it’s hard to shovel snow. But, where we live is certainly not as important as how we live. My kids hate the lecture. But, if I can have half the patience, half the wisdom, or set half the example for them that my step-father and my wife and partner set for me — while not passing along the failures that any of us have — then I’ll be mighty happy.
Ask me at the 50th whether it worked out. I hope my answer then will be that The Circle Game continues, that the carousel is still going ’round and ’round, and that my grandchildren, riding on those painted ponies, will look back at their grandfather and still ask him to sing the song — not knowing it’s the only one I know. I’ll know in my heart that whatever pony they’re on will take them wherever their hearts desire — as long as they hang on, talk softly, hold the reins gently, and sing lots of happy songs.