Mykelti Williamson of the Oscar-nominated film "Fences" reads an essay about a father's complicated love for his son.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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Oh the from the New York Times and WB. You are Boston. This is modern. The stories of love loss and redemption. I'm your host, magnetron puberty, the joy stress, resilience self doubt Joe Blair has experienced an extreme range of parental emotion with Michael his autistic son. Michael T Williamson, who played Bubba in Forrest Gump and, most recently Gabriel, in the Oscar nominated film fences ray Joe Blair's essay for the boy who makes waves perspective
There's must wonder about the hard pack runway of dirt in our backyard, where grass won't grow in the aspen padlock on refrigerator. They must wonder why the gate on our six foot, high picket fence, is permanently bolted, shut. Deben. I hardly think about these things. We've been with Michael for eleven years there are two runways inside fence, one traces, the edge of the house, the dog made this one. He sprints window to window tracking my location, am I in the kitchen leaving the kitchen. walk into the living room walking back to the kitchen. It might be cute if it weren't for the destroyed window sills and muddy paw prints on the siding. The other runway in the center of our tiny backyard belongs to Michael. Ten by three foot stretch of shiny earth.
there are three layers of side beneath it. Each one representing Debs hope that this time the grass will take hold this time. The grass will take hold this time. In the morning whether to or six or eight you it can depend on MIKE finding one of my leather belt sneaking out the back door and starting to pace on that patch of dirt brown pack surface hard on dry days, slick on rainy days. What could be better? A belt that if you grab it by the buckle and move it, I can forth at a certain piece or make sign wave after sign, wave its tail lapping the ground ever so gently as it releases the previous wave into the union. It is a mesmerizing thing. so absorbing so incredibly fantastical and MIKE
help releasing loud shrieks of delight or agony or pent up frustration or joy, While patch, in that release into the universe, usually he's naked yep or he'll only have boxer shorts on. He will be you or singing or howling high pitch. He supersonic Tarzan, an alarm clock that we cannot ignore because we have sleepy neighbors one of us Deborah cursing beneath our breath, will peel ourselves out of bed and hurry down the creaking stairway Michael. We will see an almost authoritative voice, Michael get in here and Michael drop the belt and do as we say he will leave and the thing he loves most more than food, and he will do what we say until we're back
bit, and then he will return to his beautiful runway with his magical belt and he will make the world understandable in his way. It is a poor substitute. We ve learned for the real thing ocean waves We might first saw the ocean to summers ago on a beach in San Francisco. He was in Thrall. He dropped the belt he always carries. Threw himself on the sand was warm and fine, and sent to the sound of the surf. It was as if it finally found someone who spoke his language, the Pacific Ocean.
We visited the beach every day for five days, but this was only vacation and despite what boys want vacations and. soon MIKE was back in Iowa, and it was the belt again lapping against the brick walkway. While he waited for the school bus with his father. One evening, MIKE's twin sister Lucy, said dab in me. Teachers will think. I'm stupid like MIKE Mike. He's not stupid. Deb said Lucy said patiently, you know what I mean yes, Deb said. I know what you mean. But you ve got in a what I mean to a man. If you found yourself in the middle of China somewhere and everyone was trying to talk to you, but you couldn't understand them, and everyone thought that you were stupid.
But you were still just like you are. How would you feel. I have had glimpses of the kind of man I should be. Such are the revelations we are afforded passing glimpses like the small hidden pond you pass while driving on a road for the first time, suddenly opening up and then closing once again, so that it can be instantly forgotten or recalled only in part. I've had glimpses. When I was ten To God and ask for my challenge me my challenge. I would pray. Give me my challenge at my whose moments I thought that was my mistake. I asked For it, Days, I rarely talk to MIKE because he rarely responds in any way,
I think this is cruel, ignoring my own son, and if you were to spend one day with him, you might be full of energy and hope and goodwill. But I have with him every day of his life. For eleven years. my bad habit of ignoring my son has become so ingrained that I routine non communication has become something of a runway all at all. And I ignore the very things that fascinate Michael the belt, the patch of dirt, still once in a while, we engage one another Sometimes, for example, we play the blinking game.
while lying next to each other. Very close, Michael, look at me out of the corner of his eye, a sly smile playing across his face, and he will blink once then in response. I will blink once his smile will gain and radiance and he will answer my blank with one blink of his own. This will go on for some time whipping MIKE up into a fit of of. Like tonight I lie next to MIKE it's eleven well past. His bedtime he's been laughing hysterically for at least an hour which might seem cute to you, but to me. indicates that he's on the edge of a seizure, our faces are very close in the dark MIKE likes it. This way close, he is a
boy. His eyes are large and liquid. His facial features are clean. The great challenge I asked for when I was a boy. Lying in bed next to me very close to my face. Faith is nothing other than an acceptance of eternity and, at the same time of death the great challenge, my great challenge, is nothing other than in the face of eternity and death. A question of kindness Can I be in alive at this time love this boy? Can I listen to him? Can I be a good father to this boy? We have glimpsed the future of MIKE at six foot three, two hundred and fifty pounds, his sporadic anger, triggering the need for drugs
his restraints. While I grow older, smaller and weaker and Deben, I decided that we want a shot at a different future, one in which, MIKE near his beloved waves, maybe isn't so troubled. So after nearly two decades in Iowa we're moving to the coast to the waves, I have not work. The urban I will find work. We have no community awaiting us, but we will make one. The people who come to look at our house. Don't understand this, but it is not there to understand it has not been given to them. It has been given to us, MIKE, I say in the darkness, you're a good kid.
I say and then I keep listening for once. I don't stop listening after a few seconds, as I normally do. Instead. Second Runnel MIKE His ceased his laughter now after so time I don't know how long he whispers very quietly, you're a good kid, a good kid MIKE you're, a good kid, I'm proud of you, I say
the words wave and wave and then they come back broken and then full proud MIKE says I'm proud of you. I love you. I say it's a profession, it's also so freaking love MIKE says a few minutes later. I love you love you. I love. I love you. You after MIKE seems to be done with his response. I ask: how would you like to live by the ocean this brings a big smile he's looking off away at something far
words wave and wave ocean. He says the The Michael T, Williamson reading Joe Blair's essay for the boy who makes waves, more from Joe Blair after this break, The.
The I love spelling my boyfriend and I often play spelling bee together by together I mean sitting next to each other playing individually and not cheating. Sometimes when I open outgoing d- and I see that you have completed a few words on your own, I feel a little betrayed in theory. It may have happened again. I have one friend who I will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words that I always get nervous or assented to my parents, or something like that was my dad. It was like space time together and help each other out. I forgot it said J, a c k, p o t jack, but we hit the jackpot panel yeah around nice, I'm same as earth sky. The digital puzzles editor for the New York Times. You can try spelling bee and all our games at n, one times dot com, slash games.
This is modern love. I magna trucker body, Joe Blair is still writing, but he spends his days as a self employed H back mechanic. We caught up with. and back in Iowa. That's right back in Iowa, but Joe his wife, Deb and therefore kids did end up moving to the coast for some time going Massachusetts in it, was on, A logical level natural level, a stupid decision We went out there in the middle of the recession. I was in local, five seven in Boston, which is a pipefitters local. I had meant FR. I came up. I worked there Levin years before moved. I want in them they had three hundred guys in the pantry or whatever and They weren't going to give me a job and I ended up. Job back in Iowa after about a year. as we ran out of money? Had no great need for Massachusetts, although I love Massachusetts to
I had a great need for love. I think. And we came together as family, a movie domestic juice. It's my kids, who had begun to smoke. I didn't drink whatever, with their friends and we're having trouble here and I when we, when we move to Massachusetts, we kind of I'm a family again where we would go, see, movies together and go and make Used together and. We were all we had and this kind of a renaissance for a family while in Massachusetts the family went to the beach almost every day, even in the winter, Joe says it was great in many ways, but MIKE was the same ocean or not. He showed no signs of improvement, I was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis in utero. It's a rare genetic disorder where non cancerous tumors form on different organs, usually the brain, kidneys and heart,
in MIKE's case the disease resulted in developmental delays, autism and seizures the family has learned to cope, but they do face new challenges. After my through puberty. He became more violent. when he attacks you what he does is he takes your arm and your hand and grab it and you'll pinch it in a twisted and you'll hurt it and dead Deb has bruises up and down her arms all the time right now She has big bruises on her arms and what she to do is kiss his hand and ye It sounds crazy, but that makes him stop. Joe says he finds solace in writing, and this essay was his fourth attempt to be published in modern love life with MIKE. Giving him a lot to think and a lot to write about when we Whether he worries about being so honest about the difficulties of raising his son, he says that. has taught him to care less about what other people think he recalls.
one story? In particular, we were. walking around the supermarket, and I noticed it Everyone was looking him householding, MIKE's hand and maybe micro little old for me to hold the sand and now, if he Everyone is looking at me funny and MIKE Funny them start getting angry angrier MIKE what you know, what we Have a right to be here, you know my chance a little different. Maybe you know this like your kids. But why is everybody looking at us? That's not cool, and I stopped by the apples to get some apples and I turned to look at MIKE and realized that he had his pants. We need in. This was walking around that way, and What do you do while you pull up his pants and then you tie his shoes and you move And so as far as having an essay out in the world that was exposing. I didn't worry me too much. MIKE currently lives at home and is in a day program. Just
As for the most part, it's been a good experience, but he does worry about who will take care of MIKE when he or gone. He does not want to assume that MIKE siblings will take over. We ve never put that expectation on them. You know always wanted them to live, their lives fully. In and not feel burdened by MIKE. But the funny thing is it All of them have MIKE in mind. For when Devon I Are no longer and they've talked about it. Certainly, will we and brought it up, but they have William, my second oldest man recently that he plans eventually to be living in Ohio, so I can take care of MIKE. His family has accepted that their lives will probably never be easy, but they I found a way to keep living with dignity and with grace
The ocean isn't going to fix MIC Dolphins, isn't going to fix him and Electro Alex Therapy music therapy, It is a fine line between giving up and now excepting who MIKE is we haven't given up, and we have accepted to my kids, so the two happened simultaneously. Joe Blair. His essay is for the boy who waves. Jos memoir by the Irish Sea, was published in two thousand thirteen. After the break.
Some thoughts from Daniel Jones and Michael T, Williamson.
I love spelling my boyfriend and I often play spelling bee together by together I mean sitting next to each other playing individually and not cheating. Sometimes when I open up spelling bee- and I see that you have completed a few words on your own, I feel a little betrayed. Sorry. It may have happened again today. I have one friend who I will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words that I always get nervous that I sent it to my parents or something like that when my dad was like the first time together and I was out- I think I got it- see it J, a c k, P, o t jack. We hit the jackpot, panicked, yeah, Elrond nice, I'm same as the sky. The digital puzzles editor for the New York Times. You can try spelling bee in all our games at n, one times dot com, slash games.
Daniel Jones is the editor of modern love for the New York Times. He says it's always tempting to sugar coated, difficult relationship with a child, but Joe Blair does anything but that those just such a profound statement of honesty and the way sorta digs deep to admit that and to wrestle with it. I feel like this is the modern love column at its best, where people at to human vulnerabilities and weaknesses that most people would be, afraid to admit to Be- as they be judged by it and it's not you do you know you don't talk that way about children. You don't talk that way about of being something you're, maybe not beloved in this case and it's a powerful, powerful piece Michael T Williamson agrees, I feel my personal assignment as an actor as
live on. This earth is to open my life up to the pain of others. To try and help audiences to understand, which I think Reduces the opportunity for judgment- and I feel like that's my personal mission as an actor- is to help people to understand the lives, the pain, the insight of people who are not normally chosen to be apart of a worry, but everyone has a story. And everybody's somebody's child every but he deserves love. Everybody deserves to be understood and that's it.
Really had landed on my heart, thanks again to Michael T Williamson for reading this week's essay, you can see him now in the Denzil Washington directed film fences, which has been nominated for four academy awards, including best picture. He stars in the new b e t, scripted drama rebel. Will Premier March twenty Eightth next week on modern love, Broadway STAR, Megan Hildy, on a relationship that looks perfect at first, the only other alcoholic I knew it was my father, a violent. Watery eyed creature who'd never been sober for twelve consecutive days, let alone twelve years This handsome man, sipping Green t, seem to belong to an entirely different species and, unlike my fragile, bipolar, first boyfriend.
He radiated physical and mental house. Modern love is the production of the New York Times and W B you are Boston, NPR station, it's pretty Directed and edited by Jessica, Albert John Perotti and a Marie Sivertson, the idea for the modern love podcast was conceived by LISA Tobin Adler? Is our executive producer? Daniel Jones is the editor of modern love for the New York Times and adviser to the show music for the focused courtesy of a p m. I met chuck, see you next week.
Transcript generated on 2022-04-17.