Monday, June 15, 2009

I could tell you that I’ve been working on this book, “Turning Into Dad” for 7 or 8 years. Truth is, I’ve been working on it since the day my father passed away. And beyond that, I suppose, I’ve been observing and collecting these thoughts and observations for my entire life.

As Father’s Day approaches, I hope you’ll take some time this week to reflect on your father, the man he is (if he is still around) or the man he was (if he’s passed). Reflect on his better self and his faults. Thank God for the good things he gave you and thank the Father for the flaws that you recognize and vow to abandon as you live out your life.

Be grateful.

I share this excerpt from the book that I finally finished just a short time ago. I’ve made it available in soft cover form or as an audio book on



From the Chapter entitled ….

“The Phone Call”

The phone call came a few days before Labor Day in 1996. There were no
warnings, and no premonitions gave me any idea that this wasn’t going to be a
normal day. Those kinds of calls come from out of the blue. They simply intrude,
blowing their way into the normal routines we follow and stopping us cold. Things
that seemed so important five minutes ago are quickly moved to the back of the stove.
Sometimes, you have to turn the stove off for a while.

I had a concert to play on Saturday of that Labor Day weekend and decided
to drive up to see my folks the day after. While we were all concerned, my father
insisted that it wasn’t urgent and there was no need for me to come right away. The
call was a typical “The doctors have found something they’re concerned about
but it’s probably nothing” kind of call.

On the way to Wisner, I drove a little slower than normal, thinking
the longer it took me to get home, the better the chance that bad news would just
pack up and leave. With some degree of dread, and with a fear that only shows its face in the unknown, I rode through the east Texas piney woods to the town where
I had spent my entire life prior to going off to college, the years where I began to
notice I was being molded into a man who was part me, but part him and part his
father before him.

On the way, I had an uneasy feeling I wasn’t being told the whole story. But
that was my father’s way: Save the really hard stuff for face to face. Some things
were not meant to be discussed over the phone. When I pulled into the driveway, I
knew I was about to experience a defining moment in my life.

I had pulled into that driveway hundreds, maybe thousands of times. Along the
way, there were some significant markers and memories as I moved toward becoming an adult. I remember the time I parked the car after my first solo trip around town - probably to buy groceries or something since new teenage drivers are always more than willing to
run errands for their moms. Or it might have just been a ride. In a town of 1500
people, going riding was near the top of a teenage driver’s cool-things-to-do list.
For me, it was about as edgy and adventurous as I would get for most of my teenage
years. Thank God. I was spared a lot of heartache and guilt by walking pretty close to the center of the line my parents had drawn for my brother and me.

We would ride from one end of town to the other - about a five-minute trip if
you hit the light just right. Yes, I said light, ‘cause there was just the one. You could
turn a five-minute drive into a half hour if you stopped and hung out at the Texaco
station on the south side of town.

But as you can probably imagine, the senior Mr. Watson was not a big fan of
of his sons hanging out, though it was a harmless, small-town activity that made us feel like men. Don’t ask me why. It wasn’t like we were sitting on the hoods of hotrods
or anything. We weren’t huddled up with packs of cigarettes rolled up in our t-shirt
sleeves. We didn’t tell off-color stories or try and sully the reputations of the girls in town. And these weren’t show cars with chrome pipes like you saw on Happy Days in the parking lot at Arnold’s Drive-In. They more resembled the late sixties version of Howard Cunningham’s Desoto - real chick magnets.

The car fate assigned to me during those first months with a license was my
mom’s Buick Electra 225. Look about thirty feet in front of where you are right
now and imagine a car stretching from you to that point - it was that big or at least
seemed like it. If it got real lucky and wanted to lean toward something a little more sporty, I drove Dad’s Buick La Sabre. Cool. I really can’t put my finger on why driving is such a primal pleasure for me. Even now, I’d rather get behind the wheel and drive to visit the kids in Nashville than drive to the airport and catch a plane. The road trip from Houston to
Nashville by car is about sixteen hours. It’s less than a two-hour flight. Go figure.

It’s called “windshield time” by guys who pound the road selling and making
calls on clients. I just like it. And I’d rather take the back roads than the interstate
highways. You see more color and more of the character of the country that way.
You meet some real nice people and can find some killer restaurants and dives that you’d never see on the interstate. Look for the full parking lot and take a chance.

It’s just one of those simple pleasures that reminds me of the early lessons and
examples lay down by my dad. I don’t really know how old I was when this started but I can see it, feel it and remember the excitement and the anticipation like it was yesterday. Nothing, at the age of nine or ten, got me so excited as dad saying “Boys, let’s go for a drive.” He would take my brother and me to the high-school track and let us drive the car. For cryin’ out loud, I was nine! I can’t tell you how much fun it was.

The track we drove around was nothing fancy. It was just a simple quarter-
mile oval that rimmed the football field. There was no fence to keep us out of the
school property, and it never occurred to me that the coaches might not have been
too crazy about our road trips around their sacred turf. The track was covered with
black cinders of some sort that crunched under the weight of the tires. There we’d
go - around and around at a lightning pace of oh, what, ten or fifteen miles per
hour? We took turns at the wheel.

I’d watched my dad drive for years and was spellbound at his expertise. I guess
it was one of the first things I used to worry about: that I would never learn when
to turn the wheel inches to the left and right at just the right moment. I guess I’ve
always been sort of a worrier. Even driving in what looked like a straight line, my
dad would be nudging the wheel back and forth dozens of times a minute.

“How will I ever figure out that move?” I asked myself. It never occurred to me
that he was just making small corrections to keep the car on a straight path.

It seems like a great bit of wisdom to me now. Making lots of small corrections saves you from having to make major ones - whatever the road you’re on or whatever you’re doing. That’ll preach, as they say.

The Long Way Home

I took one step away
I thought, “Hey, what’s the harm?
Still feel the heat from here
Still see the light
Still feel the warm
What’s another step or two
That wouldn’t be so wrong would it?”
Then when I looked for truth
My eye for truth was gone

In a desperation mercy plea
A spell of wisdom just came over me

I took the long way home
Back to what I believe
I took the long way home
You were waiting there for me
You were always faithful even when
My faith was not so strong
It’s been a long way home

You know I never intended to
Get off the track so far
The lights that turned my head
They’re looking so bizarre
It takes so little time
For me to be deceived
But just a simple truth
Can bring me to my knees

There are some stones
Better left unturned
There are some bridges never crossed
Still better off burned
I took the long way home
Back to what I believe
I took the long way home
You were waiting there for me
You were always faithful even when
My faith was not so strong
It’s been a long way home

Words and music by Wayne Watson
ASCAP Material Music 1997

My brother, Mike, always got first crack at the wheel. Being the first-
born had its perks. Early on, when my turn finally came, and don’t think I wasn’t
counting how many laps my big brother got before I took the driver’s seat, I had to sit in
Dad’s lap. He, of course, worked the mysterious pedals down in the dark recesses of
the floorboard while I worked the wheel. This was the coolest thing I’d ever done.
To be in control of the steel behemoth from Detroit was a real rush for a nine year old.

As time passed, I graduated from Dad’s lap to sitting on top of phone books or pillows,
and eventually, added the working of the brake and accelerator to my repertoire.

The most memorable moment on those Sunday afternoon trips around
the track was the time my brother was in the driver’s seat with Dad in the front
passenger seat - me in the back. Dad was looking to his right out the passenger
side, watching nothing in particular, when my brother caught my eye in the rearview
mirror. Giving me the hey-watch-this look, he took his hand off the wheel for a
split second.

Without ever turning his head, my Dad spoke in the low, emotionless tone that
was so familiar.

“None of that monkey business.”

Enough said. Lesson over.

We’d suspected that Dad had eyes in the back of his head and now we were sure.
Fact is, he probably just saw the reflection of the ill-timed stunt in the window.
Mike and I still laugh about that drive. Dad didn’t over-react and go all
dramatic on us. His few, carefully chosen words got the message across loud and clear.

There were times when I barely made it home inside curfew, although
Charles Watson seldom, if ever, used the word “curfew” - you just knew when to be off the mean streets of Wisner.

I had turned into that driveway on weekends, home from college with bags of laundry, hair too long that tested my father’s tolerance, weekends when I arrived with a monstrous hunger for Mom’s Sunday-after-church roast beef and rice and gravy. A little later, there were those early trips home with the first grandchildren in the family - trips that
brought such joy to my mom and dad.

This day, as I walked toward the side door of my parents’ house, I walked with more than a little bit of fear.