Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dax Shepard's Tribute to His Deceased Father

America is obsessed with celebrity. We like to know all the dirty details about Lindsey Lohan's latest arrest, or Charlie Sheen's insanity, or who George Clooney is dating this month. Most of it is shallow and meaningless.

However, once in a while a celebrity does or says something worth noting.

Actor Dax Shepard is probably best known for his relationship with actress Kristin Bell (Veronica Mars on television, and a whole mess of romantic comedies), but he is on the critically-acclaimed television show Parenthood and has been in several (mostly unknown) films.

Now, he will be known - at least for a while - as the author of a post on his Tumblr blog honoring his deceased father, a post entitled My Father's Horniness. It's really touching and emotionally honest reflection on his last visits with his father - and it's nice to see someone who is a celebrity doing something human and authentic.

Here is the summary from Huffington Post:

Dax Shepard Writes Emotional Post About His Late Father and Kristen Bell

It's like an episode of "Parenthood" -- funny, dramatic and sure to make you cry -- but a recent tear-jerker of a blog post by one of the show's stars is not fiction at all. On his Tumblr, actor Dax Shepard writes about the last visit he had with his dying father, including this poignant moment with his pregnant fiancée, Kristen Bell.Story continues below photo.

His father, who was only 62, was in a Detroit hospital battling cancer, Shepard writes. Bell, who is due to give birth this spring, had been shooting in Los Angeles, but flew to Detroit to surprise them.
It was an amazing, incredible, perfectly timed surprise. She lifted her shirt up and he put his hand on her swollen stomach. He left it there for the better part of an hour. He was smiling from ear to ear, sitting contently, unable to put together a sentence, but still capable of connecting to the new family member we were creating. He wasn’t going to make it to the birth, but that didn’t get in the way of him meeting the new baby. It was an emotional and triumphant moment. One I will never forget. If I live to be a thousand, I will still be in debt to my wife for giving him that one last thrill.
Though Shepard calls Bell his wife in the post, the couple have said they will not wed until their gay friends have the same right.

Any parent who has lost their own mom or dad before their kids were born or old enough to know grandparents knows what kind of hole it leaves. That is why Shepard's anecdote about Bell's role in this visit is especially touching. Yes, as TODAY points out there is a certain allure in learning what two incredibly likable stars experience when cameras aren't rolling, and we have an obsession with celebrity parents that is well-documented. But it is impossible to not feel a twinge of empathy when reading Shepard's tale about Bell's drop-in at his father's bedside.

Shepard writes that he was in the midst of a very full shooting schedule when he first found out about his dad's illness, and he and Bell had just learned they were having a baby. "Whoever was writing my life couldn’t figure out which storyline they wanted to tell, and decided to tell them all at once," he writes.

The actor shares details of his father's life: he was an alcoholic with a colorful group of friends and a big appetite. Dad and Shepard moved 28 times, and when the actor did find "pockets of time" to see his father while he was sick, they would drive around Michigan, looking at all of those homes. "The car rides proved to be shockingly therapeutic," he says. And his father had a "way with women." Shepard's post is titled "My Father's Horniness" for a reason. (Go read it here because it is a beautiful piece.)

Almost 1,500 fans have left notes for Shepard on Tumblr, and his tweet about the piece has been retweeted hundreds of times. This morning, he sent out a message of thanks.

Here is the beginning of Shepard's blog post about his father:

My Father’s Horniness

My father, Dave Robert Shepard Sr., died on either December 30th or December 31st, depending on what time zone you were in. I received the call on the 30th at 11:30PM in Los Angeles, but the caller, positioned in Detroit, was two hours deep into the 31st. He was dead at 62 years old. Small cell carcinoma was to blame. It originated in the lungs and then travelled with great speed to all corners of his body.

I had been back to Detroit just six days before and was disappointed I couldn’t be with him at the actual finish line. We were partners. We had taken on this cancer project together. He chose me to deal with all the doctors and creditors and landlords. It was the only project we ever teamed up on. We never built a tree house or a soap box derby car together, but you would have never known it by watching us tear through chemo decisions and radiation plans. We were two great minds with one single thought: get into the end zone gracefully.

He had noticed a lump in his neck in August. A biopsy was taken and some chest x-rays. “A mass” was detected on the lungs. Those were his words to me, “a mass,” which sounded much more like the words of a doctor than the retired car salesman that he was. He was much more prone to use the word “fuck,” and I wondered while he was telling me this news if he realized how serious that word was. Test results from the “lump,” which turned out to be a swollen lymph node, came back positive for cancer. It was the phone call you see on TV and in movies. It was happening to me now, and I found the timing to be exceedingly inconvenient. In movies, news of this kind seems to always coincide with a huge hole in the lead character’s schedule. He or she is able to spend vast amounts of time at the bedside of the loved one, or at a diner having coffee and pie with estranged family members. This flexible schedule allows for some high quality catharsis to take place.

I was acting full time on a TV show based in LA when I got the call. He was in Detroit. On my days off from the TV show I was traveling around the country promoting a movie I had directed. During the month of August I went to Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Detroit, San Diego, Nashville, Memphis and New York. Compounding all of this was the recent and incredibly fortuitous news that my wife and I were pregnant with our first baby. Whoever was writing my life couldn’t figure out which storyline they wanted to tell, and decided to tell them all at once.

As tends to happen in real life, despite it being inconvenient, it all worked out. Pockets of time opened up here and there and I was able to go back to Detroit often. My initial response was to get him to do chemo in LA. Surely the weather would be better. He wasn’t having it. I then made a strong push for him to go to Oregon to be with my brother. Nope. He was staying in Detroit. He had a huge support system of friends there, and in the end, it was the right decision.

His friends. This is relevant. One of the few upsides of my father being dead is that I can now break his anonymity and state plainly that he was a proud member of Alcoholics Anonymous for over 25 years. During that quarter-of-a-century span, he accumulated the most colorful, caring, fucked-up group of friends you’d ever want to see. It was a rag-tag band of misfits bound together only by their shared desire to not get loaded anymore. What a group. It was truly his greatest accomplishment. They all loved him in a way that even my brother and I had a hard time doing. He hadn’t missed any of their birthdays or soccer games, and they saw only the man who had helped so many struggling folks get sober. They were by his side, uninterrupted, from diagnosis to death. Often annoying, but always a blessing, they gave him the greatest gift possible: their time. He was never alone. Not for one second.

When I visited we would break up the chemo routine with trips to the cineplex or restaurants of his choosing. He loved to eat. Holy shit could he eat. Of all of his addictions, and there were many (drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, cars, houses, shiny things), eating was his number one. He never did get a handle on that vice. He could hunker down in front of the TV for hours, nibbling with comma-inducing ferocity the entire time. Nothing in the pantry was safe. He would come up with the most counter-intuitive combinations of food. Like a true alchemist, he’d put salsa on oatmeal, or smother frozen waffles with a can of black beans. He was like a perpetually stoned, pregnant woman. No permutation of ingredients was out of the question; anything was possible. It was a sight to behold.

We had a lot of fun together during those four months. We took long car rides through the back roads of rural Michigan. We spent a weekend visiting every single house and apartment the two of us had ever lived in. There were 28 between the two of us. Together we had only shared three of those places: a single-wide mobile home from 0-1 years-old, a small, brick ranch on a few acres in the middle of nowhere from 1-3 years-old, and a modern, middle-class home in a McMansion-ee neighborhood from 15-16 years-old. It was that gap between 3 and 15 years-old that caused most of our issues. He was a selfish asshole, and I lived to hold a grudge, so it was a thoroughly symbiotic pairing. The car rides proved to be shockingly therapeutic. One of the hidden benefits of cancer is that it can erode grudges the way WD-40 dissolves rust. It just finds it’s way into all the nooks and crannies and starts loosening. Before long, the once formidable chip on my shoulder had melded into something the size of a nicotine patch. Apologies were exchanged. Tears were had. Hugs were frequent and lingering. I spent the majority of our time together running my hand lightly over the tiny little hairs peaking out from the back of his soft, bald head. He let me do that for hours. Without any awareness of it at the time, the trips home turned into a proper Alexander Payne Movie. It became one of the more beautiful experiences of my life.

Things got worse, as they do. Car rides gave way to hospitals and senior care facilities. His last two months were spent dealing with cancer, heart disease and gout. He had an increasingly difficult time walking and spent most of his time in bed. On my last trip home, just before Christmas, I took him on his final jailbreak. I threw him in a wheelchair and rolled him through 20 degree weather to his favorite restaurant, where I watched him pick at his waffles and bacon. He couldn’t have had more than four bites over the course of an hour. It was a very clear signal to me that the end was near. I took him, for the last time, to his house. I gave him his percocet and sat him in front of the TV. He held the remote in his right hand like a six-shooter, splitting his attention between the TV, the view of the lake through the sliding glass door, and me. It was wonderful. We sat that way for over three hours.
Go read the whole post.

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