By Gregory Keer
The 1988 Francis Ford Coppola film, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, is a long-held favorite of mine. Like its main character, the innovative car designer Preston Tucker, the movie earned critical acclaim but little financial success.
For me, Tucker is memorable for much more, including a classic scene between Preston and Abe, the financial expert who takes a risk by joining the vehicle visionary’s effort to build an automobile that will challenge the major auto manufacturers.
Abe says, “My mother always told me to be careful not to get to close to someone. You might catch their dreams…It wasn’t until many years later that I realized she meant germs. She didn’t want me to catch someone’s germs.”
OK, maybe it’s a funny line only to me. But what really sticks is this point that dreamers – people who have these seemingly impossible goals – can spread their power of positivity to others. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a big pot of gold at the end. What counts is that dreamers and those who support them need the fuel of imagination to make life richer.
As a father, I frequently debate myself over what I’d like out of life and what I need to provide for my children. I sometimes wonder how things would be had I traveled the globe more to soak up adventures, then moved to a seaside shack to write novels and screenplays. Would I have been wildly successful in these endeavors without kids to weigh me down?
Although my hopes to be a world-famous storyteller have been with me since I was a kid, being a good dad has been an even greater goal. I don’t know when I figured this out, but it has certainly dictated most of my other pursuits so that I could have a more predictable career and income.
Emphasis on the word most, but not all.
No matter how comforting a straight and narrow path of work-home-sleep may be, I leave room for dreaming. I think it kicked in when I saw another movie, The Rookie, in 2002. The film is about Jim Morris, the real-life former pitching prospect who got injured, settled into coaching and parenting, then rediscovered his throwing ability quite by accident.
At one point in the movie, Morris seems ready to give up the endless travels of a minor leaguer that take him away from his family. On a difficult night, he talks to his son from a payphone and the son tells him to follow his dream. Morris does and finally pitches in the Major Leagues.
Seeing this, I realized it was vital to my true identity to keep the flame of dreams alive, if only to role model to my children that the pursuit is every bit as important – actually more important – than the end result.
So, while I’ve become a gratified professional educator (I teach film, among other things), I’ve pushed myself to write, usually late at night and on weekends. I’ve driven myself to peddle columns to magazines in other states and countries, and I’ve met with some success. I’ve also scribbled children’s stories that remain unsold and screenplays that have found no buyers. I get down, but I get back up – for myself and for my kids.
At a certain juncture this fall, I got a little more down than usual. I couldn’t write another word. What was the point of it all if I wasn’t going to have some kind of big achievement? I wasn’t empty because I had my teaching career and a family I hold dear. I just felt incomplete.
But I realized that the only answer to my feeling of incompletion was to keep working toward whatever results might happen. If I stopped, there would be no chance for happy surprises.
In this new year, I am more dedicated than ever to pursuing challenges and indulging what-ifs, from my writing to taking my first plunge into coaching high-school basketball. Being a responsible father need not preclude me or anyone from taking a few calculated chances. By doing this, I hope my children will catch my dreams and learn the value of having their own, now and even when they’re old like Daddy.