This is the first Father’s Day I’m not spending with my dad.
I was thinking a lot about my dad this week. And though I am still very happily in the “honeymoon” stage of my life in Chicago and I’m living out my silly dreams or whatever, I do miss him, and I miss having him so close by.
Rumor has it that my dad named me after Ty Cobb, and that my name was originally supposed be Tyrus (as in Tyrus Raymond Cobb). But because supposedly the idea caused my aunt to “cuss him out,” I was birthed and then christened just as Tyler Ray Snodgrass. And maybe because my name was not that of the legendary baseball player, I never achieved my destiny as baseball’s next young star. Also, unlike Ty Cobb, I never achieved my status as an alleged racist.
But for my dad, I did try baseball. Well, I showed up to practice and games. Because my parents drove me there. I played baseball throughout elementary school and cemented my standing as The Raptor’s 2nd or 3rd worst player. In my entire baseball career, I was able to hit one inside-the-park home run (I attributed the success of my hit to Arby’s roast beef, which I ate before the game), and other than that, I tried to stay out of the way. While “playing” right field, I would often get bored and decide to sit down. Right on the grass with the game in motion. While on the ground, with the game going on in front of me (I assume so, at least–I wasn’t paying attention), I would pick grass and flowers out of the ground. Sometimes I would look up at the sky and spin around with my arms out until I got too dizzy. One time when it was my turn to bat, I slipped away and climbed a nearby tree, totally unaware I had any responsibilities. My parents found me and put me back in the game so I could hit a ball and run away from the boy wearing armor (you might know this position as “the catcher”). Luckily, my parents loved me, and my dad tried to coach me at home, even though I was Missouri’s most embarrassing Right Fielder.
I didn’t just struggle through baseball, though. I also “played” basketball! I was the shortest player on a basketball team called “The Jam Squad” (a combination of “Space Jam” and “Tune Squad” because my teammates couldn’t decide which was the name of the Looney Tunes’ team in the movie Space Jam. I know the answer is “Tune Squad,” and I knew it back in 1996, too, but I was too short to be heard). I was far and away the worst player.I was self aware, though–if I was ever passed the ball, I would pass it to someone else within seconds, like it was poison. I knew way more about Space Jam than I did about shooting a layup. To encourage me in basketball, my parents made me a deal: for each basket I made, they would buy me a Ty Beanie Baby. This tells you where my priorities were as a child. Also, it was a pretty safe bet for my parents.
I also “played” soccer as a boy. It was cold in the mornings, I didn’t want to hurt my shins, I had the endurance of a lifelong smoker, and I wanted to play Mega Man. Soccer sucked the most.
Either my inability to play sports caused my apathy towards them, or my apathy towards sports kept my from ever trying to excel in them. Either way, at the mature age of nine years I decided I was ready to retire from the wide world of sports. I was positive it would break my dad’s heart, and I came up with a brilliant plan: I would suggest to him that I pick up a new activity, and that would consume my extracurricular focus. Basically at random I picked playing guitar. I pitched the idea to my dad, and he accepted my proposal. Many years later I realized that I probably didn’t need to hatch that plan and I could have just quit playing sports because playing them made me unhappy, and my dad loved me and didn’t want me to be unhappy. But by that point I was obsessed with playing the guitar. And my dad, supporting something he didn’t understand, embraced my obsession totally.
I hope my dad wouldn’t be insulted by this statement, but I’ve never considered him music savvy (he once bought a CD called “Millennium Blues Party” at a Barnes & Noble). I didn’t grow up with parents who were passionate about the music of their generation, like some of my friends did. My dad liked The Eagles, Three Dog Night, and Billy Joel (all fine choices). Or he put up with how much I loved Billy Joel (I really loved Billy Joel as a kid. I mean, I still do, or whatever). So when I started listening to Metallica, Megadeth, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Black Sabbath, and modeled by guitar playing after them, my father probably wasn’t too thrilled. Heavy metal and psychedelic rock probably scared the Southern Baptist side of my dad, but the Loving Dad side of my dad never told his 14 year old not listen to these guys or to not study them as musicians.
My dad even tried to help me write songs sometimes. He still to this day insists that I should have written a song called “Lightning in the Sky,” and that it would have been a huge radio hit. I’m still not sure why I resisted the advice of the man who wrote an ingenious parody song of “O Christmas Tree” about the planet Jupiter (“O Jupiter/ O Jupiter/ You have a moon called I.O.”)…why I resisted the advice of the man who sang “Joy To The World” by Three Dog Night to help me fall asleep as a little boy. Teenage rebellion or something? Maybe I’ll still write that song.
Really, my dad always supported all of my artistic endeavors. As a boy I was quite the artist, and the first career I ever really wanted was to be a cartoonist. I sketched a lot, drew cartoons, and even created a series of comic books about a dog and his dog family, which were basically plagiarisms of “Garfield” and “Fox Trot.” I remember my dad was really proud of them. He also supported my decision to devote my high school weekends to speech and debate, and my after school hours to broadcast journalism. It wasn’t sports. It wasn’t even close, but my dad supported me entirely, and he still seemed proud.
My younger brother picked up the athletic slack when I metaphorically and literally dropped the ball. He used to have leg braces and was better at baseball and basketball than me (and most other players on his elementary school teams, actually–he’s good at the sports). My family spent many weekends away at my brother’s games and tournaments, and I happily stayed at home, off of the bleachers and out of the heat. For too long I assumed that I was allowed to stay home and do my silly artistic activities because my parents didn’t know what to do with me. Now I realize that my dad understood who I was, even when I didn’t, and even though I had interests so different than his own.
As a pre-teen and teenager my father and I bonded, not through sports, but through movies. Not many, but a few. The Star Wars movies, Blazing Saddles (“Somebody’s gotta go back and get a s**t load of dimes!” is our favorite line), and James Bond movies, for example. One of my favorite things about Christmas (about Christmas!) was just watching the 007 marathons on TV with my dad.
Today we have more significant things in common. We share political and theological discussions. We both agree that my mom is hilarious. We talk about education and share teaching stories (or we did when I was a teacher). Mike Snodgrass is one of the reasons why I considered being a teacher. He always seemed to enjoy it, and made it sound easy and rewarding and interesting. I’ve sat in on his classes, too, and he’s the best in the biz. His students treat him like a king. They bow to him. No, I mean it, they literally bow to him when they walk through the classroom door. He’s the punk rock American History story-telling genius who resisted district-wide policy regarding writing the day’s schedule on the board because he might have a “moment of inspiration” mid-lesson, which would deviate from the “schedule” he’d have been forced to advertise.
Mike Snodgrass is a man. A real man. So much so that I don’t even try to compete in the areas he has already mastered (baseball, marriage, and apparently teaching high school). He came to what was my home in Springfield to help me load up my moving truck to Chicago, but instead sat in a comfortable chair and watched expressionlessly stoic as my friends and I packed my belongings into the truck–we probably worked harder because he was silently observing our carrying abilities, our organizing strategies, our muscle and endurance. We all wanted to impress him. He wont like that I’m saying this: but seriously, he’s a badass.
My dad went to Lollapalooza with me. He stood in a crowd of shirtless stoners and listened to Mumford & Sons with me (before it was cool, too). He also listened to Wolf Mother, Cyprus Hill, and Arcade Fire (plus a buncha other people). He has no interest in any of those artists. That’s fatherly love. My dad once told me that it made him nervous to watch me do comedy, but he and my mom would still come to a few improv shows each month. That always meant so much.
If anything threatens my career in comedy it is probably that my parents were too loving and my childhood was too normal. I was supported too often. I had too much freedom. I was too trusted and had too few reasons to rebel.
This essay is a modest attempt to elucidate how much my dad means to me and the positive influence he’s had on my life. In many different contexts, he’s the reason I’m here today. I feel like I’m becoming more like him, in attitude and in facial mannerisms, all the time. I’m endlessly thankful for where his guidance has led me, and it is a shame that I’m away from him now that we’ve become friends as well as a father and a son. Luckily he’s not too far away. I love you, Dad.