Originally published December 2019
Memoirs can make for some of the most connected reading a person can do.
Full disclosure, here — I am friendly with “Once More to the Rodeo” author Calvin Hennick. The tech writing he mentions as his freelance employment? I am on the receiving end of his work. So going into reading his memoir about a road trip with his son, Nile, I already knew he was a good writer.
What I know now is that he’s also brave. And human. And like every single one of us wondering if we are honoring our kids’ future or screwing them up for life.
It takes bravery — and a lot of it — to write about your demons and put it out there for the world to see. Hennick’s family tree is the stuff that soap operas can only aspire to achieve. Truly whacky sitcom opportunities here. But it’s this drama-laden background that sets the stage for Hennick as he moves into this present stage in life — marriage and childrearing. What starts as a chance for Hennick to take his five-year-old son cross country on a father-son adventure to affirm his status as a good dad ends as a chance to heal self-inflicted wounds that come from being raised by less than perfect role models.
(Psst … it’s also really really brave to take a five-year-old for 10 days by yourself across country. In a rental car. I salute you, Calvin.)
Hennick not only confronts his adequate?lousy?miserable? childhood, he puts some serious time in considering the true source of his aforementioned demons, including alcohol and perpetual low self-esteem. I particularly love one scene in which he has to grapple with the fact his wife isn’t as concerned as he is about his near-death experience with Chicago pizza. That feeling when all we want is validation from the people we love but damn it all they are checking their email first? We’ve all been there.
(Psst … Calvin — your wife is smart and knows Chicago pizza won’t kill you. Love the pizza and it will love you back.)
Hennick’s storytelling is smooth and engaging, even though it’s angst-filled. Which, when it comes down to it, is the essence of parenting. That low-level constant state of worry. Am I doing this right? Am I screwing my kid up? Will he or she even remember all of this cool shit I am doing with/for/to them that will serve as future validation of my perfection of my role as a parent? Or will they only remember the time I lost my temper and called them a name? The time I couldn’t take the bickering anymore and threw all the ice cream down the garbage disposal?
Ugh, so real.
(Psst … I don’t know, Calvin. I think my kids recognize I’m doing all right as a parent, and remember the good stuff. But they like to tease me about throwing the ice cream down the sink more often than they tell me I am a good mom. That’s just how they roll.)
Is there an answer to be found about adulting? Maybe, maybe not. I know there were more than a few lightbulb moments for me, including the notion that the only thing that will someday be left of me is what my kids remember. (Great, ice cream.) But also this — in trying to be the perfect parent, it’s just possible the child that parenting is directed at isn’t necessarily the one standing in front of you.
Great story, great writing, and well worth a trip to pick this up.