Sons and Fathers

“This is how you play Eruption on the bass.” Probably.


I do not have a famous father. He is, however, somewhat well-known in the small community he and, by virtue of birth, I grew up in. His father, my grandfather, was the county sheriff for many years. His mother, my grandmother, was a teacher and cook for many more years. My Dad was a trusted pharmacist in a town of 12,000 people, and so he knew people.

He didn’t run for mayor or sit on a city council. He is not apolitical, just uninterested in pursuing that path. He was never a community leader.

He coached Little League because his baseball knowledge, passed on from older brothers and his father, is vast. He could have been a teacher and a coach, but he left that for one of his two sons. My brother.

He could have been a writer of fun little articles and fantastic stories, but he left that for the other son. Me.

My brother and I are two strong and distinct aspects of our father. On one side, you have the hyper-competitive athlete, the coach, the teacher. The man who seldom suffers fools. The man who’s often smarter than you about a subject but lets you fart into the wind until he’s done being amused. That, in a nutshell, is my brother.

The other side is the sensitive writer and voracious reader who collected comic books and baseball cards. The man who reads Tom Clancy, Ian Fleming, and Isaac Asimov. The man who can tell you the secret identity of half a dozen different silver age comic book heroes and who played every position on the 1968 St. Louis Cardinals. That aspect is more me.

Several years ago, I told my Dad the idea that his two sons are, in fact, aspects of him, and it blew him away. He had never thought of it, and it made him chuckle and agree.

Sons always have some part of their father in them. Maybe not all. Maybe not even the good parts, but definitely some. I think I definitely got some of the best parts (my brother did too). So, in short, happy father’s day.

This brings me to Wolfgang Van Halen.

Wolfie (I’m going to call him Wolfie because that’s what he calls himself) Van Halen is the son of a famous person. Actually, two famous persons since his mom is Valerie Bertinelli.

I cannot imagine what it’s like being the son of a famous rock star, guitar god, and one of the founding members of an iconic rock band. I want to think he grew up somewhat normal. He probably did not.

However, he did inherit many of the musical qualities that made his father famous. Wolfie can play any instrument. At 16, he joined his father and uncle’s band as the bass player. I’m sure it was a proud papa moment, but the scrutiny and likely hatred he faced is nothing I’ve ever encountered.

One of the greatest achievements I could accomplish as a father consisted of turning my daughter toward books and creativity. She has the strong teacher gene that runs through my family. I’d like to think I had some part in raising her into a smart, successful person in her own right.

I’m betting Wolfie got some of that too from his father.

There was no family business to join for me. So going to pharmacy school was never an option growing up. However, I always wanted to make my father proud.

I can only guess, but I’m sure Eddie Van Halen was extremely proud of his son’s accomplishments and the burst of musical genius he made with the Mammoth WVH album.

He wisely doled out select tracks over the course of several months before the actual album dropped. As you might imagine, the guitar work is phenomenal. However, so are the drums, the bass, and the vocals. He did it all. The songwriting is tremendous. Wolfie is uber-talented. It doesn’t sound like Van Halen. It sounds like Wolfgang Van Halen.

The entire affair reminds me of the post-Nirvana Dave Grohl Foo Fighters album. Grohl had no band. He had himself, a bunch of demos, and a studio. When the smoke cleared, fans ate up the post-grunge sound, and Grohl had a direction.

Likewise, Wolfie worked on his solo album for years, but it took his father’s death last October and a song and video for the song “Distance” in February that everyone started to notice.

Wolfie is his own man with his own career, and no one should be comparing him to his famous father. He’s well out of his father’s shadow.

As we celebrate Father’s Day, isn’t that what every father wants?

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