I can check one more box on my career bucket list. I’ve been on the Storymen podcast.
The weekly hour-long podcast features the musings of Clay Morgan, J.R. Forasteros and Matt Mikalatos—smart, spiritual and entertaining blokes who fuse theology with pop culture (and a little bit o’ history on occasion, too), which makes them my kind of guys. Their discussions are often fascinating and always fun, and I listen to them regularly on my weekly runs. They make the miles go by faster. So when they asked me to come on, I was thrilled. You can listen to the podcast here, or download it on iTunes or Stitcher.
They had me on to chat about The Good Dad, the book on which I collaborated with Jim Daly, but naturally the conversation drifted into movie dads: The good ones (Marlin from Finding Nemo is just the tops), the bad ones (King Stefan from Maleficent: Ugh) and ones in between.
And then there’s Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, who never was much of a dad at all. (Warning: Spoilers ahead)
In The Good Dad, Jim Daly talks a lot about how important fathers are in the lives of their kids—and how important it is for them, particularly, to be there. To get involved. To make memories with their kids and be that stabilizing influence—an old oak tree, in Jim’s metaphor—that kids need so much.
Not all fathers do this, of course. Some won’t, through fear or disinterest. And some feel like they can’t. Valli, the falsetto-blessed frontman for the 1960s hit machine The Four Seasons, was among the latter (according to Jersey Boys).
Music was job No. 1 for Valli—his profession, his passion. For more than a decade, Valli and his fellow Four Seasons work to make it big. And when they finally do, the Seasons are on the road constantly to stay there. Even when the band falls apart, Valli continues to tour relentlessly, hitting stop after thankless stop to pay off a wicked debt (courtesy the band’s irresponsible driving force, Tommy DeVito).
And according to Jersey Boys, he never really quits. At the end of the movie, he compares himself to the Energizer Bunny. “I just keep going and going and going, chasing the music, trying to get home.”
It’s admirable, in a way. Anything worth doing takes work. And after watching this flick, no one can doubt Valli’s work ethic.
But as I said in my Plugged In Review, every decision has a cost. And Valli’s decision to put the music first, while it enriched the lives of many a listener, deeply impacted his family. Valli may be trying to get home at the end of Jersey Boys, but he didn’t really have a home to go to.
We see how his non-stop touring (and what he does while on the road) impacts his marriage. But we feel it more poignantly in his relationship with daughter, Francine. Audiences see her first as a trusting-but-fragile 7-year-old, confused and frightened by her parents’ fighting and not completely sure whether her father even really loves her. Valli does, of course, and sings her to sleep. If good intentions made the father, Valli would’ve done all right.
But it’s not long before he goes on the road again, leaving Francine and some other daughters that could really use a dad.
The next time we see Francine, she’s a 17-year-old runaway, hanging out with a rough-looking boyfriend, smoking cigarettes and hurting a voice that, according to Valli, could rival his own. Valli manages to reel her back for a time, encouraging her to drop the cigs and start singing. “I believe in you,” he tells her. And Valli does. But he’s still on the road constantly. And one day he gets a call: His little girl is dead—claimed, apparently, by a drug overdose.
It’s a sobering coda for this toe-tapping movie. And when a friend tells Valli that he shouldn’t blame himself, Valli asks, essentially, “who else is there to blame?” If not his fault, whose?
In The Good Dad, Jim stresses that, eventually, kids make their own decisions. Parents can’t hold themselves solely responsible for the bad choices that children might make down the road. But we’d be kidding ourselves to say that how we raise our kids doesn’t impact them mightily as adults. We might not be to blame … but we are at least partly responsible. We can’t know how Francine might’ve benefitted if Valli had been home more. But I’m pretty sure she would’ve been better off.
Valli says that he’s just “trying to get home.” But in truth, the only way you get there is by doing it. You turn the car around and head home. And if “home” isn’t all that you’d like it to be, you stick around and try to make it better.
Our choices matter. And every choice we make comes with a cost. Jersey Boys is, on one level, a buoyant story of four guys who overcame a lot of obstacles to make some beautiful music together. But to its credit, it doesn’t overlook the price that was paid to make it happen.