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Tom Hanks and Peter: Dads Do It Differently

Tom Hanks just released a book of short stories, and that alone has nearly been more than my reading heart can handle. It’s pure brilliance and delight. Couple that with the fact that I’m listening to him read in his timeless, iconic voice on Audible even as I read along with my hardback copy, and I’m all aflutter. This fiction is wooing me in exactly the ways I love most.

He dedicated his book to his wife and kids, and then he said, “Because of Nora.”

Nora Ephron.

Because I am a voracious learner and a full immersion reader, I also listened to a podcast recently where Tom Hanks (does anyone call him Tom? He’s like the opposite of Cher and Oprah… like his first and last names are a universal compound word) talked about his first conversations with Nora Ephron in the early stages of creating Sleepless in Seattle.

He said –

I had a really big head, I thought I was really important. Nora had only made one movie… I was meeting her on the auspices of a power meeting. I thought, “I have clout right now, while she is only beginning to direct and write movies.”

It was that kind of meeting.

I said something like, “Well, I really like your script, Nora. I’ve got some problems with it, but I really like it.” It was one of those snooty-ass relationships that then took a while to evolve into us actually making the movie.

She and her sister Delia had written the screenplay… we were sitting around talking, in a 2- or 3-hour meeting, and we were talking about my character and the story and the movie, and I got really pushed out of shape because they wrote the relationship between a father and a son. And I have issues with that.

I said, “You guys don’t know anything about fathers and sons. You don’t know anything. You’re women. You’re moms. You can be undone by something your son says to you. Even right here – look at the script.

‘Oh, I don’t want you to go off with that woman this weekend,’ and you have him sit on his bed. And then the dad is supposed to think, ‘Oh, what am I going to do? My son doesn’t want me to go?” Father’s don’t do that with sons. Moms might, but not fathers.”

And Nora said, “Well, what would fathers do?”

Fathers would look at their sons and say, “You don’t want me to go off with a woman this weekend? Too bad! I’m gonna’ go get laid this weekend! What do you think of that?!” That’s the way fathers will talk to their sons.

And a version of that ends up in the movie.

When it came out, she said to me, “You wrote that scene.”

And I said, “No, I didn’t. I complained in a meeting. That’s a totally different thing.”

She said, “No, you wrote it. We didn’t have it. You came in and you told us what to say, and we wrote more or less verbatim what you said. It’s in the movie.”

Nora was the very first person to say, “Not only are you a filmmaker, but you are also a writer.”

* * *

First of all, I love knowing the backstory of that scene in one of my favorite movies. Secondly because I am in love with the magic of Nora Ephron’s work and her influence in the creative world, her creation of the Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks combination.

But I also write this because I am coming to intimate, firsthand terms with the beauty of the truth that dads do it differently. There is a tone, a language, a verbiage Peter can access that I simply don’t have in my arsenal. There are expectations he set, battles he can throw down, and ways he can influence them that I just can’t navigate.

Because dads do it differently.

I said to my sons recently, after a particularly tiring day of old patterns that don’t work anymore, “Guys, I’m done trying to do this my way. Peter is in charge. I surrender all of this discipline to the way he believes it should go. I’m still here, I’m very much part of this, but from this moment forward, all things related to this topic are in Peter’s realm. Direct all of your questions to him, and receive all the consequences he sends down. It is hereby declared.”

They nodded solemnly. And my younger son said, “I believe I am familiar with how this will go.”

Because dads do it differently.

Thanks, Tom. And Nora. And Peter.

(And in my particular instance, may there be minimal discussion on who is “getting laid.”)

Tricia Lott Williford

Comments are closed

  1. It takes a huge commitment to surrender your boys to someone you love, respect and have chosen to share your treasure with. Bless you for your choices.

  2. I’m struggling with developing a scene in my novel in which the boy and his new stepfather clash over domestic authority – “You’re not my dad!” – which is harder on children when their missing parent has died, not just divorced. I am fortunate to have a beta reader who is in the stepfather position, but stuff like this post reinforces what I need to know, or rather, feel in my bones before I can write authentically.

  3. I always said my sons and my husband had a fraternity I’d never belong to…nor did I ever want to apply. Yes, they do it differently, thank God!

  4. So, you may have taken a short hiatus from your blog world, but you’ve made up for it with this entry. It will last for days…and hit the nail on the head…or whatever Dads might say.????

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