Actor Ben Falcone learned a lot about being a dad from his own father, Steve Falcone. For a while, Ben's mother worked and Steve was a stay-at-home dad. (He eventually landed a job at a local community college.)
"In that interim, it was tough," Steve says. "Of course it was tough. My wife was a genius at making do, feeding us beautifully with very little money."
It was tough for Ben, too. Getting dropped off by his dad at school in their $100 car was mortifying. Then one day, something happened that changed his perspective: He was about to get beaten up by school bullies when one of them stopped short. He'd seen the car and took pity on Ben because he was "poor."
Ben says, "I think the irony of this crappy, crappy car saving me from a for-sure horrible beating ... has definitely colored who I am in some way."
In fact, Ben often told stories about what it was like growing up with his dad. "I would get laughs at parties doing it," he says. "... Then, hitting middle age, or wherever I am right now, I think I started worrying that I would forget the stories."
So he decided to write them down. His new book is called Being a Dad is Weird. In honor of Father's Day, he and his dad spoke to NPR about the funny of side of fatherhood.
On their advice for fathers
Ben: The main thing that I really think about in terms of being a parent is love your kids and show up, and that's sort of present in all of the chapters. Probably one of the chapters I think about is "Always Support Your Children" — even when they lose their way and take their waiter job way too seriously, which is something that I did when I was struggling. ...
Steve: Don't sweat the small stuff, you know? I don't believe there is a manual that comes with parenting. The biggest thing is what Ben has said. If I could, [I'd] tell every parent there are no part-time parents. You've got to be there 24/7. And once you've done that, you'll know your kid, your kid will know you, and you'll know what to do.
On a memorable father-son moment
Steve: I also said to my sons one time, "I know you're going to drink, but if you're in a bad situation call me." Ben was out with a bunch of the guys and they were really ripped. And he called me and I came and got him. And I was really proud of him for having the guts to [say], "Take me home, Dad. This situation's out of hand."
Ben: By the way, that situation, I was at [a showing of] Back to the Future 2 and just seeing Michael J. Fox riding around on that magic skateboard ... got my tummy real upset. So I barfed in his car.
When he says he's proud of me, he was proud. But I did have to clean up the barf.
On Steve's favorite story from the book
Steve: Ben and I, we'd gone to Key West and we're on our way back. And I said to Ben, "Oh, don't you love [that] the sky's bigger here?"
And he said, "Really?"
And I said, "Yeah, sure."
He said, "Why is that? ... Because we're closer to the equator?"
I said, "Yeah."
He said, "Pop, are you full of s***?"
I said, "Yeah, I think I am."
And he said, "About everything?"
I said, "Sometimes."
Radio producer Ashley Young, radio editor Jennifer Liberto, digital producer Nicole Cohen and digital intern Sydnee Monday contributed to this story.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Many modern dads worry a lot about working too hard or not enough, having enough money, maybe too much. Well, Ben Falcone has some thoughts about that. He says being a dad is weird. That's actually the title of his new book. He's a director, writer and actor. As an aside, his wife is also in show business, actress Melissa McCarthy.
We reached him in Burbank, Calif., to talk about his new book. And because he draws many lessons about fatherhood from his own dad, Steve Falcone, we called him, too. Steve Falcone is a retired college instructor, and we reached him in Carbondale, Ill. And I started by asking Ben Falcone about how he came up with the idea, and why now?
BEN FALCONE: Well, you know, I used to roast my dad at parties. I did it for many years, wouldn't you say, Pop?
STEVE FALCONE: I would say so, yeah.
B. FALCONE: (Laughter).
S. FALCONE: It was a classic, a standard, yeah.
B. FALCONE: I would tell stories about, you know, growing up and the fun adventures my dad and I would have. And I would get laughs at parties doing it, so I kept on doing it. And finally, I didn't do it one time when I went home to visit. And my dad says, why didn't you tell any stories? Like, that he missed them.
S. FALCONE: I did.
B. FALCONE: So I was like, oh, wait a minute, OK. So maybe I should do this. And then hitting middle age or wherever I am right now, I think I started worrying that I would forget the stories. So then I just started to kind of put them down on paper with the intention of giving it to my dad and my mom and my brother as a Christmas present. So that is what I did.
MARTIN: So, Steve, cover your ears for this part because I'm going to talk to Ben now.
S. FALCONE: OK.
MARTIN: Ben, you know what? Your dad sounds awesome, actually - always making time for fun, driving a terrible car which you actually found horribly embarrassing when you were a kid because of course you did, telling some important truths about Santa and the Easter Bunny which we will not be discussing here today, we will not.
B. FALCONE: Thank you.
MARTIN: But did you think he was awesome when you were growing up, honestly?
B. FALCONE: I did. I thought he was like a great guy, a great dad. And we were very close when I was a little guy. And, you know, we remain so today, so I'm super fortunate in that regard.
MARTIN: The book is told - it's a very digestible sort of chapters that really do speak to just common situations that a lot of us are in. And it is in the form of, you know, some advice, things like it's OK to let them see you sweat. Be sure you have your friends, you know, stop feeling guilty, sort of things like that part.
B. FALCONE: Yeah.
MARTIN: But there was one that I wanted to ask if you would read if it's OK.
B. FALCONE: Sure.
MARTIN: It's about the basketball game with the priest.
B. FALCONE: Sure. Sure. I'll...
S. FALCONE: I stand by my statement. The lane is mine.
MARTIN: (Laughter) OK. Do you want to set it up, Steve? It sounds like you want to set it up. Do you want to set it up?
S. FALCONE: Sure.
MARTIN: OK, Set it up and then Ben's going to read.
S. FALCONE: I - delighted that I was able to play basketball into my 50s with my boys. And there was a basket hung on the Catholic church across the street. And we would go over there and play wicked games of half-court two on two.
And one day - Father Karl (ph) was the resident priest. And he was a hell of an athlete, in very good shape, came out and smiled. And we said, get in the game, Karl, we need a fourth - and he did. And take it from there, Ben.
S. FALCONE: I think that's...
MARTIN: OK, that's...
B. FALCONE: I was like, boy, I wish I wrote that. So this is just - it's called Learn The Rules Of The Game, Never Leg-Whip A Priest.
(Reading) I had the ball, and I passed it to father, waiting for him to make a move. He passed it back to me, and I faked a shot. But my brother was right on top of me, so I passed it right back to Father Karl. Father Karl then took an explosive first step towards the hoop, blowing right past my dad, when my dad stuck out his knee and did the unthinkable - he tripped the priest. That's right. He tripped Father Karl, who went down hard with a loud oomph as he hit the concrete. I didn't know how to react. Geez, Dad, my brother yelled. No, no, that's how we played where I grew up too Father Karl said as he slowly got to his feet. It looked like he was in pain, but he seemed very easygoing about the whole leg-whip-you-to-the-ground thing that my dad had just pulled on him.
MARTIN: What is the lesson here that we learn, Ben?
B. FALCONE: Boy, well, mine is just never leg-whip a priest, you know.
MARTIN: Well, yeah.
B. FALCONE: But the lesson I also take away is that my dad does have the strength of his convictions, however misguided they may be.
MARTIN: OK, so we're going to do some deep-dive reporting here. Steve, what were you thinking?
S. FALCONE: The lane is mine, honey.
S. FALCONE: I had to do something. Father Karl was too fast for me (laughter). Yeah, that's old-school basketball, baby. You know, what can I say? That's the way I grew up. I'm from Philly, and that's the way we play, you know? It wasn't right, but it was standard. It was old-school.
MARTIN: On a slightly more serious note, Ben, you say in the book as I think most people could appreciate that, you know, when you were a kid, the fact that he was driving cars that cost a hundred dollars. And, in fact, you tell the story - which is kind of bittersweet, you know, about it is that you were so embarrassed to be driven to school in this beater and that you showed up one day and you almost ran afoul of some of the tough kids at school. And this one kid, you know, it saves the day actually because he says, oh, don't beat Benji (ph) up. He's too poor to beat up 'cause did you see the car that he drove up in?
B. FALCONE: Yeah.
MARTIN: You could see that as a kid just wanting to disappear into the floor. But you actually felt, yeah, yeah, that's kind of OK. And I was wondering when you came to that realization that a lot of the stuff that perhaps you were mortified by as a kid was actually OK?
B. FALCONE: Well, I'll let you know when I get there. But no, I think, you know, it's interesting 'cause like with the beaters anyway and the bad cars like, you know, my dad didn't really care. My brother, Flynn, didn't really care. He's like oh, it's a car. Who cares? And I'm like, what are you guys talking about? It's so crappy, that people will see. And I was, you know, a lunatic about it.
And I think the irony of this crappy, crappy car saving me from a - for sure horrible beating that I was about to get at school, I think that has definitely colored who I am in some way. So I think it's probably part of what has made me a fairly measured guy. And I can see the pros and cons of everything. And like my pop says, I do try to choose the positive side of things when I can.
MARTIN: Is there a particular favorite passage of the book that you have, or is there a favorite lesson?
B. FALCONE: The main thing that I really think about in terms of being a parent is, you know, love your kids and show up. And probably one of the chapters I think about is Always Support Your Children Even When They Lose Their Way And Take Their Waiter Job Way Too Seriously, which is something that I did. Like, when I was struggling and trying to, you know, get any kind of job, I started become a very serious waiter. And there's nothing at all wrong with that, but I just literally became - I became like a pain in the ass about it, like, my section, I need the better section and like got competitive about it and was starting to kind of lose my way in that regard.
And I think my parents both were really patient with me. And, like, here's a guy, he moves to Los Angeles to become a comedian and an actor and, you know, see what his career holds. And instead, I'm like complaining about what section I have in a restaurant, which wasn't my path in the first place. So I think it was really nice of them to be as patient and forgiving as they were.
MARTIN: Steve, what about you? Do you have a favorite chapter or favorite bit of wisdom?
S. FALCONE: I like The Big Sky because it says so much about our relationship, Ben and I. We were - we'd gone to Key West. And we're on our way back. And I said to, Ben, oh don't you love - the sky's bigger here. And he said, really? And I said, yeah, sure. He said, why is that? And I said, well, the sky's bigger. He said, 'cause we're closer to the equator? I said, yeah. He said, Pop, are you full of [expletive]? I said, Yeah, I think I am.
S. FALCONE: And he said, about everything? I said, sometimes. You know, and we had that kind of relationship. And he was very perceptive, very attuned young - young lads. And we laughed about it. We laughed about it. You know, I don't know. I just say stuff. You got to - you know what I mean? And hopefully, it works out. I mean, I don't just say stuff all the time. When I'm parenting my kids, I think I know what I'm talking about now, I'll tell you.
MARTIN: A lot of parents worry a lot these days. They worry about a lot of things.
S. FALCONE: I know, yeah.
MARTIN: They worry if they're doing the right thing by their kids, if they're messing them up, if they're around enough. Are they around too much? Are they helicoptering? Do you have some general advice for parents, particularly dads?
S. FALCONE: Yeah. Don't sweat the small stuff, you know? The biggest thing is what Ben has said. If I could tell every parent there are no part-time parents, you've got to be there 24/7. And once you've done that, you'll know your kid. Your kid will know you. And you'll know what to do.
And another thing that Ben noticed is - and we're big on not over lecturing. As Ben says, I once whispered in his ear, boys who make bad grades will end up in the small towns they grew up in. Boom, his grades got much better immediately.
B. FALCONE: They sure did.
S. FALCONE: And I also said to my sons at one time, you know, I know you're going to drink. But if you're in a bad situation, call me. Well, Ben was out with a bunch of the guys, and they were really ripped. And he called me, and I came and got him. And I was really proud of him for having the guts to - take me home, Dad, this situation's out of hand, you know, so.
B. FALCONE: Which, by the way, that situation, I was at "Back To The Future II" and just seeing Michael J. Fox riding around on that, you know, magic skateboard. I was like, I just got my tummy real upset. So I barfed in his car. When he says he's proud of me, he was proud, but I did have to clean up the barf.
S. FALCONE: Well, you know.
MARTIN: Well, happy Father's Day to you both. It's really been fun speaking with both of you. That was Steve Falcone. He is the father of Ben Falcone, the writer, the director and actor. Ben's new book, Being A Dad Is Weird: Lessons In Fatherhood From My Family To Yours" is available in stores and online now. Ben Falcone, Steve Falcone, thank you so much for being with us.
S. FALCONE: Thank you. It was great.
B. FALCONE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.