Visiting my dad in Fort Worth when I was growing up meant listening to Willie Nelson, shooting guns, and forgetting about my life in New Jersey.
TEXAS HAS ALWAYS had this kind of mythology to me because I had to leave it when I was very young. Both of the novels I’ve written center on Texas in some way, and somewhere in my brain—and I wish I could articulate this better—the place is all mixed up with missing my dad. Larry McMurtry writes in All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers about how if you’re forced to leave Texas before you’re ready, before the state lets you go, then you always dream of it. That’s been true for me because my father lived there, and I didn’t get to see him as much as I wanted to. When I was growing up on the East Coast, I always wanted to be in Texas.
I was born in Austin in 1970, when my parents were still freshmen at the University of Texas. I lived there until I was four. When they graduated, they split up, and my mom took me to the East Coast. My parents didn’t have the money to do the every-other-weekend thing with me that some divorced people do. So when school let out, I would go live with my dad in Fort Worth for the summer, and when school started, I’d go back to my mom. During the school year, I would tell everybody I was from Texas, and I’d brag about being a Texan. I had a Texas flag and Dallas Cowboys posters plastered all over my bedroom walls. There are pictures of me when I was twelve in Princeton, New Jersey, wearing a belt that says “Hawke” on it, like I’m a farm boy, and a buckle the size of my head.
Those summers in Fort Worth with my dad were just magical to me. I remember him driving me around in his Plymouth Barracuda, listening to Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger. We went to see Willie play at the Fourth of July Picnic. We went camping at Eagle Mountain Lake, and we shot guns. For me, there was something about those summers that was incredibly loose. My dad was still young enough not to be too concerned with a career, and it felt like we could drive anywhere and do whatever we wanted. You’ve got to understand: When I was 8, my dad was a whopping 25 years old. I’m sure he was lonely and unhappy at the time, but we had a ball.
My dad was really handsome back then. He was six feet two, with hair past his shoulders, and he always wore a white cowboy hat and boots. He was a great guitar and piano player. Basically, he was an eight-year-old boy’s idea of a man. He was an aspiring actuary, so he was always taking these exams. He would stay up really late at night studying, and then he would sleep until noon. I would spend the entire morning trying to wake him up and watching westerns on Channel 11: Rawhide, The Big Valley, Bonanza, Maverick. Rick Linklater always makes fun of me because I grew up with this really childlike impression of Texas. I mean, he grew up in the reality of Texas, and I grew up with this idea that John Wayne lived around the corner and was best friends with my dad.
If I had looked up “Texas” in the dictionary back then, I would have expected to see a picture of my dad. He and I had these idyllic summers together, and then I had to go back to lousy New Jersey, which has no myth to it at all. The irony is that as soon as I became an adult, I met Linklater, who brought me back to Texas. He’s been the great collaborator in this period of my life. I’ve made five movies with him in the past ten years. But it’s the friendship with Rick more than the films themselves that brought me to Austin. In a big city like New York, you really long for a sense of community. I enjoy visiting Austin because it runs at a slower pace, but at the same time, it is incredibly vibrant. There are so many wonderful musicians and filmmakers and arty people spinning around Austin. It’s not driven by the whip like New York, but it’s still bustling with all this thought.
Last year, I was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame. Though my dad couldn’t make it, one of the great joys of that night was getting to introduce my grandfather to Ann Richards. My grandfather Howard L. Green served in the Texas House of Representatives for ten years and was Tarrant County judge for another eight years. He loved and respected Ann Richards so much, so it was a thrill for him to meet her. This little evening in Austin—with Rick and Ann Richards and my grandfather and all the people I’d worked with on Rick’s films—was a night when all the different compartments of my life came together.