H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger has just published Father’s Day, a highly personal new book about his relationship with his 24 year-old brain-damaged son Zach.
But when the author of Friday Night Lights came to Austin for a reading Wednesday, he wasn’t above trading on his most famous, Texas-centric work, promising attendees they would get a glimpse of none other than Coach Eric Taylor:
Special guest KYLE CHANDLER at Bookpeople in Austin 7 pm. Clear eyes. Full hearts. Pack the house!
— buzzbissinger (@buzzbissinger) May 23, 2012
“I started the rumor that Kyle Chandler is coming,” Bissinger said when he took the podium at Bookpeople. “That’s a lie, of course, because I wanted people to come.”
Actually, that was a lie. The actor, who now lives in the Hill Country, was just a little late.
And while the crowd of more than 50 people was obviously giddy to meet Chandler (who graciously posed with all phone-camera comers later) they were also more than happy to let Bissinger talk Father’s Day – so much so that there weren’t even any questions about After Friday Night Lights, the also brand-new e-book about Bissinger’s relationship with former Odessa Permian star Boobie Miles.
That might be in part because Boobie Miles is a real guy, not a Dillon Panther from TV. At Bookpeople, Bissinger said that he freqently has to tell people, “my book is not based on the television show.”
Father’s Day is built around a cross-country road trip Bissinger took with his developmentally disabled son Zach, who was born 13 1/2 weeks premature with brain damage. Zach still lives with Bissinger’s ex-wife and works as a grocery bagger. His twin brother, Gerry, arrived three minutes sooner, and did not suffer the same fate (he is now a teacher).
Bissinger both read and talked extemporaneously about this difficult-to-write story, which was a huge departure for the non-fiction author and investigative journalist.
Over the course of the book, Bissinger said, he came to realize Zach’s his hero, the man who shows him that “character is taking every ounce of what you have… and using every ounce of that to build a life and world for yourself.”
But before he comes to that point, the book is also about a father’s admittedly selfish, unsugarcoated feelings about not having “the son I imagined, which is to say, the son I wanted.”
That’s put him firmly in the crossfire of some critics, including, as Bissinger called them, “that asshole in the Austin Statesman American (sic) and that even bigger asshole in the Dallas Morning News.”
“In my life, no book has left me with such a sour impression of its author,” wrote the DMN‘s Alex Lemon. “Bissinger’s Father’s Day is full of moments that made me cringe at a father’s selfishness.”
Which is still not a criticism of Bissinger’s actual writing, but as Bissinger’s response shows (and as followers of his often-unhinged Twitter account know), he makes it easy to get personal.
It was still fairly early in the talk, right after Bissinger made an especially intense admission about struggling with the question of “where should he be?” (i.e. whether Zack should continue to live with his mother or be in a private group home), that Chandler came up the Bookpeople stairs, not at all resembling Coach Taylor in a gimme cap, short-sleeved blue shirt and jeans (ok, Coach Taylor rarely wears jeans).
“Where the hell have you been!?,” Bissinger mock-snapped.
“I thought this was for Friday Night Lights,” Chandler retorted, pretending to scrutinize the copy of Father’s Day in Bissinger’s hand. “What is this new book?”
Chandler then retreated to the back of the room, though Bissinger subsequently engaged him after using the world “sublimest.”
“Is that a word?” he asked Chandler.
“This is Texas, you can use it,” the actor replied.
“What do you know? You’re a coach.”
The still-nascent/rumored Friday Night Lights movie also came up, with Chandler saying only, “I don’t know,” when Bissinger asked what was going on with it.
Chandler then revealed he’d spoken to executive producer Peter Berg (who is also Bissinger’s cousin) “five minutes after I got off the phone with you” earlier that day – but went completely silent when someone in the audience shouted out, “what did he say?”