Through the lens of fatherhood
I jokingly tell people, being a man is a matter of age, and being a gentleman is a matter of choice. I think the same role can be applied to fatherhood. There comes a point in every mans life that he has to decide if he is fit to be a true father, someone who is willing to give up every selfish need and want for the ones they love. A father takes that leap of faith to become their child’s strength when they are weak, their hero when they need hope, their rock – their everything.
Perhaps I think too much about what an ideal father should look like but I’ve often contemplated whether or not I would make a decent father myself. I was not raised by my father nor was he by his, so my family track record isn’t exactly ideal for fatherhood. That hasn’t stopped my mind from wondering how my own life would’ve been, maybe completely different, had I decided to become a father myself.
There is something very special and unique that takes place when a father is doing his job perfectly – he becomes a coach and a teacher all in one. I recall observing this a few years back when my friend Steven Maes was mentoring his daughter, as she photographed a few of the Duke City Rockers for Steve’s documentary – Caffeine and Gasoline. I had known him from building and riding cafe racers and his work in the film industry. I also knew Steve was a father to two girls, Kayleigh and Ashleigh, but I had never seen him in that role until that day of the photo-shoot for his film.
It was a hot summer day in downtown Albuquerque and we staged our bikes behind the Launchpad Bar. The sun was sweltering, and we were melting in our Levi’s and black leather jackets. Steve’s eldest daughter Kayleigh conducted most of the shoot as he watched and directed her through the process. The whole thing took a little over two hours, and the two worked in perfect harmony – like a master and apprentice. Over my eleven years as a teacher I have estimated that I have taught around 1500 kids from every age and background, and I know how quickly a kid can go from happy-go-lucky to completely irritated. Now, add twenty “Rockers”, 90° heat to the mix and you could guess how any teenager would act. I personally wasn’t expecting Kayleigh and Steve to keep their composure, but they did just that on this day. Steve sat back from a distance and Kayleigh managed the entire shoot like a seasoned pro.
Not surprisingly, to this day Steve’s own father Ben is still his hero and it’s obvious to see why he takes his role as a father seriously. Steve’s earliest memory of his father, was their time spent in northern Nevada on snowmobiles flying through the snow as he held onto his father for dear life. He remembers thinking that his father was the coolest guy around, a regular Steve McQueen. His dad was an outdoorsman that loved everything from hunting and fishing to hiking in the mountains. Ben was also into wrenching on muscle cars, as he was a huge fan of Detroit muscle from the 60’s and 70’s. On occasion he would pick Steve up from school in his ’68 Pontiac GTO.
Steve recalls that he loved it when they went out in that thing, burning tires and hearing that big motor rumble. His dad was also a great teacher and mentor, as he loved showing Steve all aspects of everything he did. His dad worked with his hands, as a welder and ironworker and he was always making things. Steve remembers something that has always stuck with him, “My dad was always welding some kind of contraption or fabricating some kind of thing for the house and loved showing me how he made these things.” Steve’s grandfather was also a do-it-yourself kind of man, that worked as a carpenter in Los Alamos during World War II splitting time between his home in northern New Mexico – a small ranch where they raised animals and made everything they needed.
When Steve’s father was old enough he left the ranch for Ely, Nevada and was soon drafted into the army during the Vietnam conflict. He eventually returned and married Steve’s mother Lucille, settling and raising a family in northern Nevada. The family then moved when Steve was 11, as the company that his dad worked for shut down and the family moved to another location with the same company in Silver City, New Mexico. It would be an interesting move for Steve, as he had grown up in a very small town in northern Nevada with gambling and interesting people. He recalls that one end of Ely had a “red light” district and every gas station had a slot machine. He also remembers as a kid pulling into Silver City, in the middle of July, and seeing a couple guys walking down the street wearing beanies and flannels and thinking the only time they wore beanies and flannels in Nevada was for hunting in the mountains.
This was his first exposure to latino Cholo culture, and like most transplants to New Mexico it would take him awhile to relate to the cultural difference between northern Nevada and New Mexico. Even though he was raised in a mostly Hispanic environment, Ely was very multi-cultural and he could not relate to Silver City’s large Hispanic population immediately – it took him a minute to adjust and Steve’s dad had started to recognize it. As a result he felt that it would be important for his son to be able to defend himself, so he put him in boxing that summer before school started, as he was now eleven and would need to become a little tougher.
Luckily, the first group of tough kids he met was in the boxing gym which was located in an old courthouse. The gym was comprised of a group of the local “chicano” kids that he quickly became friends with. This would later be a benefit as he soon found out when school started. He remembers getting picked on by a couple of older kids after school one day when one of the kids from the boxing gym stepped in – he told the bullies that they did not want to mess with Steve as he was a friend of theirs.
Steve recalls that, ”Silver City during the eighties was still segregated in someways, in the sense that there was a large ranching community, and you had ranchers kids that were predominantly white, you had the Hispanic kids and you had what we all call jocks, then there was the rockers who were kind of the “metal kids”. “They all hung out in their own little cliques, and I think because I grew up in northern Nevada, a more culturally integrated environment, I didn’t really identify with anybody. I had friends in each of those groups because I was an athlete that ran track and played baseball, football, and soccer and I related to the Chicano kids because I grew up Hispanic but I had friends who were ranchers or “Cowboys” because I hunted and fished and liked the outdoors.”
Steve’s main passion though was his guitar, and like many other adolescents of that time he dreamed of playing in a rock band. He graduated from high school in 1987 and attended his first year of college at Western New Mexico University. The small town would not quench his thirst though as he decided to move to Albuquerque and attend the University of New Mexico. He tried to put several bands together and write music but unfortunately it had started to eat into his academics. He had a difficult choice to make, stick it out in New Mexico or chase his dreams of becoming a musician. He did what most ambitious kids would do and decided to drop out and give his dreams of writing and performing music a chance. Surprisingly his father and mother would be very supportive of his choice and encourage him every step of the way.
Without a friend or any connections in California, Steve packed his bags and what little money he had and headed for Los Angeles. Like so many others before and after him, he would come to find out that LA and the business had a way of breaking your spirit. However, after several years of hard work, he stuck it out and had found a pretty decent group of musicians that he could play with. They eventually recorded a demo album and Steve was starting to learn the ins and outs of the business – from recording to producing. He also made many humbling trips to record labels trying to get a deal, including labels such as Warner Bros and Capitol Records hoping to sign a contract.
However, the year was 1993 and he didn’t get much interest in that his style of New Wave or pop music had already passed and the grunge scene had just kicked in the door of the music industry – he was starting to learn to be flexible. His band eventually broke up and still determined he decided to pursue something as a solo artist and producer. He spent the next few years recording musicians and building a small studio in Albuquerque. He also tried to make a few connections and got some interest from Warner Bros but most of the labels just tossed around his music as they decided it wasn’t relate-able on a grand scale. Not ready to throw in the towel, he spent his time trying to learn as much as he could about the entertainment industry, recording other artists, making connections and never giving up on his dreams.
After several painful years of trying to break into the business he had realized that he liked to play and record music but found it to be much too difficult as a solo artist. As a solo act he constantly had to piece a makeshift band together for shows and recording. The years were quickly fading together as he had started to realize that maybe the “rockstar” life was not in the cards. The strain of staying in, and traveling to Hollywood was also taking its toll, good friends were getting into hard drugs and LA had overnight become too expensive to live. He felt drained like he had been in a bad relationship and thought that it was time to come back home for good. As the window on his music career had closed, a great big beautiful door would open to one of the best points of his life.
Soon after returning to New Mexico feeling somewhat defeated he quickly met the love of his life Kristee. She was tall and pretty and provided the calming nature that he needed. After a year of dating, Steve proposed and within two years of marriage they were surprised to find they were going to have a child. They named their first born daughter Kayleigh after one of Steve’s favorite songs. He had also decided that it was probably time to go back to school, finish his degree and to figure out a career for himself to provide for his family. He graduated three years later from the University of New Mexico with a Bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Communications.
Everything had started to finally fall into place for Steve, with a young child and wife, he decided to put his multi media and music skills to use as he lined up a few graphic design and video production jobs for a few local companies in town. He also decided to try his hand at publishing by starting a music magazine which ran for several years in Albuquerque, showcasing local musicians and artists.
At that time New Mexico was experiencing an emerging movie industry. New Mexico’s beautiful skies and desert landscapes had been home to the westerns of the 60’s and 70’s but it had never really been the mecca of the industry until the late 90’s and early 2000’s. At the time, New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, had introduced incentives that had drawn a lot of Hollywood productions with bigger names to shoot in New Mexico and utilize the locations. Steve’s “big break” would come when he was lucky enough to get on a film called The Flock with Richard Gere and Claire Danes. Steve’s younger sister, JoAnna, who had been in the film industry already was not able to work on that film as she was working on a TV series called Wildfire. He interviewed for the graphic designer job, and as they say in this industry, the rest is history. He worked continually from that point on with several major television series and feature films. Today his name can been seen on everything from the Emmy winning Breaking Bad, the hugely popular In Plain Sight, to the Academy Award nominated In the Valley of Elah with Tommy Lee Jones and currently the long running Netflix series Longmire. Within the industry his name speaks volumes, but at home for his two daughters Kayleigh and Ashleigh, it’s just plain old dad – and that’s just fine with him.
As the years had flown by, and his success continued to grow, he found himself reflecting on his own father’s lessons. He noticed early on that Kayleigh had a creative side, and was fascinated by visual things like photography and film, which allowed them to bond very closely. He would not push her to pursue a career in the industry, but would gently encourage her as she had a natural knack for cinematography. Now Kayleigh is pursuing her Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University of New Mexico like her father, and he continues to give her as much support as possible, as he knows she has the potential to be extremely creative and successful. From the few photo shoots I’ve been on with Steve and Kayleigh it is apparent that she trusts his instincts. She whole heartily believes that he would never steer her wrong and it’s also obvious that she accepts criticism well from him.
It’s not all rose gardens or new Mikuni Flat-slides for Steve, as he readily admits that having two daughters can be tough for a guy. Living in a house with three women can be tricky, “there’s a lot of drama that goes on and there’s a lot of emotions going on with hormones and such, but I think the thing you want as a father, is to educate your children in a way that they understand the world around them. To understand that it is a difficult place sometimes. You want to try and set them up with the tools to be happy, as long as they are true to themselves then the sky’s the limit.” As Steve looks back at his life, he probably thinks about how he never became that famous rockstar – embraced by millions of adoring fans. However, he did become a rockstar to three of the most beautiful gals in his life.
As I am finishing up this story on Steve during a long flight home from New York, I had some time to reflect on the friends that I have that are fathers. And to be honest they are some great and honorable men. I might be wrong but I believe deep down, there is a father in every man, a hero in their child’s eyes. Not every man decides to be that hero in their child’s life but that shouldn’t diminish from the fact that there are some great men out there playing both mother and father. I see on a daily basis, hundreds of kids wanting, needing and wishing for a good father and it is heartbreaking. So when I write that I am proud of my friends that take on the challenge, I mean it with the deepest sincerity and when they look in the mirror, I hope they see a hero.