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Buzz Bissinger talks about "Father's Day"

“Friday Night Lights” author Buzz Bissinger talks about the cross-country trip that taught him to love his son with a new intensity.

By / June 6, 2012

Buzz Bissinger says he took a cross-country trip with son Zach because "I wanted to really focus on him, which, despite all my love for him, I don’t think I really had before."

Dominic Savini

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When his son Zach, was 24, “Friday Night Lights” author Buzz Bissinger took him on a cross-country road trip. Zach – diagnosed with brain damage at his birth – operates on the level of a 9-year-old boy yet has exceptional recall of maps, routes, and dates. Bissinger’s story of their trip, recounted in his memoir, Father’s Day, is a tribute to fatherhood that is as painfully honest as it is disarmingly sweet. I recently had a chance to talk with Bissinger about the trip and about his book. Here are excerpts of our conversation.

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Q: You drove coast to coast across the United States with a son who would have preferred to fly. Why?

I wanted to do something different with Zach. I’d done special things with my other sons. I came up with this idea of a cross-country trip. I just thought we would have concentrated time together. He would see some parts of the country that were new. But I also structured so that we went back to all of the places that we had lived. Because he doesn’t care about scenery. He doesn’t care about Yosemite or Monument Valley or the Badlands.

I wanted to really focus on him, which, despite all my love for him, I don’t think I really had before.

Q: Four years have passed since the trip. What remains of it today for you?

Three things. At an amusement park, Six Flags in St. Louis, [we did] a bungee jump. We were dropped 158 feet from a crane. Zach loves these rides. I was scared to death. We had this free fall, and we were clinging to each other and I felt giddy and alive and bonded with my son both physically and spiritually in a way that I never ever had before. It was magnificent.

There was another moment in, of all places, Odessa, Tex., where I wrote “Friday Night Lights” and where they’re still not really so crazy about me. There’s a barbecue that takes place and Zach is there with some people I know [including] Brian Chavez, who is the tight end that I write about in “Friday Night Lights.” And everyone pats [Zach] on the back. He’s at the center of the circle. He’s one of the boys and I just loved seeing that. I thought it was marvelous that it took place in Odessa because Odessans, whatever they are, are the salt of the earth and really weren’t treating him any differently and he just loved it. He just loved, you know, being part of the circle.

The third thing was bizarre because we went to Las Vegas which was frankly a disaster. And he turned to me at one point at dinner. I was asking him personal questions. And he turned to me and said, “Dad, I’m having trouble with these questions because I don’t know how to answer them.” And I was proud of him for saying in his own gentle way, “You know, Dad, you just have to back off a little. I’m not a lab specimen.”

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