MY 13-YEAR-OLD daughter, Eve, has been onstage since before she was born. As the star of so much of my writing over the years, she's accustomed to being the center of attention.
In July 2001, when my very-pregnant wife, LaVeta, traveled with me to New Orleans for a conference, Eve was there. And though we tried to pretend we didn't have an unborn chaperone along for the ride, Eve refused to be ignored.
In between eating po'boys and beignets, dodging packs of man-eating mosquitoes and fighting humidity that clung to us like buffalo pelts, we watched Eve poke and prod LaVeta's organs. Very interesting sight. Looked like a scene out of "Alien."
I wrote about it, of course, just as I wrote about all of Eve's exploits over the years. Not only did I write about her, I pushed her to explore her outsized personality on film, producing a comedic webisode called "The Candy Ring," with Eve in the starring role.
But it wasn't until I went back to my old middle school, where Eve is now a student, that I realized the real reason I've been pushing Eve so hard.
I am living out my broken dreams through her.
It didn't hit me until last week, when I went to see my daughter on opening night of the school's production of "The Wiz." As I watched her play a munchkin, my mind replayed the decades-old pain I experienced on that very stage.
The year was 1978. I was an awkward fifth-grader, trying desperately to find my way. There, on the very stage where my daughter is now giving munchkins the acting chops they deserve, I was called upon to play Jonathan in the fifth-grade play. His character was complex, yet conflicted. He was thoughtful, yet belligerent. He was a character who took fifth-grade theater to new heights.
Playing the role required a boy who was at once strong and sensitive, rambunctious and recalcitrant, with a depth to his acting skills that most kids could never master. Luckily, I was that kind of kid, and I was ready to bring all 10 years of my life experience to the role. Unfortunately, I didn't like to do my homework. As a result, I lost the role to a boy who I now believe was scheming to take my place.
Now, as the direct result of fifth-grade trickery and intrigue, I am not the star of stage and screen I should've been.
I'm simply a lowly writer.
Had I played the role of Jonathan in that fifth-grade play, I would've emerged to become one of the premiere actors of my time. I would've been the Sidney Poitier of my generation - bringing a brooding dignity to every role that came my way.
But I wouldn't have stopped there, because the culture of the '80s and '90s would've required me to change, and playing Jonathan in the play would've given me the ability to do so.
Had I played Jonathan, I could've been the front man in a hip-hop Rat Pack, making "Ocean's 11"-type flicks with rap-heavy soundtracks and scripts straight outta Compton. Everything would've been so much easier if only I'd played Jonathan when I was 10.
Had I kept the role of Jonathan, I could've spent the early 2000s spending fast money on fast cars and fast women. I could've worn crazy clothes and said crazy things and made a comeback as a has-been on "The Celebrity Apprentice."
I could've been that old actor whose name you couldn't quite remember before he got a role on "Dancing With the Stars."
In the words of Marlon Brando from "On the Waterfront," I coulda been a contender.
But I guess it's just as well, because if I'd played Jonathan in the fifth-grade play, I probably would've never gotten to be Eve's dad. And that, my friends, is the role of a lifetime.