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Jessica Runck, Published June 13 2013

Homegrown Hollywood: Lessons from Dad

I was 16 when my father saved me from my very first date.

A popular senior had asked me to go to the Snowball dance with him, and I couldn’t believe it. Me? The girl who was the eternal friend? Who was usually relegated to the sidelines watching her friends attract cute guys as she still tried to figure out how to clasp a normal bra?

So when I found out this boy had asked me out as a favor to a friend, I was hurt but not shocked. I still planned for the date as any 16-year-old would by buying a dress and journaling about it for pages with scented pens.

When he picked me up it was awkward – made more so because I knew he didn’t want to be there. I started to panic. This was not how I wanted my first date to go. These were not the memories I wanted to record in my journal.

Right before I excused myself to go cry in the bathroom, my father stepped in.

He grabbed my date by the shoulders and handed him a piece of paper with the words, “How To Date My Daughter” printed on the top. Then he sat the boy down and made him fill out the questionnaire, step by step.

The questions included:

1. Do you own or have access to a van?

2. In 50 words or less what does LATE mean to you?

And my personal favorite.

3. Do you own a pickup with a mattress in the back?

By the time my date was finished I was so distracted I had completely forgotten my panic.

That’s the thing about my father – whenever I think the world is ending he turns my head to see a little sun.

By the end of the date, I had started to feel nervous again– worrying about saying goodnight. But once more my father stepped in, greeting us outside with a loaded shotgun.

To most daughters, this would have been the start of many years of therapy. To me, it was the start of understanding what a gift my father has given me.

Perspective.

From the moment I was old enough to understand, my dad taught me that if I could close my eyes and find a little perspective, I would be able to weather anything life threw at me. That if I greeted the world with joy and humor, it would do the same.

These lessons were important when you were raising a kid like me – a girl who demanded, craved, begged for attention. A girl who pleaded with him to tape just one more movie she’d written and (of course) would star in. A girl who hissed at him through the side of her mouth, “Zoom in, DAD!!!” And begged him for just one more angle, one more shot, one more minute.

My dad was the only one who had enough patience to listen to me recite “The Little Mermaid” in its entirety. He was the one who blared Michael Jackson records and encouraged my gangly flailing I called “dancing,” even joining in to show me some of his classic moves.

He was the first one to show me that my dreams were not stupid by simply acknowledging them.

And when he helped pack my car for Los Angeles what he didn’t realize was he’d already given me something more important than my earthquake kit or my color coded map of the city.

He’d given me a strong sense of self.

With my father’s voice ringing in my ears, I have navigated a place for myself here in Los Angeles. Amid the fast cars and fast talkers, I have been able to hang on to a little perspective and a lot of humor.

Dad, you’re the reason I’m out here in Los Angeles and not falling apart.

You’re also the reason I always look for mattresses in the back of pickups.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum

Runck, who grew up in Wimbledon, N.D., and graduated from Concordia College, is a writer and actor living in Los Angeles