“Your writing has punch, David. Punch is power!”
After all these years, this simple message, my first words of true validation as a fledgling writer, has never left me. It echoes in my mind like a long canyon scream each time I sit down to a blank page, and inspires me to fill it with my true voice. After a childhood of failed classes and dismal report cards (most of which ended with comments such as, “David has potential, but his hyperactivity and attention-seeking behavior are a constant distraction to the class!”), it was if I had pulled the proverbial red pen from the stone. No small victory for the delinquent son of a public-school teacher, but let’s be honest, I was never destined to become the next Bill Shakespeare (ask any of my traumatized English teachers). It only makes sense that this particular validation wasn’t given by any of the poor, frustrated educators I left in my wake. No, it came from a truly brilliant writer who shaped my love (and fear) of the written word. The man, the myth, the legend … my father, James Harper Grohl.
Born to a blue-collar, Ohioan steelworking family in 1938, my father was a complicated man of many, sometimes-conflicting layers. Actor, writer, award-winning journalist, lover of art and food, and a ferocious, classically trained musician. A true Renaissance man, yet so conservative that he would sometimes be mistaken in public for the legendary political commentator George Will. All this and more, poured into a crisp, clean seersucker suit.
At night, you could find him reclined in his Eames chair with a glass of Johnnie Walker Red, baton in hand, listening to jazz records as the smoke of his sweet pipe wafted through his Alexandria, Virginia, apartment. But from 9 to 5, the dude made Ronald Reagan look like Abbie Hoffman. Cool as a cucumber, he could turn on the charm and work any Republican Capitol Hill shindig like he was to the manor born. Still, for all his starched shirts and Brooks Brothers socks, a beatnik was trapped somewhere deep within that perfectly tailored tuxedo, just screaming to come out. (He once very proudly bragged to me that the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg had hit on him at a party. Cutest-couple alert!)