A Story Need Not Be Pretty Or Pink – Lessons From Movie Star Andrew McCarthy

I wish I were a great storyteller, one as effortless as “Pretty in Pink” star, Andrew McCarthy.

If I were, I’d begin my story by talking about the shining Hollywood star’s past big-screen triumphs.  I’d move on quickly to McCarthy’s current television and literary feats.

Instead, though, my tale starts simply with me, at the Dad 2.0 Summit in San Diego a few weeks ago, lulled into a trance as Andrew McCarthy took to the spotlight to speak.

I’d write that, although the stage lights appeared comfortable, he didn’t seem to covet the attention they drew.  In fact, he told all of us listening that Hollywood didn’t much appeal to him – and that he was at peace with that.

My story would be filled with dialogue – albeit one-sided – and describe McCarthy flipping his neatly disheveled hair from one side to the other.

If I could only tell a story better, I would say that McCarthy gifted me three, valuable lessons:

(1) Clear the deck.

McCarthy spoke about life’s ever-accumulating baggage – and the need to carry it away when it becomes stacked up too high.

He told us about his own personal luggage, describing his strained relationship with his father.  “When I told my dad that I wanted to act, he said, ‘No son of mine will ever be a f*cking thespian!’”

His voice softened as he carried on, saying, “But, when he was dying, I had to be there.  I don’t know why.  But, I was there, holding his hand.  I needed to clear the deck – we both did – because stuff had piled up.”

After listening, I know that I have some housekeeping to do of my own.

(2) Let your sins be your own.

McCarthy encouraged all of us to allow our children to find their way.

“Your kids are not you.  Let your sins be your own,” he proclaimed while pacing the stage.  “Get rid of anger – anger is always, always rooted in fear.  Always.”

Those words bounced in my head as I thought about my kids at home – my little ones that will enter the post-millennial, helicopter-raised world that I am both preparing them for, and sheltering them from.

(3) Find you, from your toes up.

“I wanted to be the point guard on the basketball team but when that didn’t work, I tried theater.  As soon as I walked onto that stage, I knew what I wanted to do.”  McCarthy paused, looking toward the back of the room as if to feel that sensation again.

“Something felt different, I felt like, ‘There I am’ – this was all mine, and I knew what I wanted.  I was happy, as my wife says, from my toes up.”

Not only did McCarthy find himself on stage, he internalized, owned and pursued his discovered passion toward places that helped him recapture that “There I am” feeling again and again.

Decades after his first brush with fame, McCarthy has experienced new, “There I am” moments – as an accredited director, as a decorated travel writer, as a versatile author and as a father of three.

His story was mesmerizing, but my story begins to trail as Andrew McCarthy’s time runs short.  The star exits and this novice storyteller searches for a grand conclusion that just doesn’t come.

I’m left with an abruptly ending journal passage, a brimming-full head of ideas and the realization of one truth: that all stories, no matter how skillfully told, are important.

If I were a better storyteller, like Andrew McCarthy, I’d share my story broadly.

For now, though, I’ll just tell my wife and kids – so that they’ll have a better story than I do.

I’ll help them become better storytellers than me.

About Andrew McCarthy

Andrew McCarthy is a director, an award-winning travel writer, and—of course—an actor. He made his professional début at 19 in Class, and has appeared in dozens of films, including such iconic movies as Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Less Then Zero, and cult favorites Weekend At Bernie’s and Mannequin.

He has starred on Broadway and on television, most recently appearing in The Family, on ABC. McCarthy is also a highly regarded television director; having helmed Orange is the New Black, The Blacklist, Grace and Frankie, and many others.

Simultaneously, McCarthy is an award-winning travel writer. He is an editor-at-large at National Geographic Traveler, and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Travel+Leisure, AFAR, Men’s Journal, Bon Appetit, and many others. He has received six Lowell Thomas awards, and been named Travel Journalist of the Year by The Society of American Travel Writers.

His travel memoir, THE LONGEST WAY HOME, became a New York Times Best Seller, and the Financial Times of London named it one of the Best Books of the year. He served as guest editor for the prestigious Best American Travel series in 2015.

His debut novel, JUST FLY AWAY, will be published by Algonquin in the spring of 2017.

McCarthy lives in New York City.

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