Recently, my wife and I took our daughter to see Dear Evan Hansen. I had seen the musical before with my oldest daughter, watched the movie and listened to the soundtrack hundreds of times with my family who love the music.
Seeing it again live was to restore its power in my mind – power that was diluted by the repeated listening and sing-a-longs on car rides.
If unfamiliar with the play, the themes are almost unbearably sad. The loss of a child through suicide. Children struggle to be seen and accepted. Not just by their peers but by themselves.
There is one moment, I had forgotten, that is particularly gut-wrenching for me. It happens on stage in the background during the song, You Will be Found, that closes the first act.
The father, who had been suppressing his sadness over his son’s death, finally breaks down. Dropping to his knees, crying and convulsing as the chorus swells and repeats the line, “You are not alone.”
It is a release of his pain, a recognition of his helplessness and perhaps coming to terms with his perceived role in his son’s decision to take his life.
It recalled a line I had read a few days earlier in Esquire magazine. It is from John Leonard, written in 1975:
“It is our nightmare, of wanting desperately to protect our children, not least of all from ourselves. The American father lives inside the discrepancy between what he hopes for his children and what he does to them.”
This sentiment is also captured in the show’s first song, sung by the mothers of the boy who would take his life and the boy who ultimately finds himself because of it. The song aptly titled, “Does Anybody Have a Map?”
I have been particularly lost the last few weeks. Caught up in my own work and trying to balance my needs with those of my children, I’ve been failing us all.
Spending too much of my time with them lamenting or more accurately complaining about what they are not doing rather than accepting them for who they are and where they find their joy.
I still don’t have a map. Does anyone really? But at least I think I’m pointed in the right direction.