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makeitstop5/08/2019 1:28:23 pm PDT

I was reading a story about Tom Petty on NPR’s web site, and this was one of the comments (it’s long so I’m putting it behind a button, but it’s a really nice read).

I’m a single full-time dad. My wife and I split just before my son Connor’s third birthday. I was faced with raising him on my own six days a week and it was somewhat terrifying: Will I be good at this? Am I going to mess him up somehow? How do I get him to eat anything other than chicken nuggets and mac and cheese? But, as I had done a lot of times in my life when I was stressed or in pain or scared, I turned to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The music would ease the stress, numb the pain, and make whatever I was scared of a lot less scary.

One day early in our us-against-the-world battle, we decided to set out for Southern California for a few days to leave the “real world” behind. I glanced in the rearview mirror and looked at Connor sleeping in his car seat, the endless desert stretched out behind him in the rear windshield. Again, the thought crossed my mind: How am I going to do this and do it well? Not even 10 seconds later, “I Won’t Back Down” came on the radio. I let out a loud “Ha!”

There was TP once again, letting me know that everything was going to be all right as long as I didn’t give up.

Fast-forward to a few years later. We’re in Hollywood in a guitar store because I wanted to buy a T-shirt. After I bought my shirt, I found Connor standing next to a three-quarter-size guitar. “Can I get this?” he asked. “I can learn to play Tom Petty songs with it.” We were on our last day of vacation, low on money. I checked my bank account. If I returned the T-shirt, if we ate fast food for dinner, and if we could get home on a tank of gas, we could pull it off. He slept with that guitar in the hotel that night. He was 6 years old.

Arriving home, he took lessons. The first song he learned? “I Won’t Back Down.” He soon played every day and learned one Heartbreakers song after another. A year later he asked for a “real” guitar, specifically a Telecaster, because TP played a Telecaster in concert when we saw him here in Phoenix.

He picked one out he liked, but it was $2,000. I never wanted to let him down, so I explained as best as I could why we couldn’t afford something like that. “But,” I said. “Maybe I could just make you one.”

I’d never made anything in my life. I didn’t own any tools. We lived in an apartment.

“OK!” he said.

Honestly, I thought it would just buy me some time to find him a cheaper one. But one of our golden rules is, “Do what you say you’re going to do.” So I found a cheap Telecaster on Craigslist and tore it down to refinish it, just to see if I could even do that. It turned out all right, so I started reading websites and books on how to make an electric guitar.

I ordered wood and parts off the Internet, and over the next few months, I made an electric guitar. I finished it about 30 minutes before Connor’s eighth-birthday party. I found out I was pretty good at it and made a couple more.

Looking at a block of wood one night in our apartment, mouth full of spaghetti, Connor looked up at me and said, “You could build one for Tom Petty. You make nice ones and he likes guitars.”

“I don’t think it works that way,” I said.

“Sure, but you didn’t think you could even make one and that happened,” he said. “We already have tickets to see them in LA in June, anyway. Plus, if you make him one I could give it to him and I’d get to meet him.” He smiled.

So, as any single dad/crazy person would do, I fired off a long email to Tom Petty’s management company that probably made them think I was bananas. A few weeks later, Evan from the company contacted me, said Tom got my email, and if I could bring the guitar to the show, there was a really good chance we’d get to give the guitar to Tom.

On the day of the show, we received a call from him letting us know that it was going to happen: Tom was going to meet us prior to the show so we could give him the guitar. Later at the Fonda Theatre, we were sitting in the lobby when Evan came to talk to us. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but … he wants to meet you on his bus. And no one gets to go on his bus.”

He led us to the back of the building and suddenly, I was standing next to my wide-eyed 9-year-old son, on Tom Petty’s tour bus, holding a guitar I built for him. A moment later, Tom emerged, with his wife, Dana, right behind him. He was larger than life (but actually shorter than I expected; onstage he looks 10 feet tall).

Tom smiled, walked right up to my son, leaned over and shook his hand and said, “Hey, you must be Connor. I’m Tom. Nice to meet you.” He then shook my hand, introduced us to Dana, and just fell into conversation with Connor. It was — and still is — surreal. He greeted us like family he’d never met. Despite Evan telling us the meeting would be brief, we spent a good 15 minutes on his bus.

He gushed over the guitar when we opened the case and gave it to him. As he went to put it back into the case, Connor was in conversation with Dana, so I leaned over to Tom. “There are no words, man,” I said. “Thank you so much for doing this. He’s going to remember this for the rest of his life.”

Tom looked at me and then down at the guitar.

“But look what you did for me,” he said. “I know these aren’t easy to make. And you thought enough of me to go through all this trouble.” He put his hand on his heart and said, “Really, I’m just touched. I’m humbled. Thank you for doing this for me.”

He gave Connor some guitar picks and signed a concert poster for him. We shook hands, he hugged Connor, and off we went back into the venue. We probably weren’t in there more than a couple minutes before the Heartbreakers took the stage.

About halfway through the show, a woman leaned over to me and said, “Your boy knows all the words to every song! He’s so cool! You’re such a great dad!” I thanked her and thought, “You have no idea where we were an hour ago.”

After the show, we went to a Denny’s and ate biscuits and gravy and rehashed the evening over the next few hours. We were too amped up to sleep.

“I’m curious,” I said to Connor. “Does this whole experience teach you anything?”

“Yeah,” he said, slurping on a chocolate shake. “Anything is possible. Anything.”

I seem to have something in my eye.