The Azle News

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dear Austin …

Letter from Azle dad to his son strikes a
chord with parents all over the country

by Carolea Hassard

An impromptu letter from an Azle native to his college-bound son has taken on a life of its own, touching – and reassuring – hundreds of parents across the country.

Click to see scanned image of news article

As David Perkins, a 1967 graduate of Azle High School, was seeing his son Austin off to college he suddenly realized that he might not get another chance to impart fatherly advice like he had over the last 18 years. So he wrote a letter and left it where Austin would find it.

The letter was fairly long – it takes about 10 or 15 minutes to read – but it also summed up pretty much everything everyone wants their kids to know before they fly the nest.

It gave Perkins a sense of closure, so when he noticed his good friend also having trouble coming to terms with her son going off to college, he passed it on to her.

“I gave it to her and said, ‘I don’t think this will make you feel all better, but it may help you be happy for him,'” Perkins said.

His friend was so impressed she suggested Perkins publish it as a book.

Turn a letter into a book?

“It seemed like an absurd idea, but she said, ‘There are a lot of parents out there struggling with the same thing,'” Perkins said.

And so, Dear Austin – A Letter To My Son was born.

Perkins first made sure that Austin didn’t mind seeing a personal note to him published (he was fine with it), and found several favorite photos of young Austin, some with Dad, others with Mom (Ryan), grandparents or best friends.

Before turning it into a book, Perkins put it on a blog. Response to the simple, straightforward missive was tremendous.

“I was completely taken aback by it,” he said. “I was surprised that so many people found it.”

Perkins began receiving emails by the dozens.

“Basically, most people said, ‘Thank you for sharing this. It’s made life much easier.'”

Now he’s talking about the letter to PTA groups, which are selling the book to raise funds.

At the PTA meetings, he tells parents that writing a letter can sometimes be easier than talking.

“It will allow them to say things they’ve never said before,” he said. “It’s a real healing thing.”

For Perkins, the letter served as one last effort to make an impression on the person he was responsible for bringing up.

“You never know what influence you’re going to have on your kids,” he said. “Their beliefs may eventually be different from yours, and you want them to be different.”

In college, “you start start to take on your own opinions about things,” Perkins added. “Most of my beliefs and opinions were actually my father’s. (In college) you begin to formulate your own philosophy, and they may become different from your father’s.”

Perkins, now 60, grew up in Sanctuary, between Azle and Springtown, the son of Marshall and Era (Sugar) Perkins. He has two sisters, Darlene (AHS ’61) and Marsha DiAnne (AHS ’69).

After graduation, he attended Sul Ross State University in Alpine, where he majored in theater.

He traveled to Los Angeles “because I wanted to be an actor,” Perkins said. “But I realized that I didn’t want it badly enough, so I got into a different aspect of film and TV. I’m in the post-production part of it.”

He worked in several areas of film and TV over the years, including writing a script for Designing Women.

He joined the Writer’s Guild labor union before selling the script – in 1988, when the guild went on strike.

“It was two weeks before they went on strike,” Perkins said. “I was just in time to carry a picket.”

Perkins learned some things from hard experience – you must possess quite a drive to make it as an actor, for instance, or as a musician: he belonged to two bands in school, including The Infinites (with Robert Cobb, Jerry Owens, and Danny Nugent).

The Infinites (1964)

In Dear Austin, Perkins advised his musical son about choosing performing arts as a vocation.

“… as much as we both love music, I am reluctant to encourage you to pursue it as a career unless you just can’t see yourself doing anything else.

“You have to want that above all else, and even then it will likely be a financially difficult life. If you know that, and are prepared for it, then it can still be an enormously happy and satisfying life.

“Look at the people you know personally who have chosen this path and how they’ve made it work for them. If you can see yourself teaching, or repairing instruments, or even building them, or any of the hundreds of jobs you can do in the field of music and you can be content doing those things, then go for it.”

In fact, Austin – now in his second year at California State University Monterey Bay – is working toward an integrated studies major in business and music (students may create their major by combining different emphases).

Austin Perkins with mom Ryan

Perkins said Austin decided, even before he got his dad’s letter, that he probably couldn’t make a living playing music (although “he plays guitar really well,” Perkins said). Instead, he can apply his business studies to the music industry.

Dear Austin may be found in paperback at Amazon for $13.95, and for some less at Barnes & Noble. Perkins sells a digital edition on his site for $7.95.

For more information, visit Perkins’ website at www.davidmperkins.com.

Click HERE to see a scanned image of the original article.