Daddy Wants to Stay At Home
Thursday, December 31, 1992
Country America. Neil Pond
Flying on a coast-to-coast publicity junket in a chartered 727, he heard it during an airplane-telephone conversation with his wife, Sandy. It was about their new baby daughter, Taylor, and a precious, important moment that her loving dad had just missed.
“We'd heard from the doctors that, for a while, a little baby can see only so far in front of its eyes,” says Garth a little later, as the plane continues its flight. “Well, Sandy had put Taylor in her little bounce seat and moved a little toy swing set with some dangling Sesame Street characters in front of her. Sandy said it wasn’t five seconds until Taylor reached out and started batting around Big Bird and pulling on things. It was her first real motor reaction, other than just eating and sleeping and doing what little babies do in their diapers. It was her first reaction to something she had seen—and I missed it.”
He smiles a melancholy smile, looks out the plane window at the billowy clouds, then lowers his steel-blue eyes. “For me, that was like, ‘Strike one,’” he says softly.
At 30, Garth is easily country’s biggest superstar. In a career that is by any standard still young, he’s already sold some 20 million copies of his first three albums, brought home 50 major awards and rolled with ease across the boundaries between country music and its more citified highest-paid entertainer in show business, estimating his income during 1991 and 1992 at $44 million.
And now he’s saying he might walk away from it all—all that he’s accomplished, all the success and the sales and the status as an entertainment colossus. All these things take a distant second place, in his mind, to what happened on July 8, 1992, the day that he and Sandy’s first child, Taylor Mayne Pearl, came into the world.
Since Taylor’s arrival, Garth has been wrangling with some hefty decisions—namely, how much time he should devote to his wife and child and how much he should devote to his career. He has even announced to his fans that there’s the very real chance that he might hang up his cowboy hat and flat-out quit—quit the road, quit the recording, quit the songwriting, quit everything outside of daddyhood.
He has already decided to take an extended hiatus from the music business for the first eight months of the new year. During that period, everything career wise will be put on hold. And as for what happens after that, Garth says, it’s going to be a case of wait and see.
It’s obvious that fatherhood is exerting a strong new tug for Garth’s time and attention. But there are other factors, too, clouding the picture—namely, the ever-escalating pressures that go along with Garth’s high-profile role at the center of country music’s biggest boom ever.
“The pressure on this young man is incredible,” says Jimmy Bowen, head of Liberty Records in Nashville. “Unlike a lot of artists, he makes every decision himself, controls every aspect of his career. Plus, he’s the centerpiece of this whole country explosion. He’s worked hard to do in three years what it usually takes six or seven years to do: become a household name. There’s just a tremendous amount of weight on his shoulders.
“I don’t think Garth will retire,” says Bowen confidently. “He’s not the first person to have a baby and deal with the torment of having to go out and work and leave the family at home. He’s just got to take some time off to figure it all out, to see how he can balance it all. But the music in him can’t stay bottled up. It’s got to come out.”
And come out it continues to do, at least for now, with the force of an avalanche. Currently, Garth is making cash registers across the country ring with two new albums, his Christmas release, Beyond the Season, and The Chase. Both are virtually guaranteed to sell millions of copies.
Does it seem likely that Garth will give it all up, that he will step down at the height of his career, the hottest career in all the music world? Not really. What will probably happen, he admits, is an eventual compromise that will let him perform both roles, showman and father, without sacrificing either. He says, for instance, that he might perform multiple shows in major cities, instead of hotfooting in a connect-the-dot fashion to a succession of one-night concerts all over America. This way he could still reach his fans, but it would allow him to cut back on travel and spend more time at home.
“If I do continue touring,” he says, “it will be dramatically cut back. And I do mean dramatically.”
As success swept him ever upward, Garth always insisted that he was still just a regular guy, a grown-up kid from Oklahoma who happened to lasso his ultimate dream. He still constantly points out the things that make him ordinary, things that reduce the height of the pedestal on which his success has placed him. He’s the first to note, for example, that he has a waistline that isn’t getting any smaller and a hairline that isn’t getting any fuller.
Earlier in the day, a fan asked him in which direction he felt his career was growing. “This way,” said Garth, patting his stomach jokingly. Such self-effacement usually gets a chuckle or a smile, but you suspect it also serves the purpose of a humility check, a reminder to Garth himself that he still has to put on his jeans one leg at a time. And I can’t help but notice that each time Garth leaves the plane or the hotel, he carries his own bag.
“I’m beginning to learn that Garth the person can be different from GB the entertainer,” he says, demonstrating how, in his own conversation, he differentiates between the two entities: The regular guy is Garth; the star is GB. “It’s sometimes hard for me to separate the two because music has always been such a part of my life.”
Lounging comfortably in shorts and a pullover shirt, and giving his sock-clad feet an airing from his cowboy boots, Garth looks, indeed, more like Garth than GB, less a high-soaring megastar than an ordinary Joe. With a week’s growth of beard stubble—“It drives Sandy wild,” he says with a mischievous grin—he looks like the kind of guy you might see on any given night in living rooms across America, kicked back in front of the tube with a pizza. In fact, he says one of his favorite television characters is the likably loutish, comically crude Al Bundy from Married… with Children. “I think Al is the guy every man on the face of this earth would like to be once in a while, on days when you just want to say, ‘Man, I just wanna slouch. Stay away from me,’” says Garth. “I love Al.”
The plane on which we’re flying has been leased by Garth’s record company for a media whirlwind to promote the affiliation between Garth’s Beyond the Season album and the organization Feed the Children. In each city—Dallas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, St. Louis, New York and Washington, D.C.—Garth conducts a press conference. There, he announces to the assembled media and fans that for every copy of the album sold through Christmas, a dollar will be donated to Feed the Children, an international program that provides food, clothing and other essentials to children—and adults—who lack these necessities because of famine, drought, flood, war, or other calamities.
And at each stop on this media tour, with each question he fields about Feed the Children, Garth thinks not only of the kids that will be helped by the estimated $3 million that his album sales will contribute to the cause, but also of his own child back home. “Children aren’t just nameless faces somewhere else now,” he says as we fly between Chicago and New York, the last leg of the trip. “They’ve got faces just like the face that’s now in my house.”
And it’s that face that dominates Garth’s mind these days. “The hardest thing is seeing how much Taylor grows each time I come home,” he says. “Even though I may be gone only four or five days, I come home and go, ‘My God, she’s twice the size she was before!’ Each time I’m away, it’s like I’ve left my arms or my legs, like I’m missing a very real part of me. It’s hard to explain, but I sure feel like I’m less when I’m away from my wife and my baby.”
When he’s home—in his recently renovated Colonial-style house on 20 hilly acres north of Nashville—he throws himself completely into his new parenting role.
“Sandy has all these parenting books around the house, and I picked one up and was reading about how you should never talk to a baby like a baby,” he says. “It said you should talk to them like you’d talk to anyone else. So that’s what I did. I’d sit there in front of the TV and rock her as I watched the Olympics, and I’d tell her about the games, about the Olympic spirit, about the runner who pulled a hamstring in the middle of a race. I don’t know if talking to her like that’s going to do any good, but we’ll see.”
He also hopes to draw on his own parents as role models. “I really admire my dad,” he says. “He was frank, and when you walked away from him, you were never left wondering what he meant: He put it right down the middle. My mom, on the other hand, would sometimes make things up to make you feel better. There’s something to be said for that, too.”
He remembers playing a high-school football game and missing a key pass that cost his team a victory. “My dad said, ‘You took your eye off the ball before it got there.’ But my mom saw that I was feeling terrible, and she said, ‘There was a guy in the stands who said, “Throw it to number 88 again! Give him another chance!”’ I know now that she was making it up—there never was that guy in the stands—but I bought it at the time. It really picked my spirits up.”
Taylor’s arrival this past summer capped a six-month period of troubled intensity for Garth and Sandy, who suffered the scare of a near miscarriage in the spring. Garth also found himself dogged by an unfavorable buzz that he created in a widely read USA Weekend newspaper interview in which he was quoted as saying that his onetime extramarital fling had the effect, when it was over, of spicing up his love life with Sandy.
“I got tons of backlash about that,” he says. “I was trying to say that even though what I did was wrong, the husband that came out of the situation was a better husband, and the wife was a better wife.” He doesn’t recall using the word dynamo, as he was quoted, to describe what Sandy became after he confessed his affair. “I can’t recall ever using that word in my life, but there it was,” he says. “I read the story and thought, ‘How did that ever come out of what I was trying to say?’”
Partly as a result of that incident, he has become more media conscious than ever before, more guarded about what he says, more aware of how words can boomerang back to conk you in the head. At a press conference in Dallas, for instance, someone asked him if he’d like to run for president. Garth, replied, jokingly, that he “couldn’t take the cut in pay.” The next morning, the local news reported his comment—but without mentioning the jokey atmosphere in which it was delivered. “I saw it on the news, and if I hadn’t been at that press conference myself, I’d think, ‘Man, that Garth Brooks is a smart aleck.”
Garth Brooks for president? If everyone who bought one of his albums cast a vote in his favor, he’d be a force to be reckoned with. But it’s safe to say that running for political office isn’t on his agenda—even though Garth’s will-he-or-won’t-he-quit status brings to mind the on-again, off-again presidential campaign of Ross Perot. It’s common knowledge that Garth has a college degree in marketing, and he is aware that some of his fans may think he contrived the whole on-the-verge-of-quitting scenario as a publicity ploy.
“I can’t blame people for doubting,” he says. “But I’m not trying to convince anybody. I’m just trying to be honest with people. I would never condemn Ross Perot, but I know people felt he let them down, and that’s what I want to avoid.
“I want people to know why I’m facing what I’m facing. Lord willing, I’m going to be able to keep singing. But if I don’t—get ready, because it might be coming to an end.”