Jack Lemmon's son Chris was also an actor, but left the profession for a career that allows him to spend more time at home with his family. He says that decision was prompted by memories of growing up in the shadow of a famous father who was seldom home with his family.
As Chris Lemmon watched his father lying in a hospital bed dying of cancer four years ago, he reflected on their unique relationship. "I'd pull my chair up next to his bedside and take his hand and I'd remember the wonderful time we had together."
But they weren't all wonderful. "My father and my mother went through that sort of compulsory Hollywood divorce, when I was quite young," he says. "When you're as a big star as Jack Lemmon, you're forced to place yourself and your career first. I was yearning for my father to be there. And what I had instead in my everyday life was an empty chair at the end of the table… an image that will haunt me for the rest of my days."
However, Lemmon recalls, the busy star recognized what his young son was going through. "So, he decided to take me on adventures," he says. "They really resurrected our relationship together. That, and our mutual love of music and later in my life, golf. It all really started with these wonderful adventures, once a year, for a week or two. For example, he'd come and take me to Alaska to go fly-fishing.
Through these adventures, Lemmon says, he came to know the real man behind the movie star image. "If you think he's funny on screen, he's funnier off screen," he says. "Going fishing with Jack Lemmon entailed watching him fall in the stream repeatedly or sit on the bank trying to undo all the knots in his fly line. I don't think he hardly ever fished! He was so fun and funny. If I had to put one word on it, he was so magical. Wherever you went with Jack Lemmon, it was always magical."
In his book, A Twist of Lemmon: A Tribute to My Father, Chris Lemmon recalls the times that shaped his relationship with his father… and his understanding of himself. "I had actually had some difficulty coming to terms with my own self identity, a lot of which was due to being identified as Jack Lemmon's son not as Chris Lemmon," he says. "I was concerned with how I was going to find my way from beneath my father's iconic shadow. I learned a wonderful lesson from that, which was, don't be so hard on yourself, trust yourself, take it easy."
At that moment, Lemmon says, he realized that he didn't need to live his life solely for the approval of others. That helped him develop his own personality, and eventually, choose his own path in life. "I worked as an actor for 25 straight years, but I never felt fulfilled. I always wanted to create," he says. "I always wanted to write."
So - in 1999 - he became a fulltime writer, and a fulltime father. "I have 3 children: a daughter, 16, and two boys, 11 and 9," he says. "Because I wanted to be there seven days a week, all the time, for my children, we decided to move away from Hollywood and New York. We live in the country, in New England right now. I'm there every morning when my kids wake up. I drive them to school. Then I come and I do my thing as a writer. At night I go home and I cook dinner for them with my wife. We sit down seven nights a week at that table because that's the one thing that will always haunt me, the empty chair at the end of the table. My three children will never have to go through that."
However, this Father's day [June 18], Chris Lemmon will not be at the table. He's on a book tour, talking not only about his father but fatherhood, a topic, he says, that's not discussed very often. "For anybody who doesn't have a close relationship with their father, take it from me, please think about it twice," he says. "Go to that person and tell them you love them, tell them that and hold them and hug them every day because they might be gone tomorrow. And you don't know what you have until you lose it."
Chris Lemmon hopes readers will realize how important and universal the father-son relationship is in guiding the sons' passage to adulthood.