I can remember the day he was born or at least I have a collage of feelings and images that have melded into memory. It was a warm September day and I was out on my bike along with much of the neighborhood. We were all tooling up and down Crabtree Lane, crisscrossing between driveways and each other. The sun was high in the bluest of Autumn skies when my father came driving home, top down in his red convertible, the blaring orchestral music filling the whole of us. Before that day our family was comprised of 3 boys and 2 girls, and I wished for months with fervent prayer to even the teams. I can still picture my father stepping out of his car, beaming with news of the latest son. I turned my wheels fast and headed down the block in defeat, but that sorrow was short lived, because when the bundle did finally arrive home, I was taken in by a kindred spirit.
Tate Buckley Donovan took us all to a better place. I have no idea if this is a common feeling when the baby of the family finally arrives, but it is true as gold for me. Everything became more fun when he arrived. I loved just being with him. We would go chill in the park together or hang with the hippies getting high in the woods or take a Saturday art class or swim for hours at the club. Sure, in the early days I thought I wanted another sister and he obliged by putting on whatever costume I needed him to when completing my dramas, but eventually I cared less about team wins and more about just being with him. We were often split into two groups, the older three and the younger three, which always suited me just fine because those two were more than willing to be in my buddy club.
As adorable as he was, he was clever and competent and eventually towered over me. I watched him grow into a person who could walk onto a stage and capture an audience, and afterwards was humbled by any praise. He always wanted to know what was up with me. He always wanted to talk. Even as a senior in high school, when ditching family would have been the cooler choice, he’d include his now married and pregnant sister in his plans. Probably everyone who knows Tate, who calls him friend or cousin or uncle, and most certainly brother, would say the same. He has the rare ability to hear and see you, even when you are unsure what you are even saying and where you are headed in your life. Perhaps that is why he is so loved. He gets you at your center, raw and real.
As then just like that, he wasn’t ours alone. Tate’s career is one for the books, and can be found with a click. I am as proud of his work in the entertainment industry as he is in my career as a high school English teacher. Even as fast cars and faster women were part of his day to day, he was always a phone call away, and even closer if needed.
When I first separated, even before the divorce, he reached out in seconds. Saying he was always there for me is such an understatement for he just always was. Like always. And not just me, but for my three kiddos. He never had to ask what they wanted for a birthday or Christmas gift, because he alway knew what they would want. He always knew them. All that listening that I was the recipient of, they were too. Which is a marvel considering by this point we lived 3000 miles apart and during the best year only saw each other 3 or 4 times. Those were crazy and tough years, when it seemed like I always needed to lean on someone, but Tate never made me feel like I had failed. Family breakups can sink a gal, but he managed to buoy me until I somehow bounced back.
Survival in northern Vermont often takes leaving it briefly in winter. Tate’s door was always open to me. Arriving with a slew of kids or later arriving to see my kids who now were his neighbors, it mattered not, his casa was my casa. We’d fall right back into conversation, some of them sticky as we tried to sort out all the craziness of childhood hurts and traumas, some filled with those crazy diamonds from living a creative life. Some conversations left us laughing. Most involved tea in a green cup under a blue sky.
Tate loved our mother, which frankly was easy. But Tate loved her in a way that set her free. Their birthdays were close, and on a rare but lucky time, I got to see them share a cake. (But that is another point– that guy will share a birthday cake with anyone. He never needs attention and is always happy to share the glow). Tate walked red carpets with our mother and let her work the room during the after-parties. It never took long before the spotlight was on her, and her stories, filled with inaccuracies that might embarrass a person with less surety, but Tate would smile and let her have the moment.
Hollywood really didn’t have a chance, that force on the stage transferred brilliantly onto the screen, big or small, it matters not. I am not qualified to discuss what makes an actor exceptional, all I know is you know it when you see it, and when Tate appears, you feel it.
I am always left wondering how he manages to transform and still bring that same purity into his performances. From the voice of Hercules to John Hammond in “Respect” he has had an amazing career. Being on the set with him has been a great honor, and yes, of course meeting other actors is wonderful, but seriously, it is in watching him chat with the food truck guy or the makeup person or anyone working on the other side of the camera who he treats the way you’d want to be treated that makes me so proud of him.
Of course having a family is hands down Tate’s greatest joy. A wife who not only loves him but is willing to let his whole unruly family pop in and out when they wish, and a step son who trusts and admires him, and yes, a dog who is absolutely obsessed with him.
My favorite ocean buddy, a man who has earned all the love and devotion and trust a sister could have, and who I hope to spent even more days and nights with in our future, is certainly this terrific guy. Please join me in wishing Tate Donovan a Happy Birthday. Hope it’s perfect T. xxoo