18/06/2006 by Marianne Garvey for New York Post
John Lloyd Young was sitting in his seat at Radio City last Sunday, waiting, hoping to hear his name called as the Tony Award winner for Best Actor in a Musical.
Young’s father, Karl, also sat in the audience praying that his son would win for his role as Frankie Valli in the hit “Jersey Boys.”
That night, in a way, it was just the two of them – as it had been in the beginning.
Young’s mom, Rosemarie, died of cystic fibrosis when he was just 2.
Father and son lived in upstate Plattsburgh, where Karl, an Air Force colonel, was stationed.
His job forced him to travel for weeks at a time, so young John would stay with the neighborhood baby sitter, Milly, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and playing with someone else’s toys.
“I remember being sad, going to sleep in a room at night that wasn’t mine. When he would go, I would sit on his boot and he’d have to drag me until he left,” Young said.
“But he was always a parent; he didn’t let someone else raise me. I remember thinking, ‘He’s my father; he chose to keep me.’ ”
His father would comfort him when he had recurring dreams of his mother and her flowing black hair, and he answered every question his young son asked about her.
The two share memories of eating New England clam chowder, which they called “snake soup,” and 4:30 a.m. car rides to McDonald’s to get Egg McMuffins and orange juice.
“My father was a military man; he preferred an early start,” Young laughed.
The two developed a rock-solid bond, but when the straight-edged colonel began to see signs that his son longed to be an entertainer, it became a source of tension.
“When he was a baby, he used to have this pencil he pretended was a microphone,” Karl said. “You want your kids to be happy, but I worried about him struggling. I knew he was talented, but thought the odds were steep.”
But there was no discouraging Young. When he was 3, his father married again, and his stepmom, Gail, encouraged his singing. At age 6, she took him to see “Annie” on Broadway, and he was hooked.
His first role was as a munchkin in a community theater production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“He had moxie – he was so little, and did such a good job,” Karl said of Young’s first gig.
But it wouldn’t be easy. When he graduated from Brown University, Young moved to a rooming house in Port Chester, where he took temporary jobs, collected unemployment, and tried to get acting gigs.
“I never thought of stopping, but there were times when I thought, ‘How can I continue to live this way, temping and not getting work?’
“My father was very stressed out. At times, he tried to redirect me, and I took offense. I knew I had what it took.”
Karl offered alternatives – like becoming a stockbroker.
Then, Young made it to the Big Apple, started getting roles, and was cast in a word-of-mouth hit called “Jersey Boys.” After Karl came to see Young in the show (which won a Tony for Best Musical last week), he sent his son an e-mail: “I always secretly wanted to be a performer. Now I can live vicariously through you.”
Young had no idea. It felt like a breakthrough for father and son after so many years of tension.
When Young heard he was nominated for a Tony, he prepared a speech with his father in mind.
“It was just the two of us, and he was my whole world,” he wrote. “I am very proud to share this with my father. Dad, we are among 6,000 people tonight, but for some reason, I am remembering that first struggle that we got through together, and somehow it feels like it’s just the two of us again.”
Waiting for the winner to be called, Young sat and listened. Amazingly, it was him. He bounded up to the stage and read his message to his father.
As he finished, Young saw Karl running down the aisle, crying. It was another surprise.
Karl was almost speechless. “This is the greatest thing he’s ever given me. He just won the biggest award on Broadway and thought of me,” he told The Post. “It was humbling, emotional. It was validation. Every parent wants to know what they did was right.”
Young said being able to thank his father in public is better than any statue he received.
“The award helped heal my relationship with my father,” he said. “He needed it the most; he needed to know I respected him. After a decade of me going after this, it’s a big sigh of relief for his worries.”
“To all the fathers at odds with their sons, finding common ground is beautiful,” he said.
If he hadn’t won, Young said he would have delivered the same message to his dad in writing – but he would have done it today, Father’s Day.