Love him, hate him, idolize him, or never met him — chances are good you’ve got strong feelings about your father. Yet, for men in particular, expressing those feelings directly can be awkward, even impossible.
That was the case for Dwier Brown. The youngest of three children, raised in rural Ohio by loving if stoic Midwesterners, Brown was in his teens when he discovered his passion for acting. He made his way to Hollywood, where in 1988 he landed a gig that would change his life: playing Kevin Costner’s father in a baseball movie with the working title Shoeless Joe. Renamed Field of Dreams before its 1989 release, the film quickly became a father/son classic: the story of a rookie farmer who follows the promptings of a mysterious voice and is granted one last chance to make things right with his dad.
In his readable, warmly humorous new memoir, If You Build It…: A Book About Fathers, Fate and Field of Dreams, Brown reflects on the way a relatively small role transformed him. He writes of his days on the set: a farmhouse and cornfield in Dyersville, Iowa. Interspersed between anecdotes about working alongside Costner and James Earl Jones are vivid scenes drawn from Brown’s earlier life and reflections on his relationship with his father: a loyal, hardworking family man who found it hard to show affection openly.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the film, and Ojai-based Brown is currently touring the country in a Winnebago, visiting bookstores and minor-league ball games to promote his book. On Father’s Day, he’ll meet up with Costner and other members of the cast in Dyersville, where the baseball pitch from Field of Dreams has been maintained.
In a recent interview, Brown spoke about landing the role at a pivotal time in his life. “I found out that I had gotten the part, and I was getting ready to visit my family in Ohio before heading to the film set,” he recounted. “Then I got word that my dad was in the hospital. I just had this feeling that I couldn’t wait a week, so I changed my plane ticket. When I got there, I saw my dad was sicker than anyone had let me know.”
His father died that night, and two weeks later, a dazed Brown found himself on the set, wandering cornfields not unlike those of his childhood. “At first, I was happy to have the diversion,” he recalled. “But when we got around to shooting the final scene, I was surprised to find myself blocked emotionally.”
In order to pull off the powerful exchange with Costner, Brown had to access his feelings about his own father. Whether despite or because of his fresh grief, the scene is among the most poignant in popular film — one that sticks with viewers long after the credits have rolled.
In fact, in the 25 years since the film’s release, complete strangers have approached Brown regularly, eager to talk about not just the film but also their relationships with their own fathers. He has peppered his memoir with monologues based on these “confessions,” which he says he is honored to hear.
“There are very few places to process our contradictory feelings about our fathers,” Brown noted. “Sports are one place where fathers try to communicate with their sons — to teach them how hard work pays off, how to be responsible to a team, a family. The movie simplifies that relationship and creates the perfect reconciliation between father and son.”
Maybe more than any other sport, he added, baseball’s rhythms and pacing allow for all kinds of unspoken communication, much as relationships between fathers and sons often do. As he writes in the final chapter of his book, even a simple game of catch can convey a profound message: “Throwing the ball is like saying ‘I give to you’ and catching it is like saying ‘I get from you,’ he writes.
“‘I give to you, I get from you,’ over and over again.”
To learn more about If You Build It, visit dwierbrown.com. Copies are also available on amazon.com.