Daddy Daughter Day: Bridges to a Closer Relationship
It was on her thirteenth birthday that Isabelle Bridges moved to Montecito with her family – actor father Jeff Bridges, mother Susan, and sisters Jessie and Haley – leaving L.A. following the1994 Northridge Earthquake for the verdant hills of the village. So that was a few years after the last of the play dates with her dad that form the basis of her new children’s book, Daddy Daughter Day.
The memories of those moments are still sharp in the mind of Isabelle Bridges-Boesch, and how they’ve taken shape via the book that features scores of illustrations by Jeff. The whimsical, fluid, shape-shifting pastel drawings accompany the story of a young girl named Belle spending a full day frolicking with her father, and is chock full of imaginative yet largely autobiographical scenarios including playing Beauty Parlor, making grass soup, and enacting circus acts.
The book, which reveals a side of the Academy Award winning actor we’ve rarely seen before, is meant to inspire dads and daughters – or any family members, for that matter – to discover the joy in using play to forge close connections, but it’s adorable enough for even without children to treasure.
Bridges-Boesch will discuss Daddy Daughter Day – which was published on October 6 – in a Chaucer’s Virtual Book Talk at 3 pm on Sunday, October 11, which just so happens to be the date for this year’s Father-Daughter Day unofficial holiday – a fact Isabelle only discovered during a walk with her dad on the beach last weekend. Visit chaucersbooks.com/event for information on the Zoom event, and log on to https://daddydaughterday.com for details about the book.
She gave us some background on the book and growing up playing make-believe with her dad, aka “The Dude,” over the phone last Sunday.
Q. What prompted you to write this book with your dad?
A. That’s hard to answer because it doesn’t feel super linear. If I go all the way back, it began the same way our book started in that I told my dad that I got this great idea about writing a story about a girl spending the whole day with her dad that I would call Daddy Daughter Day. I had written a number of children’s stories before and when I told him about this one, that lightbulb went on for him. He told me if I wrote it he’d illustrate it, and it would be our own daddy-daughter project. Four years later, here we are.
Did all those adventures actually take place at home, or did you embellish a bit?
It’s semi-autobiographical. I grew up with two younger sisters, but the Belle in the book has a younger brother. And while I had time with my dad, we didn’t spend full days together like the book implies, although we definitely did each of the things that Belle and her dad in the book do, just not all on one day.
Why did you decide to use a younger brother rather than your own sisters?
I have a daughter, Grace, who is nine, and she has a younger brother, Benjamin, who is five. So that’s actually also semi-autobiographical, because the book is also about their relationship, and they also have a close relationship with my dad, whom they call their “Dude-y”.
How did the collaboration work? Was it done separately where you wrote and he did the drawings, or did you go back and forth and talk things over?
I originally wrote Daddy Daughter Day as a two-page story. But as we began to collaborate and work with our publisher, we really wanted it to be dialogue-based. The story shifted from just a he said-she said story to one that was about the dialogue itself. As the illustrations began to form, they started to tell a story of their own, so we also followed that story as well.
So the book is a mix of both your memories and his?
Yeah. When I was young, we would make soup together and play with pottery. That was a big part of the way my dad and I spent time together in the past, and we’ll still throw pots together and talk about our dreams like we do in the book. I grew up going to see Cirque du Soleil and when we’d come home from one of the shows, we’d do our own circus. My sisters and I would run up on my dad’s knees and throw our hands up in the air.
What’s also true is the part about wanting to have my dad all to myself because my time with him was so limited. Kids want to feel special. They want to invent a special holiday that’s just about them. I wanted that to come through in the book with Belle and Sammy. My hope with it is to look at the method of the time that we spend with our loved ones, especially now in these times (the pandemic). It’s important that the intentionality that we bring to our relationship is meaningful and it doesn’t have to be Thanksgiving or one of the big family holidays. We can invent our own.
I read an interview where you talked about that when your father was home, it was like having the greatest, most imaginative friend in the world because he is also “a great pretender” at home. That seems pretty special, because I know a lot of actors just want to be only themselves and relax when they’re not working.
That’s true of all adults, I think. When my kids say mommy, come play with me, honestly it’s not something that I love to do. I know how important it is, so I do play make believe with them, but, to be honest, probably not often enough. So remembering when my dad would get down on the ground with me, and still does now with his grandkids, it’s really wonderful. You co-create this world, whether it’s me and my Barbie dolls where he would take on one of the Barbie characters, or with my kids where he always wants to play the game too. If you build a castle with blocks and have ideas about where the water is going, he’s going to really jump in. I don’t think that most grandparents or dads or moms, frankly, enter the child’s world in the same way that he’s willing to. I genuinely think it’s because he can go to this imaginative place that the kids just naturally go.
I really liked seeing the drawings of the part where he would let you dress him up and put flowers in his hair. I mean, after all the time he must’ve spent in hair and makeup on a movie set…
Oh, my gosh. He’s still doing it today! My kids have so much fun with it. Oh, yeah. And now with the big beard? There’s flowers in the beard and then the ponytail in his hair, and the furry eyebrows. Oh, yeah.
It’s just so hard to picture “The Dude” that way. And speaking of which, you were still a teenager when The Big Lebowskicame out. I read that you didn’t really like that character.
I enjoyed the movie. But it wasn’t that cool to me because he was just my embarrassing dad. The added layer in my life is that the things that I’m embarrassed by have other people are going, “That’s so cool.” I just want to roll my eyes, you know, because I don’t see what’s so cool about it.
OK then. What do your own kids think of Daddy Daughter Day?
Well, my daughter is writing her own book. She has been very inspired by the whole process. She’s seen this project go from its inception as just an idea, then onto the scrap pages and through the editing process. Now she says to me, “Well, mommy, I’m drawing the pictures and writing the words to my own book.” So she feels very, very empowered by the whole process. I’m so proud of her and it’s great that she’s emulating the book creation as well as what’s inside the book.
A) Childhood play dates between Isabelle Bridges-Boesch and her actor father Jeff Bridges form the basis of her new children’s book, Daddy Daughter Day
B) Isabelle Bridges-Boesch’s Daddy Daughter Day reveals a side of Jeff Bridges, aka “The Dude,” that we’ve rarely seen before