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Rolling Stone Profiles A Suburban Dad

Posted August 7, 2007

It's hard to believe that it's been twenty years this week since John Guralnik became a suburban dad. Those years have been ones of pride, tension, substance abuse, and that kind but firm demeanor that has been Guralnik's signature. This bold visionary pioneered a brave new approach, whether by genius or madness showing the world how to be a father of three living in a ranch house in Walnut Creek, California.

From a young age Guralnik somehow knew he wanted to be a suburban Dad. His influences include a panoply of father figures worthy of their own Hall Of Fame. "In my neighborhood there were always dads around. You know, working on cars, mowing the lawn. Even my dad had a dad. It was like predestination."

There was a dark side to John that drove his desires. His father, a factory foreman, worked long hours, and John rarely saw him before dark. The young rebel promised himself he wouldn't be like his father. He locked himself in his room night after night. Looking for an outlet for his rage, he picked up a guitar and started to play. Like a sign from the heavens a string broke, so John put it down and plunged into accounting textbooks, which provided a steady income stream to catch that suburban dream.

It all started out in 1987 on a hot sweaty night near legendary punk club Berkeley Square, where John parked the car to be closer to the hospital delivery room. Even then, John showed facility with parking large vehicles in tight spaces.

He laughs as he lights the grill and reminisces about the birth of that first child. "To think I was too cheap to pay for the hospital parking garage," he laughs.

Back in the early days there were wild nights, full of screaming and vomiting at all hours. Guralnik held it together to make it into work each morning, but at a cost. He developed a serious substance abuse problem with what he calls the Suburban speedball.

"Those first years were a total blur. It all just flew by in a haze of birthdays and diapers. After a rough night I might drink four or five cups of coffee in the morning. You know, just to get through the long meetings. But that coffee lights a fire in your brain. At first you're really productive, then you need ore, and by the end of the day you're sick and jittery. Some nights I would drink a Heineken just to go to sleep. The cycle would go on for days, until I reached the weekend."

Guralnik realized the road he was going down. Scoffing rehab, Guralnik looked his demons in the eye and switched to decaf. "I've had a lot of support," he says. "And I've had to establish boundaries. Every time I go to the mall I see a Starbucks, but I can't go in there. Especially if I'm stressed."

A rebel like John can't avoid entanglements with the law. There have been parking tickets and he was once audited by the IRS, although the case was resolved as a case of mistaken identity. "I think there's a Jon Guralnik across town."

Although Guralnik's oeuvre hasn't ever maintained commercial success, his dogged determination has lent him a certain critical respectability. "John's a genius," notes Ted Light, who's known John since college, and owns a home in the same cul-de-sac. "You should see him parallel park his Subaru. Not that you need to do that around here."

Looking back John has perspective on his work. "The first kid, Margaret, was solid. Cute, smart, an easy child.

"Our sophomore effort was shaky. I feel like we rushed things. There was a lot of pressure to get a kid out by Christmas.

"But the third time we really nailed it. Toby's the best you could hope for.

John admits the fathering isn't as cutting edge as it used to be. "Back in the day I had to drive to the emergency room when Toby put a pinto bean in his nose. Nowadays we mostly drive to the mall." He's glad to have more time to himself, and considers getting involved in charity or remodeling the downstairs bathroom.

After reminiscing to the wild days, Guralnik has no interest in looking back. "There won't be any more children, but in my own small way I feel like I added something to the world."



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