Ty Pennington Reveals the Bizarre Way He First Met His Father at Age 5: 'He Isn't a Great Parent'
"It's safe to say my family isn't built on a strong foundation," Pennington writes in his forthcoming memoir Life to the Extreme
For the first few years of his life, Ty Pennington didn’t know his father.
The Trading Spaces star’s earliest memory of meeting his dad was a surprise run-in at an arcade when he was in kindergarten, he recalls in his forthcoming memoir, Life to the Extreme: How a Chaotic Kid Became America's Favorite Carpenter (out May 14).
Pennington, born Gary Tygert Burton Jr., was playing on a pinball machine with his older brother Wynn, when a man approached them and gave him a handful of quarters.
“This happens several times as we continue to play in the arcade center in Underground Atlanta while mom is somewhere next door at the jazz club called Dante’s Down the Hatch,” he writes.
Eventually, he says, his mom returned and saw the stranger and asked Pennington if he knew who the man was.
But the 5-year-old was at a loss, asking, “Is he someone on the news?”
His mom responded, “That’s your father.” But the moment wasn’t a great watershed for the youngster.
“‘Cool,'” he recalls saying. “Can I have more quarters?”
The Extreme Makeover: Home Edition alum’s relationship with his dad, a jazz musician also named Gary, has been tumultuous over the years, with the pair meeting up and falling out several times throughout his childhood. As the TV carpenter puts it, he’s “a dreamer, but he isn’t a great parent or a great financier.”
In the memoir he writes, “It’s safe to say my family isn’t built on a strong foundation, but rather contains lots of cracks and fault lines from the very beginning. And sometimes when a foundation is crumbling, you need to be able to move that home to another location. It isn’t easy, but it’s often worth the trouble.”
His parents separated when he was three years old, and his mom, Yvonne Vickery, remarried to a man named Nick Pennington, who was the bass player in Ty’s father’s band. Ty explains that Nick, whose last name he decided to take as his own, is who he considers to be his real dad.
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For years, Ty didn’t have a relationship with his father, but when he was 15, he decided to visit him over spring break.
Gary drove him to Ocoee, Florida, to meet his new wife and their three daughters, and when they stopped at a gas station, they had an exchange that Ty says embodies their relationship. His dad asked, him, “Hey, Ty. You got five bucks I can borrow?”
“I look at my father behind the wheel of the parked car and wonder if he’s joking,” Pennington writes. “I’m thinking, Are you kidding? I’m fifteen. I mow lawns. But I just nod and tell him sure and give him the $5. When he climbs back in the car a few minutes later, he’s holding a can of beer.”
He remembers Gary telling him of the purchase, “‘Don’t say anything about this.”
On that same trip, the father and son decided to build a sailboat together, but ironically considering Ty’s future profession, constructed it entirely out of plywood.
“For the first time in my life, someone’s showing me how to do this and that, and he’s my actual father,” Pennington writes of the memory. “Doing the very thing fathers should do. It only takes fifteen years for it to happen.” Of course the minute they put it in the water, it sank and disappeared.
“Perhaps this is a foreshadowing about our relationship,” he writes. “Someone’s telling me, ‘Uh, yeah, Ty? That ship has literally already sailed, and just in case you’re wondering, well, there you go.'”