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Family Harmony


How One Local Dad and Son Connected Through Music and Guitar-Making



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Justin, Connor, Brandon and JT Leland at home in Bakersfield. Photos courtesy of the Leland family.
Father and son hobbies, like woodworking, playing music together, and discovering a mutual affinity for older songs, may be less common in the age of phones and social media. One local dad has made the most of the internet and California’s shelter-in-place order, however, to share his love of music with his teenage son. 

When local KBAK Fox 58 affiliate “Bakersfield Now” contacted Justin Leland to report on his hobbies, he admits feeling surprised and a little perplexed. 

“I have to admit, my first thought was ‘Well, this must be a really slow news day,’ but then I realized, ‘This must be because of the drastic situation we’re all in right now, with no clear end in sight,” said Justin. “This kind of fits the bill for a feel-good story.’” 

Leland recently posted photos to his personal Facebook account that showed a guitar he made from a kit purchased online. His son, Connor, 13, saw it come together and expressed interest in assembling his own guitar.

“One of my friends sent the post along to local news,” said Justin. “I had posted them online for friends and family who can’t see the boys right now, grandparents who are 100 miles away, to keep up with them during an indefinite lockdown.”

Before long, local media was knocking at his door to film as Connor finished his guitar. 

“I wanted to spend time with my Dad and learn with him,” said Connor. “It took about 10 hours. I learned about sanding, painting, and a little about the electronics.” 

How it All Started

Justin Leland, a financial advisor, local radio show contributor on 96.1’s radio show “Moneywise Guys,” and father of three, may not be known for music or woodworking, but he’s clearly a dedicated dad making the most of time with his sons. 

“I’m not a great musician, no. I’ve played the guitar since high school not because I’m good at it, but because I like it,” he said. “I played at church as a teenager, but the way life goes, you lose hobbies after you have kids sometimes. It’s all work, work, work. Then you get home and take care of kids, change diapers, give them what they need. I lost some of that skill and there were times I played less, but I never quit.” 

Justin has been working from home during the pandemic for the past two months. 

“My job keeps me really busy, but in quarantine, there’s just a little bit more time to reflect and to occasionally work on something else,” said Justin. “I already had a guitar here that I’d take out from time to time, but with that little bit of extra time, I thought ‘Hey, I’ll build one. Connor saw it and wanted to build one too.” 

Building Strong Connections

Justin laughed at the idea that he might have had some underlying woodworking talent or significant experience. 

“Honestly, very little. Basically, it’s just a kit you put together and for $150 to $200, you can buy a pretty decent one on Amazon. It’s not difficult on the woodworking. You’d maybe need a scroll saw, a sander, and basic knowledge of how to sand, stain and prime,” he explained. “The body of the guitar is already created. The holes where the pick-ups are supposed to go are already there. You sand it, paint it and make it how you like and it’s good to go. A guitar can be a weekend project.”

At the time of this interview, Justin was expecting the delivery of a third guitar kit from Amazon, which he predicts will be the family’s last.

Connor is headed to eighth grade at a local middle school next fall, where he will play the flute in marching band. 

“We saw that love of music from a young age,” said Justin. “Connor always wanted to do something musical. Whenever there was music on in the car, he gravitated toward it.  At Christmastime, when he was 5, we got him a drum set that died a slow, painful death, because he was playing it too hard. And, it was driving us nuts, because it was a little bit too loud. He tried out the guitar but never really learned how to play it. Then, Connor started the flute in elementary school and started marching band in sixth grade.” 

Justin’s pride in Connor was evident as he explained his son’s progress. Sharing music, from classic rock ‘n roll that Justin loves to the ‘90s-era alternative rock like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana that Connor prefers, is something the father and son can also share. 

“When I can show him the chord progression on that particular song or have him ad lib and get that musicality down, that’s when it feels like something special,” said Justin. “He’ll always have a guitar with his own name on it.”

All in the Family 

Justin’s active role with his kids doesn’t stop with just his middle son. He makes an effort to find what his sons are interested in and connect on their level. 

Later this summer, he hopes to participate in a 50-mile backpacking trip in New Mexico that he and oldest son, JT, 17, have been training for all year. 

“JT’s way is more being outdoors, hiking, camping, getting dirty. The music has been more of a Dad and Connor thing. Brandon is 3 so that’s still very young but I’m on the lookout for if he’s going to be interested in sports or just what exactly,” said Justin. “You’ve got to find a way to be able to bond and connect with them.”

Knowing how to discover your child’s talents and interests may be different for every family, but Justin’s best advice is to listen to your kids. 

 

“Understand what they’re good at and what they’re passionate about. There are other avenues to help guide that passion. Be open to that. Not every kid is going to be able to go out into the garage and make a guitar. Accept that,” he said. “All are completely different human beings with different strengths, weaknesses, and passions.”

Even when teens cannot seem to talk with their parents about anything else, perhaps a shared interest may be just the common ground they need.

As for Connor, he lists his favorite band as Led Zeppelin and recommends kids also check in with their parents about interests and hobbies they could enjoy together.

“Just ask them to see if they’d be interested in it first,” said Connor. 

Although the teen is ready to see friends and wants to go watch a movie when quarantine ends, he admits this time has been memorable because of the time spent with his dad and the making of the guitar. 

 

Spending more time with family is a rare positive in the COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes with creative efforts, too. What may seem simple to adults has a way of forming childhood memories for the household’s youngest members. 

If you have a story to share about unique quarantine activities, email callie@kerncountyfamily.com for editorial consideration. 

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