‘The A-Team’ star’s role of a lifetime is as a father

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Dirk Benedict and his son Roland walk down Central Avenue in Whitefish on Wednesday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

Three-year-old Roland Benedict was playing in a Los Angeles park in the mid-1990s when another boy told him something completely preposterous. Utter balderdash. A ridiculous thing so silly and far-fetched even a 3-year-old knew it was bunk.

So he came confidently bounding over to his dad with a question to which he already knew the answer, because of course he did. Of course a son would have known this about his dad. Who would keep it a secret?

“He goes ‘Daddy, daddy! That boy; that boy says you acted in TV, ‘The A-Team,’” Dirk Benedict remembered earlier this week while sitting next to his son Roland, now 27, at a coffee shop.

“And this is what (Roland) said.”

Dirk put on a pouty face and raised his voice to imitate an indignant little boy.

“‘I told him he was wrong, right?’

“And I thought, ‘Oh, crap.’”

THE ACTOR who played Templeton “Faceman” Peck, the debonair, smooth-talking soldier of fortune and member of the A-Team, could not easily hide at a park in Los Angeles in the 1990s. They don’t call you “Faceman” for nothing.

But it wasn’t out of shyness or shame or secrecy or even, Dirk says, with any intent that he kept his turn on an iconic 1980s TV show from his son. It had simply never come up.

“I had no interest in watching it and they didn’t say, ‘hey, could we?’” Dirk said. “And also, we were doing more interesting things than watching their dad on TV. What’s the point of that?”

Dirk, 72, who had previously starred as Lt. Starbuck in the late 1970s on “Battlestar Galactica” and boasts dozens of other film and TV credits to his name, did sit down with Roland and his older brother, George, and watch some old “The A-Team” episodes after that day in the park.

But his career and his celebrity were never top of mind, mostly because once George was born a switch flipped, rather dramatically, in Dirk’s mind. Suddenly, like a lightning bolt, a more than 40-year-old man who had never even wanted children became a devout dad.

“For the first time in my life there was a purpose,” Dirk said. “I’ll tell you what it’s like. Life without children is like a camera without film. You know, it looks good, it’s fantastic, it clicks, you can focus, but then you don’t end up with anything.

“It was chemical,” Dirk said of the change he experienced. “It stunned me. I couldn’t believe how it changed me.”

When Roland was 4 years old, the three boys and their mother, actress Toni Hudson, left California and moved into a small log cabin on the eastern shore of Flathead Lake. Dirk, who said he fell into acting “by accident,” is a White Sulphur Springs native and was drawn back to the Montana lifestyle.

Hudson lived in the cabin for only a short while before leaving in 1995 — she moved back to Los Angeles and she and Dirk divorced — and Faceman settled in to his newest role as a single dad. The cabin, Roland estimated, was less than 1,000-square feet and rather quaint. The family had no TV, a bath with no shower and a wood-burning stove. Dirk cheekily described his kids “living a deprived childhood” during the eight or nine months of the year they stayed with him in Montana.

“Where we were was kind of secluded,” Roland said. “It wasn’t like I lived in a neighborhood in Whitefish and I could go run over to my buddy’s house.”

“And so a lot of the play time was with our dad,” he added later. “And it was simple games … poker, board games, reading.”

The Benedict boys spent almost all of their time together.

“I may not have been the best dad, I would never say that,” Dirk said. “But I can match the amount of time I spent with my sons up against anybody.”

Dirk encouraged his children to pursue their passions, whatever they were, and the result was sports-obsessed Roland and reader/philosopher George or, as Roland put it, “two halves of my dad.”

“This is a lesson in life, to be open,” Dirk said. “I never wanted to be an actor, I never wanted to be a director, I never wanted to be a father, I never wanted to be a husband … and yet they all happened. It’s a different way of living, like a river flowing to the ocean.”

ROLAND’S PASSION for sports has been present as long as anyone can remember. His first word was “basketball.”

By the time he was at Bigfork High School, Roland was a standout in basketball and soccer. He said he had offers to play college basketball, including to walk on at the University of Southern California, but instead declared to his dad that he wanted to go to Europe and become a professional soccer player.

Dirk wasn’t about to say no to a son pursuing his dream.

“People said, ‘How can you let Roland go off to Europe? There’s no way he’s going to play in Europe,’” Dirk recalled. “And odds were probably 90 percent against. They were worried about his self-esteem, basically, and I said, ‘no, it’s just the opposite.’”

Dirk had ventured to New York City after college to chase an acting career, just as unlikely a prospect as Roland playing European soccer professionally, so the two packed up and journeyed across the ocean. Father and son moved in together in London and Roland did make it as a soccer pro for a few years, playing for teams in England and Belgium while his dad cheered him on. The end of Roland’s playing career may not have been the Hollywood ending of his wildest dreams, but the most important part of the trip was the trip itself — and the time together that Roland and Dirk still treasure.

“My whole life is about failure. Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed,” Dirk said. “Thank goodness because it’s been a really broad spectrum of experiences. Life is short and it’s a waste of time to do something you don’t have a passion for.”

These days, Roland is the head girls soccer coach at Whitefish High School and one of the owners of Legend Soccer Co., creating and selling bamboo shin guards. Dirk is still on Flathead Lake and devoted to his boys, watching Roland coach and play rec league soccer whenever he can, traveling to Los Angeles to see George, and is even close with a third son, 49-year-old John Talbert, who Dirk did not meet or know existed until Talbert was 28.

Talbert has made Dirk a grandfather twice over, and if and when the time comes for either of his other sons to enter fatherhood they have a blueprint to follow.

“I have had a girlfriend for five years, we’ve talked about kids,” Roland said. “And the way I was raised is that the way parenting should be is that I want to be present.

“How I was raised, when you have a kid they are the primary and most important thing in your life … You are a parent and you take care of your kid.”

Entertainment editor Andy Viano can be reached at (406) 758-4439 or aviano@dailyinterlake.com.

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