Plot points may be revealed below.
Ben steps onstage, guitar in hand, and begins to sing us his life’s story.
It starts with Ben’s father, who “in another life would have been a musician”—but in this life, was a mathematician. Still, he managed to give the gift of music to his young son, giving him a toy “cookie tin banjo,” and eventually a real guitar.
Young Ben loves to play, though he’s got a long way to go. He dreams of starting a band with his brothers, listens adoringly to his father play and sing.
“Dad,” Ben says, “show me how to play guitar like you.” His father gets suddenly, inexplicably angry. “I can’t show you how to play like me… don’t be stupid.”
His temper gets worse as Ben grows up. He breaks Ben’s toys without explanation, hurls a glass across the room when Ben’s grades slip. Music, he insists, is getting in the way of Ben’s studies: he grounds Ben, forcing him to stay home from a school band trip. Ben is furious, and stops speaking to him.
Then, Ben’s father gets very sick, and dies.
Ben is left to look after his brothers—and inherits his father’s acoustic guitar. But he mostly leaves it in its case, playing angry electric guitar instead. He grows up, finishes high school, falls in love with a girl named Julia.
As Ben and Julia hit it off, he slowly lets his father back into his heart. He plays his guitar again, learns about his struggles with depression, brings Julia to visit his grave. But despite their deep love, Ben and Julia’s relationship begins crumbling. She takes a trip to Europe alone. Then, she leaves Ben for good.
The breakup leaves Ben hurting badly, and he quickly realizes it’s more than just heartache: he has cancer.
He goes straight into tests and treatment. The pain is unbearable, he’s left emaciated, and the suffering seems endless. He loses the strength to play music himself, but remembers a song his father used to sing:
It’s the help that we give, it’s the love that we live,
It’s our pride in the friendships we form.
It’s the courage we show facing things we don’t know,
It’s the way that we weather the storm.
When the treatments are done, good news: Ben is cured. He gets a new apartment, and his brothers buy him a new guitar. As he looks back on his life, he realizes it’s his family’s love that got him through. In his heart, he both apologizes to, and forgives, his father, realizing that in the end, he didn’t need to learn to play like him. “Dear Dad,” he sings, “I’ve learned to play like me.”