Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Fathers And Sons

I'm a week early for Father's Day, but I've been thinking a lot about the pater this week . 
My father, at the height of his Lockheed

I feel very, very lucky that dear ol' Dad, as he's often known to his kids, is a healthy octogenarian.  I lost my mother almost 30 years ago; ever since, my father has taken on an added importance in our family dynamic, I'm sure that's not unusual.  I can't claim that my dad and I are particularly close, in personality or temperament or interests, but since my mother died, he claims a position of great importance in my life.
My parents, at my sister's wedding.
I would not say that my father and I didn't get along as I was growing up;  instead, I would suggest that he did not understand me much, and I didn't do much to help.  He was confused by my lack of interest in sports or airplanes or anything else which he admired, but I never felt abandoned by my dad, as many of my tribe did.

Another sister's wedding.
Much of this has popped up this week, I'm sure, because my good friend Scott lost his father last Saturday. Scott feels he actually lost his father years ago, for damages which he cannot forgive, and so this current loss is softened. Still, the loss of a parent is significant, even if that can't be realized immediately, and it certainly brings back memories, good and bad. I have only one memory of Scott's father, which I'd like to share.

Since moving from Los Angeles in the early 90s, I have made semi-annual return visits, always staying with Scott and his husband Drew. 

During one of these visits, I met Scott's parents, who popped over to my hosts' spacious patio for a summer BBQ. The memory of that day remains a delightful one. It was a summer afternoon/evening, and we were all enjoying drinks and dish. I had had just enough alcohol to make myself unshy, and even sociable; I teased Scott's dad that his name must be Karl (don't ask me to explain that, I can't). His name wasn't Karl, I actually don't know what his name was for sure, but "Karl" seemed to enjoy the banter between us. 
My friends thought my
mom resembled Ruta Lee.
I thought Juliet Prowse.
My nicknaming Scott's dad may have been an unconscious answer to Scott's nickname for my own parents;  years earlier, when our gang gathered at my L.A. home in Granada Hills, my mother and father were nicknamed Ruta (for Ruta Lee) and Jerry (for local newscaster Jerry Dunphy).

In later years, I've learned that Scott's father and my own had quite a few similarities. Both of them had long careers at Lockheed. Karl, if I remember correctly, was some kind of engineer for the company; my father was in management. There is a more substantial similarity between our fathers, though. They both did absolutely everything they could to provide for their families. There was a time, according to Scott, when his father's work at Lockheed was not paying the bills, and he went to work in a retail watch shop. My father, thank goodness, was never faced with that, but when I heard Scott tell that story, I knew that our dads were cut from the same cloth. My father would have done anything necessary to provide for his family, and Scott's father did the same.

My father spent his life working his way up the corporate ladder, all to serve his family.
To paraphrase a poignant speech in On Golden Pond, we all look back on our childhood with a certain amount of regret.  I'm no exception:  I wish my father and I had more in common, and had been better friends during my youth.

My father is enjoying a
well-deserved retirement.

I strongly believe that if your parents did the best they could, under their own specific circumstances, then they deserve our respect and profound thanks. Not all of them were the most accepting of their kids' lives; I know my father did not understand my own life choices, but I don't blame him, since I know he did the best he could. Oh, Fathers and Sons: is there a more cantankerous relationship in the family unit?

This week's Dance Party is all about Fathers and Sons.  It comes from the PBS production of a flop Broadway musical called Working. In it, a variety of people describe their jobs, and either revel or revile them. The show was not a success, at least in its first incarnation, but the writers (there are about a dozen of them, all told) have continued to tweak the piece. 

This number has remained unchanged, and always makes me think of my father. Though Dad always wore a tie to work, and this guy (played by Barry Bostwick), is a blue-collar worker, I can hear my father's attitude toward our family loud and clear.  It's a week too early for Father's Day, but please enjoy this clip, in celebration of my own father, in memory of the fathers who aren't here anymore, and dedicated to all our dads: