Originally I’d scheduled Eraserhead for today’s film, surely a fitting choice for someone facing fatherhood with at least a few fears. I’ve since become a father myself and the anxiety that motivated that choice never materialized. I wondered if my steady diet of horror films would leave me terrified at the biological realities of pregnancy and birth. Would they trigger memories of Cronenberg? Would I fear my child would be a Bad Seed?
In the event, pregnancy turned out to neither be entirely the magical source of wonders so many purport it to be nor did my fears really materialize. It was a little creepy when Micromort started moving around and you could see him on ultrasounds, but excitement was the reigning emotion of the day. The Baroness not being one to trifle, she worked right up to her due date (that her hospital was near her work but 45 minutes to 2 hours from our house depending on traffic from home surely affected her decision). As I drove to work that morning I thought to myself, “I am going to end up driving to the hospital today, aren’t I?” I listened to old radio shows on my commute, and I took an ad from the 70s with a father offering memorable advice such as “watch out for evil women and always chew BeechNut Chew” as a sign that maybe I was right. A few short hours later I received a text from the Baroness and I drove up as fast as I could, continuing to listen to old radio shows. As I neared the hospital I was listing to a rather ridiculous episode of The Great Gildersleeve called “Gildy’s Blade”, a 30 minute promo for a bread knife “invented” by Gildy that allows you to slice bread and spread Parkay. I will always link the experience of frantically trying to remember the location of the correct parking garage to get to my in-labor wife with an old radio promotional gimmick. These are the risks you run living my life.
I found the Baroness walking with a co-worker as she was not ready to be admitted-but with rush hour approaching, and our commute, they let us stay until she could be. This was actually the most tense part of the whole experience, and possibly the closest to the TV representation, although I was never grabbed and threatened with bodily harm if they didn’t “GIVE ME THE DRUGS.” Once we were in the room, the rest became a long, mildly anxious wait, peppered with a few memorable moments (having to leave the room, not realizing they had a “nourishment center” where I could get a cup of coffee without leaving the floor, tweeting about “going to see the elephant” and then having to explain to League member David what the hell I was talking about, trying to buy music on my iPhone that the Baroness wanted to hear while she was in labor, frantically looking up the side effects of an antibiotic because it came up as a no-no for pregnant women in class the week before). During the last few minutes of labor I was asked if I wanted to be told to look when the time came and I said “well, tell me, and we’ll see what I end up doing” as I was still convinced that I would get Cronenberged. In the end I looked, and, if I didn’t quite find it to be the mystical experience some do, it was pretty amazing to see Micromort arrive – in my memories he sort of bounced out, but that simply can’t be right – with the shock that he was blond. “Mortises don’t come with blond hair” was what I always said of the idea that our children would share their mother’s families’ propensity for blond and red-haired children.
I’ll stop there and not spend the rest of this post giving you an elaborate play-by-play of the day I became a father (though there was the delirious drive up the street to our favorite sushi place that was probably unsafe considering the scant sleep I’d had). As Father’s Day approached this year, I realized I became a father just short of ten years after my own father passed away. One of my great regrets in life is that my son will never get to meet the man he is named after. In many ways I hope that the name will not only honor him, but will also somehow ensure that my father’s best qualities – his sense of humor, his gift of conversation, his curiosity, the high regard he had for education and knowledge, his sense of fair play, the value he placed on substance over flash and thunder, and perhaps even some of his contradictory nature – will be passed down.
On a much less important level, but one very relevant to the subject of this blog, I hope I can stoke in Micromort the same love of movies that my father instilled in me. Before there was an IMDb, my father was our source for information on cast members. We didn’t always appreciate the running commentaries he gave movies, but it was through them that I learned movie history, trivia, cast names, director names, and famous quotes from actors and directors. Pops loved John Ford, John Wayne, and Orson Welles, and whenever we watched classic movies (or famous actors appeared on TV shows) he would pipe up and tell us about them. I learned about the history of cuts to Touch of Evil, how the star of Curse of the Undead was disfigured during the war, and how John Wayne said he would have worn an eyepatch sooner if he knew it would win him an Oscar. One of my fondest memories is watching Zulu from my favorite spot in the house to view a movie: crouched behind my father’s bent legs, using them as a little fort. Another is when I was four and Pops told me to close my eyes like Indy told Marian to at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark sparing me utter terror.
I also loved the excitement of a great movie coming on TV unexpectedly and Pops telling us we needed to watch it. One of those movies was The Searchers, one of my father’s favorites, and certainly his favorite John Wayne and John Ford film. I didn’t really understand the movie as I watched it from my other favorite perch, lying on my father’s side while he lay on the couch (I was called his “little heater”), and I think I actually fell asleep watching it, but I liked what I saw. Years later, I was in college, it was my first semester and I was a little homesick. I snagged a schedule for the Film 101 class being offered that semester and saw they were showing The Searchers. I snuck in and I finally understood why my father loved it so much, and how great a movie it was. If I was homesick before, I felt better, and even now when I see a John Ford film (especially for the first time) I feel a little closer to my father.
The great thing about my father’s love of movies was that it was not confined to movies from his youth, or to any one genre, though I don’t recall watching very many musicals or weepies with him. He never did agree with my brother that Eastwood’s films were better than John Wayne’s, but he enjoyed them, from the Spaghetti Westerns to Eastwood’s own Westerns, to Heartbreak Ridge , which I believe he was, as a former Marine, obligated to love. We watched all kinds of action films, including many starring Charles Bronson, but he also loved the Kurosowa and Bergman films he’d seen, and he would recommend things you didn’t and couldn’t expect. One of my favorites of these is Shall We Dance?, the Japanese movie about a salaryman who takes up ballroom dancing as a hobby, simply because it wasn’t the kind of thing I imagined Pops would love. He also recommended Eating Raoul, something I attribute to the magic of cable. He (not always patiently) sat through nearly anything I brought home in any of my movie watching phases, whether it was Godzilla, Bogart (on To Have and Have Not: “this movie is the worst adaptation of a book I’ve ever seen” – having finally read it, I agree completely), Blaxploitation (on Rudy Ray Moore: “this guy is an embarrassment to his own people”), horror (on Dawn of the Dead: “If they survived for months fighting the zombies, why would they suddenly be this stupid?”), or foreign films. My father was always happy to talk to me about my adventures in filmgoing when I went off to college, and he would tell me about his own-what he saw in the service, in Japan, when he went back to school at the community college. Some of my favorites were hearing him talk about seeing John Wayne movies dubbed into Japanese and his classic, off-hand mention of seeing “underground movies” in “New York City” with “some guy from work” which could mean really anything, but I like to imagine he was seeing something by the Kuchars or Warhol and it not connecting. We never did find the one he saw while stationed on Okinawa that featured guys fighting with a different style on each floor of a building and ending with the good guy shooting the bad guy as he ran away, but if you know what that is I’d love to see it.
Below was the last movie I saw with my dad…it just happened to be on cable that day. That same weekend we also talked about important things (how I was planning on marrying the Baroness, grad school, possibly moving out of the country) and less important things, including my taste in movies. “You’re the only guy I know who watches terrible movies on purpose…but I understand why; every once in a while you see something different.” It’s a weird thing to have validated, of all the things that could have been validated, but I was glad it happened. It is probably appropriate that I was waiting to meet my friend outside of the Boston Public Library for a screening of a 1930s movie (Gabriel Over the White House of all things) when I got the call that he had died.
A lot of things have changed for me in the last ten years. I’m married, I’m a librarian, I no longer live in “the city”, I own a house and now I have a son of my own. I still miss my father; there are times I would give anything to ask him for advice or just a simple question or to hear him say that an actor “takes a good part in this.” Movies he loved, or that remind me of him or of our relationship (Rushmore, Fallen Angels and Breaking Away) still make me cry, something that rarely happened before. I’ll never get the chance to watch a great movie with both my father and my son, but I know he will be there with us in spirit when I show Micromort his first John Ford movie, or when I am unable to help myself from telling him during or after the movie all about a character actor in a bit part. I don’t know if he’ll love movies like we did, but if he does I am looking forward to teaching him about movies just like my father taught me, and if he does not, I hope I can keep the same open mind about whatever he likes and that I will give him the same space to have his own interests that I was given. While I can’t help but wish things were different and Pops was here to be the part of my son’s life I imagined he would be, in a way he is. So much of what I value, what I believe and what I love were things that my father taught me. Happy Father’s Day Dad, from both of us.