The Old Man

13 03 2008

Hey, so I just finished watching a movie called My Summer Story. Have you ever heard of this? It’s actually a sequel to the holiday classic A Christmas Story. You know, the one with little Ralphie who wants the Red Ryder BB Gun, but everyone’s concerned he’ll “shoot [his] eye out!” Yeah, I never knew it had a sequel, either. And Ralphie is played by a Culkin, no less! Sure it’s Kieran, but still.

This post will not be a review of My Summer Story, except perhaps to say there’s a reason the original is a classic, and this other I hadn’t heard of. No, this post will be about me, because it’s my blog, so suck it.

So, I’m watching the movie, and it is what it is. It’s not awful, it’s just not particularly inspired, but then it gets to a scene toward the end. Ralphie finally catches a fish on the regular fishing trip with “The Old Man,” played here by Charles Grodin. He then catches another fish. And another, and another. And as he’s reeling all these fish in, and piling them higher and higher in the boat, the Adult Ralphie voice-over comes in and says something to the effect of, “And even though the Old Man never actually said, ‘I’m proud of you, son,’ he always had a way of saying, ‘I’m proud of you, son.'” Then the Old Man shouts to all the other fishermen on the lake, “Clear the way! We got a fisherman here! Get outta here! My son here’s a real fisherman!” Then the boys go home, and that night Ralphie is invited to stay up with his dad and his dad’s friends, listening to crude stories, and just being one of the boys. As the movie fades to end credits, Adult Ralphie chimes in with, “And that was the best summer of my life.”

Ahhhh, sweet, right? Like, sickly sweet. Like, vomit-y sweet. Except, the thing is, I was all throat-lumpy, and, while I didn’t cry, I probably could have. I won’t get into all the sordids with you, but I will say that my dad and I have maybe not the best relationship. He and my mom divorced when I was young, and things were fine for a few years. My parents had a better relationship than they’d had while they were married, my sister and I got to see my dad every other weekend, and because it was such a small amount of time, he made a real effort to make it quality.

But then the real world set in. He started being tired some of those weekends. He got a girlfriend, and eventually a new family. He and my mom stopped being friends when he had a hard time with the child support payments. Eventually, we fell completely out of touch, leaving me to not even know if he was still alive. The worst part was that my sister has always been incredibly emotional, so when it came to having a hard time with our dad, she got to be the focus. It wasn’t her fault, and I don’t hold it against her, but it made it tough for me to express my feelings, because if they weren’t as “strong” as hers, then they were overshadowed, and if they were as strong, then I was just jumping on her coattails. Does that make sense?

We eventually reconnected with my dad at my grandmother’s funeral. We all did our best to get to know his new wife and our new half-brother and to stay in touch, but it just wasn’t the same. It never was.

My last couple of birthdays have gone by without a call from him. But that phone works both ways, and his last couple of birthdays have gone by call-less as well. I don’t even know when Father’s Day is anymore. I just don’t keep track. After the movie was over, David’s Bridal called to let my fiancee know that her wedding dress is ready to be picked up. The first thing I thought was that my dad doesn’t even know I’m engaged.

I apologize for this post. The upside is that I don’t really have any readers yet. I guess I just wanted to get all this out. Every once in awhile it hits me, you know? I mean, the pain is always there, the emptiness, but sometimes I’ll see something and it’ll make me think of it specifically. Like My Summer Story. Or that episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air, when Will’s dad comes into town, and he believes that this time it’s for good. But then his dad leaves again, and Will breaks down in his uncle’s arms: “I learned to ride a bike without him! I learned to shave without him! I’ll get married without him, raise a family without him! Because there’s not a damn thing he could ever teach me about being a father!!” Then, through his sobs, “How come he doesn’t want me?”

I guess I just can’t remember my dad, even subtextually, saying he was proud of me. I know he loved me, but was he proud? When was my “best summer ever’?

Like I said, I apologize. It just gets to me sometimes.

— ldi




2 responses

13 03 2008

Family is hard. You know what I mean. Thank you for being there, always, when I need your help in dealing with my own family stuff. I’ll always be there for yours. I think you should call him soon, sweetie. At least tell him. Then go from there. Figure out what you need and what you want, and then it’s up to you to take the first step.

Someone very, very wise reminded me recently that you can’t fix everything. But I think there’s more to it – you can’t fix everything, but you can always work to make things at least a little better than they are right now. He’s got to make his own decisions about how he’ll act, but I think just reaching out a little, no matter what happens afterwords, is something really important to have done. Does that make sense?

16 03 2008

Wow… here’s how I see it:

You are about to start a brand new life with your wife-to-be. Now’s your chance to make the life you want. As children, we have no control in how our parents behave. But as adults we can control our destinies.

And you deserve to live a wonderful life free of the pain of your past.

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