Our family was recently driving back from a little weekend getaway. The kids were in the back seat, asleep at the same time for possibly the only portion of the multi-hour ride home, when Meg looked over from her magazine to the radio and read the song title currently playing on40s Junction, the 1940s Station – “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town.”
She went back to reading her magazine when, a moment later the words that came out of my mouth were “I forgot Edward Hermann passed away.”
Accustomed to her husband being a weirdo, she took what seemed like a random response in stride, and even humored me when I explained the flow of logic that got me there in a split second that, in my mind, seemed like much longer.
“In a Shanty in old Shanty Town.”
She had read the word shanty town. Which made me think of Hoovervilles (the shanty towns built by homeless people) in the Great Depression, which made me think of Little Orphan Annie, which made me think of FDR. Who has played FDR more than anyone else, including in Little Orphan Annie – Edward Hermann. Edward Hermann was on Gilmore Girls. I liked him on Gilmore Girls. Netflix is making new Gilmore Girls movies. I wonder what they would’ve been like if Edward Hermann were still around. That’s right, Edward Hermann isn’t around anymore. I really liked his work. That makes me said.
“I forgot Edward Hermann passed away.”
Our brains can work in pretty weird ways, don’t they?
I am fascinated with the ways children evolve from their completely dependent forms – making nothing but sounds or cries, but eventually forming words, then sentences, then complete conversations like little adults. From needing to be spoon-fed mushy puree to sitting down to a meal with mommy and daddy like the little human they are.
Lately I’ve gotten to witness more of the evolution as our son, now four, suddenly has begun to recognize words.
We were at Barnes and Noble recently with a friend and her little one, waiting for a cup of tea at the cafe (I love that African Autumn tea) before heading back to the children’s section for some Thomas the Train Engine time and general book browsing. Nearby stood the little countertop with napkins, creamers, stirrers, etc, and the flapping door of the garbage can underneath, with two words embossed across it.
“Does that say thank you?” his little voice asked.
“Does what, buddy?”
“That,” he said, pointing to the flapping door on the garbage can, clearly saying “Thank You” on it to those who throw away their trash and not litter.
“It does, buddy! How did you know that?!”
“I dunno. I just did.”
And thus has been a bit of a trend lately. We’ve been fortunate enough that he’s been interested in and fluent in his alphabet since early on, but this…THIS….to see his eyes move from one end to the other, his mind taking in these letters and putting them together, and recognizing the words they form. It has truly been a remarkable experience, as a parent, and just as a human being.
I thought back to a time in recent months at my mom’s house, where he was hanging out for a bit while Meg and I ran some errands and my mom asked about lunch. Not wanting to give away the options up front and lock ourselves into something he’d hear, we spelled our options, including when she said “I can make g-r-i-l-l-e-d c-h-e-e-s-e?”
“That would be great,” I said.
Then his little voice popped up, “Yeah, I LOVE grilled cheese.”
Or when I asked my wife what she was in the mood to watch as a family one particular evening, The Dick Van Dyke Show, or some Adam West B-a-t-m-a-n.
“Batman?” we heard pipe up.
Suddenly it dawned on me as we stood there at the cafe in front of the thank you sign, hearing him read this aloud, that he’s been doing it, little by little, right along – only I haven’t paid close enough attention to realize these are no flukes.
Seeing this string of word revelations over time is a revelation to me that we are in a brand new stage, one that will open the door to a whole new era of life, and of knowledge for him. I couldn’t be happier. Or prouder.
It’s amazing how quickly our little family has grown – from Meg and I, to our first cat, then another, then a third. Then came our little guy, followed last year by our little girl. Very quickly, our little starter home started to feel a little bit smaller.
And so, we admit we have been looking for something to move on to – whether it be today, tomorrow, or next year, it will happen when the time is right. I’m convinced of that. I wasn’t always. But I am now.
Even with those feelings of outgrowing our space, of constantly boxing up our lives to make room for the changes going on amidst us, it’s never easy to think about a change to the sites, sounds, and faces that you see every day.
There have been times where something happens that makes me say or think ‘ugh. We need to move’ but those thoughts are then counter-balanced whenever we get close to the thought of actually purchasing a new home.
This was never more pronounced than recently when we had gone and looked at a house for sale and decided that we wanted to make a move on it and put in an offer.
Like an interrogated suspect under the spotlight in one of those old crime movies, my head and body began to swell with anxiety and fear.
- What were we doing?
- Was this the right move to make?
- What will the neighbors be like?
- Will we regret this decision later?
- What type of peers will our kids have in the neighborhood? Will it be good? Will there be trouble?
And so it goes. And goes. And goes until I was just a ball of neurotic over-analyzation and worry. Given enough time I can talk myself out of anything. Maybe that’s the road I was heading down, I don’t know, but it’s certainly the path my brain takes when decisions aren’t made and are given time to settle, to fester, to raise concerns.
In the end, we didn’t get that particular house and another offer was accepted. I truly believe there’s a reason for that. It wasn’t the one for us. The right one will come along at the right time and we’ll know it and if things don’t work out, it wasn’t the one for us.
We walked back to the car, Meg, myself, and the kids, and sure, the standard feeling would be defeat after a situation like that, but it wasn’t.
As we got into the car, offer rejected, we decided to head to Barnes and Noble where our little guy can play with the train table, dance on the stage (he’s never met a stage he doesn’t like to dance on) and just felt…okay.
So this offer, this plan, this house didn’t work out. We still have a house to go back to. Maybe it’s not perfect. Maybe it’s not as much room as we’d like at times. Maybe there are sometimes some weird stuff going on that I question and worry about. But we have a home, which is something to be incredibly grateful for in a world where so many people don’t. Without even consulting each other, it was like we all took the same mental step back after the rejection and breathed a sigh of gratitude. We had a home.
And most of all, we have each other.
We truly and honestly, felt fully, inside and out that age old saying – home is where the heart is.
As long as we have each other, it doesn’t matter where we are. We’ll be home.
Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve actually sat down to talk a little bit about life, and that’s just because life’s been so crazy it’s been hard to find the time! As I’ve said before, I commend those of you who can post every day or even close to every day. Where do you find the time? Kudos.
So, with so much that has gone on, I couldn’t think of where to even begin as I try to get back to some semblance of regular updates on life.
And as if in answer to my internal dilemma, this morning awoke our son, now four. Four!!! His little hands holding the sheets up to his chin, grinning ear to ear, excited to tell me about the dream he just woke up from.
I’ll leave it in his own, delightful words:
“Me…and Supergirl…and Superboy…and all the other superheroes…and the Mickey Mouse characters…and gramma…and even the characters from Sesame Street…we all teamed up!!!
“And there was this special type of kryptonite…and it only affected businessmen. But not business ladies.
“And it turned them all into bizarros.”
Man, I want to have this kid’s dreams.
And how about gramma getting in on the super hero action?
I was about 24 when I got my first cavities.
My son has his first four cavities 20 years younger, just shy of four years old.
Sitting there in a chair on wheels amid the jungle motif of the dentist’s office, I listened intently to the dentist’s words, a mixture of shock, guilt, and curiosity all blending together into a haze of mind that left me in a fog for hours to come.
This was his first visit to the dentist.
How could this happen, I thought. We’ve been brushing his teeth every morning and every night. We don’t drink soda. Candy is an incredible rarity. What happened?
According to the pediatric dentist, the (in my mind unassuming) culprits were milk and juice. Not in his having them, but in the way he drinks them – having a little, setting the cup down and going to play or do something else, then coming back to the drink some time later and drinking a bit more.
The dentist says that each time he begins drinking, be it milk or juice, the clock starts for roughly a half hour of erosion to the teeth. So, if he begins, sets it down and gets back to it later, the clock starts all over again, adding up to what could be hours of erosion.
And leaving us with four cavities that need to be dealt with very soon. Now, a common question I’ve gotten after the visit is well, it’s baby teeth, so do they really need to come out?
The dentist fielded this one in the office, explaining that he could have his baby teeth until he’s anywhere from 7-9 years old. Left untouched, these issues could only magnify and leave him with incredible pain and infection.
So, we do need to take action.
I can not express how guilty I felt sitting there, listening to how this happened. Something I let happen out of pure ignorance. How could I have ever guessed giving him milk or juice could have such effects? That brushing twice a day wasn’t enough?
I felt like the worst parent in the world.
When I filled my wife in, that became an instant feeling of shared-guilt.
I don’t even remember going to the dentist yet at his age, but from the more I read, including a May 2015 Washington Post article from parent Cara McDonough, it’s becoming increasingly common for the recommendation be a visit once children first get their teeth.
According to research McDonough conducted for her article:
“By age 5, about 60 percent of U.S. children will have experienced tooth decay, according to the “State of Little Teeth Report,” a 2014 American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry document based on a survey of 1,000 parents. The report found that the rate of cavities in children 2 to 5 years old increased almost 17 percent from 1988-1994 to 1999-2004.
The report goes on to explain that tooth decay, particularly if left untreated, can result in infection, chewing difficulty and even malnutrition. If the decay is bad enough, abscesses may develop, affecting the health of the child’s permanent teeth.”
It was also somewhat refreshing to find we weren’t the only one who felt like the worst parents ever, with McDonough expressing the same type of guilt upon getting similar news with her daughter, who, at age 6, did fine with the same treatment our guy will be having – in-office with nitrous oxide.
As for our son, well, he did great for his examination, which, going in, was my biggest concern. Never did the thought of cavities cross my mind. I was more worried he’d be bouncing off the walls. But no, there he was, sitting in the chair, listening to the dentist, and when the little camera they used to take pictures of his teeth had a malfunction and they needed to take pictures again, he happily sat and went through the whole process again. He admittedly got antsy after the exam, with nothing to do while the dentist talked to daddy, but it turned into a long discussion, so I can understand the difficulty for a 3 year old with nothing to do to sit still for that long.
So, with new time restrictions on drinks (and meals), as well as a push to switch over to fluoride toothpaste versus the non-fluoride, training toothpaste we had been using for so long, we made our appointment to have the cavities filled (one day before his fourth birthday, the poor kid).
From there, he and I went to Target where he picked out a new electric toothbrush (and with some extra heads we can all use it), and I let him pick out a toy from the toy department. His choice du jour was a two-pack of DC Super Friends figures – Plastic Man and Martian Manhunter, which he excitedly was making up stories and adventures for in the backseat the whole ride home.
So, we move forward, hopefully learning from this.
There’s a joke from our son’s Little Golden Book of Jokes and Riddles that he loves to tell relatives. It goes like this:
Q: What time is it when you have to go to the dentist?
Lets hope between the lessons learned, the procedure to come, and the steps we’re taking from here on in, that’s a time that will never come.
We’ve all seen that cliche image from times past – a father, back relaxed in an easy chair, legs propped up on a footrest. Perhaps he’s wearing a robe, smoking a pipe, and even wearing slippers. Or at the very least maybe the family dog is bringing the slippers or paper to him.
I don’t want to talk about those guys.
I want to talk about a few other fictional fathers of the screen that aren’t that stereotype of 1950s America so often thought of when reflecting on old TV shows of the past. I want to talk about a few fellas who, whether the present or the past, have, for the most part (they all have off days or an idea that’s a bit out of touch now and then, but we’ll forgive them) are solid foundations of fatherhood, and examples that those of us living outside the screen can look to for a little inspiration and example as to what it means to not just be a father, but to be a dad.
Judge James Hardy
Putting aside the one initial appearance of Lionel Barrymore, Judge James Hardy is most commonly known as being depicted by actor Lewis Stone in the plethora of films within the Andy Hardy series from MGM Studios throughout the 1930s and 40s. With themes of themes of honor, integrity, courage in the face of scandal, and maturity, the sixteen films revolving around the Hardy Family were an idealized vision of what America could be, if everyone treated each other the right way and stood by a core set of values and honor.
While the films over time took their focus to young Andy Hardy, at the center of those themes and values was James Hardy – father, husband, member of the community, and never too busy for his family. While some onscreen fathers of the time were distant, driven by work, no time for distraction, Judge Hardy always had the time to recognize how crucial wife Emily was to the family and he, to lend an ear to son Andy or daughter Marion, and took the time to listen to their troubles and emotions. Often referred to as ‘man-to-man talks,’ James rarely ordered his children around, instead offering the guidance and wisdom that allowed them to come to their own revelations and decisions of character, that laid the foundation for good, honest people of the next generation.
(Sadly, hard as I try, I couldn’t find a classic Hardy ‘man-to-man’ talk online to post)
Good-natured, goofy, but absolutely neurotic, Rob Petrie, played by Dick Van Dyke in the aptly titled The Dick Van Dyke Show, seemed to have a dream life, despite the sitcom hijinks. A loving wife who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and difference of opinion, a son with many questions for the ever-worrying dad, and a dream job as a comedy writer for the sketch comedy show – The Alan Brady Show. Rob had a good heart, even if he did trip over himself at times in trying to be the good dad and husband he wanted to be, and it made he, and the entire Petrie family, all the more human.
The Dick Van Dyke Show, still today, ranks among one of the best sitcoms of all time. 50 years later. And it’s just as enjoyable for audiences. Whereas some shows of decades past feel dated, out of touch, it’s never the case with the Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob, Laura, Richie, or any of the characters. Because the brilliant Carl Reiner (who created the show) was making a show about real people. And though times may change, human emotions do not. It’s because of that brilliant writing that Rob is just as great an example of a person, co-worker, husband, and father today that he was five decades ago.
A farmer from Kansas traveling with his wife when they find a baby, abandoned in a field. Oh, and that baby’s inside a spaceship that obviously just fell from outer space.
Jonathan and Martha Kent had no idea what that baby was or what he would become. But they knew, before them, stood a child with no one other than they to help him make this planet his home. Saving him from the government containment, dissection, or weaponization that could possibly follow upon finding an alien, the Kents, salt of the Earth, good, virtuous people, decided to take this baby into their home and their lives, and raise him as their own.
When little Clark Kent grew up, the Kents had no idea who or what he would be or represent. But they knew they had the task to raise a good boy, who cared about others, and one who, as he started to show special talents and gifts beyond those of mortal men, would use those powers to help the world, to save lives, to be a beacon of hope.
That spaceship could have landed anywhere on Earth. And who knows what type of person baby Kal-El of the planet Krypton would have grown up to be? Fortunately for humanity in the pages of comics, novels, cartoons, television, and films, he landed in a corn field and was found by the Kents, whose salt of the Earth personalities, and lives of good morality laid the foundation for the hard-working, virtuous, optimistic, and all-around good person Superman is today. (in most interpretations lately. I hear it varies in recent years)
So he may not be anyone’s top pick, and that’s okay. He wasn’t necessarily mine either. However, there was something about the way Daniel Tiger’s dad, seen multiple days a week on PBS Kids Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, quietly, gently handles fatherhood. At times he may seem like a figure that fades into the surroundings, but it could easily be because he and Mrs Tiger are such equal partners.
Sometimes he’s silly, sometimes he’s childlike, rolling around on the floor or crawling through pillow and sheet tunnels with Daniel, understanding and experiencing first-hand what it’s like to be a child alongside Daniel and baby Margaret.
And he works in a clock factory that’s shaped like a giant grandfather clock. Tell me you wouldn’t want to show up to work at a building that looked like that everyday.
There’s a bit of him, and the entire show that for those of us old enough to remember, hearkens back to the soft-spoken, big-hearted, watch-wearing tiger cat on Mr Roger’s Neighborhood that inspired this entirely new generation of lessons in what it means to be a good person.
The Man in the Yellow Hat
It takes a lot of patience to be a father-figure to a precocious monkey. But somehow, The Man in the Yellow Hat seems to have the endless patience I can only wish for. Whether it’s a trashed apartment, a lost portfolio, or a stampede of pumpkins causing chaos and scattering crowds in a small town, there’s usually a monkey with the curiosity of a preschooler behind it, and the understanding Man in the Yellow Hat to explain it without losing his top.
While preschoolers can see the world through the relatable eyes of George and his wonder of the world, the level of fear, over-protection, and sheer joy with every uttered “oh boy” or “be a good little monkey” is the parental heart of the series for us grown ups and makes the Man in the Yellow Hat a source of joy, wonder, guidance and learning, and fun for George that I hope we could all be for our own kids.
Of course, this list is by no means conclusive. Merely a sampling of some of my own favorites of fictional dads that I think help set the bar.
What about you? What on-screen dad examples have you ever looked at with a feeling of inspiration?