My daughter and I had always had a hot and cold relationship. Love was the constant. Even though she was tied to her mother’s hip, it seems, she never lacked in confidence in her Daddy.
When the teenager up there (at a ZZ Top concert, by the way, she was thoroughly surprised just how much she enjoyed herself) was a little girl she and her mother were thick as thieves. That is…until she got hurt, had a cut, or was sick. When that happened, she came crying (literally) to her Daddy.
This might have been from when she was an infant. Her birth was rough, with an emergency c-section and her mother out cold for more than a day. I actually took the baby home with me and her mother was still in the hospital. The baby contracted RSV, while her mother recovered from a post-op infection. So I would wake up, give her an albuterol treatment, feed her, change her, go to bed, and repeat every few hours.
So when she was hurt as a little toddler or little kid she came to her daddy.
Then immediately went back to her Mom when she felt better, hugged her, and told her mom thank-you. Sometimes she’d even stick her tongue out when I jokingly said “hey!”
Still . . . I worried a lot about this little girl when her mother passed. So the fact she talks with me nearly every night, kisses me good-night, and is closer to her dad then ever . . . that’s a kind of paradigm shift, one that would have been hard fought before.
But only recently have I seen her worry about me. A lot. When I started working out harder she wanted to make sure I did it right, not because I’m obsessed with my weight but because I need to get healthier, lose some of that bad weight in the stomach that can cause heart problems.
So every other night she’s met me in the front of the house and worked out with me. She’s taken exercises from PE classes, asked her teachers, and put a nice little regimen of core exercises together. She does them too, for sure, but she makes sure her old man does it and isn’t injured.
It would be easy, I suppose, to be embarrassed or indignant that your daughter is telling you what to do. I don’t look at it that way. My daughter is looking at me and thinking that if I am wanting to be healthy she can, too. We do it to the degree we need…and move on. We aren’t starving ourselves and we’re not trying to be body builders.
The small eye-rolling moments still happen. When I goof off during warm up. When I say “No…not 21 Pilots…we work out to Led Zeppelin” but she tolerates those because she likes doing it with me. Or she’s worried. Or both. Either way, I take the win.
So when I look at this teenager in the room with me now I realize that things are a lot different than they used to be, but that’s not a bad thing.
Different is good when it gets you even closer to kids who just a few years before . . . would never have admitted they wanted to be that close to their dad.
A few days back I was walking through a park near where I work on my way to the local courthouse for a story. In the middle of the park is a series of benches, all worn, the paint coming off, initials carved in the paint. They are sleeping places where homeless often take over, or the local kids getting completely stoned from their weed of choice. It’s not an intolerable place, I don’t want to paint it like that. It’s just a park in the middle of the city . . . a place where all the people you’d meet in the middle of a city might gather, I suppose.
On the edge of the park is an apartment complex and a number of kids live there. So I imagine what I saw on my walk was from one of them.
On one of the benches, in-between the rubbed-off paint and behind the scrawl of words carved in the seat was a teddy-bear with a heart between its hands reading, simply, “hugs.”
I bring this up because in a moment when I was rushing to get somewhere, after a stressful panic of working on what I needed to know for a court hearing and juggling several stories I stopped and snapped that picture. I captioned it “hugs make everything better”.
I bring this long story to a point because I didn’t know how true that was.
Friday the 13th was just a bad day. Not because of some triskaidekaphobia. This was just a bad day.
Bad, sure, because of a series of attacks in Paris. I have friends who are or were there. I found out they were safe and then faced watching it unfold on national news like everyone else. Bad because, that day, after a massive investigation the response was not quite what I’d hoped from our story. We got a response, but you always hope for more.
Then I found out sometime in the middle of the news from Paris unfolding, that someone I knew in my youth had passed away. It’s amazing the memories that flood when that happens, no matter who you are.
So when I got home, late from all the events of the day, I faced three kids and a barrage of stories of how bad their days were. Terrible, it seems.
“I had to run the mile today.”
“Some kid pushed me into the bushes.”
“We went over all these issues about gender studies and you need to know this about this and about this . . . ”
And I blew.
I’d had a rough day. I was in dress clothes still, cutting vegetables, putting dinner together, and I was the conduit for yet more bad news. I just could not take any more nor face any more issues. The week was almost over, the day was over and I’d had it. My brain could not digest any more emotional turmoil.
“I know you have all had a bad day. I’m home late…that should show you that my day wasn’t really great, right? Could I just make dinner and change into some jeans before you pummel me?”
I did change. As I came out of my room my daughter walked up with a smile and kissed my cheek.
At the bottom of the stairs waiting for me was one of my sons. I was waiting to be stressed out. He hugged me. His brother met me and joined in.
“Hugs make everything better,” he told me. I put my arms around both necks and smiled.
Ever found something you didn’t even remember you’d lost? That was what happened to me the other day. It wasn’t a watch or piece of jewelry or a favorite shirt or lucky penny or anything like that.
It was a camera card.
You know, those SD cards that you put in your camera? In the old days you had film, negatives, prints, those all took up space and you might forget them but they were hard to ignore. These . . . well, these were easy to lose and ignore they are the size of a postage stamp.
I found this card strictly by accident, I was looking for something completely different in my office. I didn’t even know it was there, but having seen it on the top of a shelf I put it into my computer and there it was.
A series of photos, apparently taken by myself and my children, a combination of both for sure, that had tiny little twin boys and a pre-teen middle girl and my oldest…graduating 8th grade.
It’s interesting to see the differences in the kids.
The boys, certainly, have the happy ignorance of youth. The girls have that giddy smile of transition that you get when you’re not old enough to care about the homecoming dance or who’s dating whom or whether you look good enough in that outfit. (Okay, the oldest did, but the drama didn’t come until much later)
The hollowness of grief isn’t visible here, either. That’s not to say that they bear some major burden or massive weight on their shoulders, that’s not true. They don’t look that way today. No…what they show here is the lack of instant and quick maturity and age that they developed in a matter of weeks or months after they lost their mother. The smiles are carefree and sincere and without hesitation.
A couple things are evident to me from this. The carefree smiles are back. It took . . . whew . . . more than a few years to get here. It took stability and knowing things are okay and that I’ve not completely screwed up to do it. My daughter still asks when I get paid and if we’re okay financially, though, which is a throwback to when we were struggling. That’s when their mother was alive, not after she passed away.
The other noticeable thing that saddened me a bit was what was missing from the photos. Even if the kids had taken them two people are nonexistent: me and their mother. I kind of understand why I’m not there, I was probably taking some of the pictures. Their mother, though, hated her photo being taken. I like to believe that if she’d known finding this card with her on it would have given me and her kids some pleasurable smiles she’d have allowed the pictures, though.
This has been the case with so many of the memories we find buried in boxes or on shelves…the real moments, the ones where kids are covered in frosting or taking a bath in the sink or running in the cold air . . . those are missing her. It’s a sad reality that we don’t have her in there . . . the ones we do have are the sort of portraiture and staged photos. Yet the ones we love – even from those sessions – are the outtakes where we all are smiling, laughing or being silly.
Still . . . it’s nice to see those smiles and realize just how far we’ve come. Maybe that’s why fate put that card just where I could find it in the first place.
For me, that is an act. I know that’s not the point of the phrase, for sure, but honestly, it’s how I’ve always been, I guess. I don’t “act” a certain age.
Funny thing is, that act changes from point to point during my day, too.
How am I supposed to “act” anyway? What does a 45-year-old “act” like? At 45 Eric Clapton had already recorded the smash hit Journeyman and was working on From the Cradle in the studio. Peter Capaldi, British actor, star of The Thick of It and currently the Doctor on the TV show Doctor Who is 57. He spends his days running around from alien monsters and plays electric guitar in a space/time ship called a TARDIS. Is that acting his age? He’s certainly acting his pants off.
My life certainly changed and I certainly grew up a lot in 2011. Most of that was by necessity. I certainly felt more like a father and grown up than I ever had before when I became a single dad. Bear in mind, that could also be the exhaustion talking.
If “acting my age” meant that I had to take care of adult things, I was certainly “acting” like I knew how to do that for a long time. I didn’t really feel like I had a grasp of it until the last 5 years or so, though. Yet if others’ opinion of my age is that I age gracefully, slow down, sit in a chair, talk about how much better the world was with no cell phones and 3 networks on TV (plus PBS) and work behind a desk and never get out and never do anything out of the ordinary I would go mad.
So let me just say this – the adult stuff is the act. I do it a lot. At work I am responsible. I do math – which for a journalist . . . that’ s a big thing folks. I went into TV thinking I’d get out of doing math. How wrong THAT was! I pay the bills, and most days I don’t work for my bosses I work for Visa, the property management company who takes my rent, AT&T, PG&E, my daughter’s college, the trash collectors and the water company. What’s left we eat with, which is just fine. Growing up meant coming to terms with the fact that when you’re out of money, you’re out. We seem to have that happen often, but we still manage to keep just a little to tide us over. That’s quite the act.
When a kid is sick I act like I know what I’m doing. Habit, memory and my own upbringing as a fairly sick kid make taking care of a sick kid more muscle memory than responsibility. I love them and they know it, though, so I never “act” irresponsibly with them. The act here is acting like I’m calm and collected when I’m really worried sick myself.
I act like I tolerate the laundry, dirty toilets, folding clothes, dusting lampshades and vacuuming floors.
But I don’t “act” like anyone’s idea of a 45-year-old. I play guitar whenever possible. I’m in a band. I’m going into the studio this spring and – no – I don’t have a recording contract. (Very irresponsible, how could I DO that?!)
Just this morning my kids and I joined into singing some old Sesame Street cartoon song about an alligator king. (Said the alligator king to his seven sons, I’m a-feelin’ mighty down . . . ) When I cook I sing. I use a turntable instead of a CD player because it’s fun. I tickle my children, still kiss my sons good night and watch sci-fi shows and the Muppets on TV.
One day, in the grocery store, James Brown came on the overhead speaker and I moved the grocery cart out of the way and began dancing very badly in the aisles. My son joined in.
It’s not the “you’re only as old as you feel” thing because I have problems with my back, I gained weight, trying to lose more weight, have high cholesterol and have grey hair. I don’t feel young bodily at all. I feel the years I wear, for sure.
But I don’t act like it. In my head I’m the same goofy guy, the one who watched his daughter turn 21 and think . . . I just had my 21st birthday not long ago didn’t I? Apparently not.
But don’t tell me that. I’m acting like I don’t know.
I never have had a problem finding costumes for my kids to dress up. They have creativity pouring out their ears. If anything, pulling off the creative costumes is far more difficult and expensive than any thought of being creative and doing it.
My two sons have very different personalities. My one son love Sci-Fi so his was in his head forever. Most the parents and none of the kids in his school or what have you even knew what he was doing. He didn’t care.
Yep. He went as Arthur Dent. Martin Freeman, the actor in the film version has a doppleganger. My son had his slippers, his green robe, even the slightly depressed and confused look of Freeman from the film. I had to get a green robe, of course, but we had the slippers and the shirt and sweats. He lost the towel, so he’d be in some big trouble in the Douglas Adams universe.
His brother up there in the top was Charlie Brown. Not a big deal at all. His sister . . . a Hogwarts student. Again, not hard, she had the cape and the tie.
I was encouraged to dress up, be a kid again, have fun! We were going to a friend’s house so why not?
The conundrum was what to do? I had a half-hour to get a costume. I started with Marty McFly, I had jeans, a jean jacket . . . but the only down vest in the house was pink and was waaay to small. That succeeded in also making me look about as old as I was. It dawned on me then, though . . . kakhis . . . hat . . . military-style shirt.
So I was Indy.
That came together in about 10 minutes…with a chorus of “that’s just NOT FAIR” from the daughter, who couldn’t believe I slapped together a costume in a few minutes and it was actually a passable Indiana Jones. Okay . . . old Indy, like Crystal Skull-ish Indy, but still . . .
This was a great day for a number of reasons. we went to friends, had food, the kids went out and got – literally – 9-10 pounds of candy each. The boys counted and traded with their friends. My daughter laughed and talked about her classes and such. It was a great night.
When we got home my daughter and I sat down, the boys exhausted and sleeping already. She looked up, a twinkle in her eye like her mother used to have. My wife had that twinkle when she was feeling mischievous and wanted to do something. This day came just one day after their mother’s birthday, a day that they all enjoyed and sadness was not the norm. (Okay, I was a bit down in the morning, but it got much, much better).
“Can I count my candy like when I was a little 5-year-old again,” my daughter asked?
“Of course, I told her.”
She grinned, took a meticulous count of all her candy, laid out what she’d try to con her brothers into taking, and then kissed me good night.
This . . . was the end of a great evening, and we weren’t even trying for great. Just to get by.
But then . . . my son DID have his towel with him at the beginning. I guess we somehow had reached level 42 . . . live, the universe and everything.
Today my wife, Andrea, would have been 45 years old. For me and my kids it also marks 4 1/2 years, 5 birthdays since she passed. I wouldn’t say every year has gotten easier, that doesn’t feel quite right. Perhaps it just means . . . each has been different.
October 30th is always a bittersweet day, particularly for me. For most people this is the day before Halloween, nothing more. Unfortunately, for me, it has a couple more realities.
October 30th reminds me of my late wife, who you see up there. She passed away in 2011, on March 26th. But now it’s a day I celebrate with those closest to me, immediate family, so to speak. They could be related by blood or they could be family because we love them.
The day also reminds me, annually, that I screwed up, a lot, on more birthdays for my wife than I succeeded. There were some, like the weekend overnight in a B&B in Napa. There was the earlier part of our relationship and marriage where you are so happy you give them a card and it’s amazing. However, I didn’t make the time I should have. That hurts.
But we don’t dwell on the bad. We dwell on the good. We call it, as I posted last year, Celebration Day, which is, of course, a Led Zeppelin reference. (Ever the musician) But we have tons of reasons, most are amazing, some are shallow, all are wonderful. They are the reasons we celebrate.
My wife was a force of nature. My brother used to have a reference “a bottle of fire.” That was Andrea, a woman who grabbed you by the hand and barreled off the cliffs of insanity, damn the consequences, enjoy the ride! For the most part, I really did enjoy the ride.
That Smile – Some people smile and they have great teeth or great personality. My wife smiled and her whole face smiled with her. It lit up a room and my heart. Friends tell me I’m a sucker to this day for a great smile – a whole of your heart smile – and they’re right.
We didn’t celebrate enough before – this is one of those selfish ones. I didn’t celebrate enough when she was around. I want her family and friends to know how amazing we still think she was.
We aren’t sad – This is hard for some people to grasp. OF COURSE we miss Andrea. She was a wife and mom and friend and amazing. But we can remember her, honor her, love her, and still find life, happiness, adventure . . . and even love again. We still love her. Yet she is the one who is gone, she had it easier in some ways. She doesn’t have to miss us.
We Miss Her – Again, selfish, but of course we miss her!
The kids should find this a happy day – How do you hit this day without the kids feeling like it’s yet another reminder she’s gone? You embrace the day. Talk about her. Love her, embrace the goofy things she did and talk about what made her wonderful.
It’s a fun day – You carve pumpkins, have cake and ice cream, and laugh. What’s wrong with that?
It’s a reminder – Not just a reminder of who she was but who we should be. We should make time, and though I am often late from work, even if I’m late on this day we will celebrate.
The Goofiness – While the kids remember parents as parents, they get to hear the silly things. They hear about dancing around in the living room and singing off-key and Halloween nights drinking beer and driving around in a golf cart with Andrea’s uncle.
Warmth – We grieve at different times already. We grieve when the day she died comes, which is so hard for me because it’s also the day I married her. We smell something or see something or hear a song and we get emotional thinking why is this happening now? Rather than do that why not embrace this as a day to be happy?
We celebrate that we had her – We could be sad she’s gone, but how amazing is it that we had her at all? Most people don’t lose a parent or a spouse like this, I get that. But how often do you celebrate without the stress? How often do you look at your wife’s birthday as a celebration you get to have her? Instead you’re probably stressing about getting everything right. Which one sounds better to you?
Why Not? I mean . . . I won’t be able to do those birthdays over and I don’t ever think of it that way. Still . . . why not do it to show your kids what’s supposed to happen? Why not make it an enjoyable day?
Memories – We all have different memories of people and events. This way I get to hear different perspectives from my kids of what their memories are of their mother. Same with family and friends.
Cake and Ice Cream. I mean . . . who doesn’t want a night that ends in cake and ice cream?
It makes you feel good – let’s be honest . . . the cliche’s and tropes are right. It’s so much fun to give to someone and have them have fond memories of Andrea and of the day because you gave them something? That’s pretty damn amazing.
You connect with family and friends – I love my kids to the ends of the earth. Yet this day I get to FaceTime my daughter in college and the kids stay home and we do things. That’s important. My family, Andrea’s family…we all have this day to remember her by.
You Confuse People – This sounds weird, I know, but it’s fantastic to confuse the hell out of people who think you’ll hit this day and just . . . fall apart. I don’t. Okay, maybe a little sometimes. Mostly, I hit this day and smile because I know we’re doing it right. I remember her. It confounds people that you aren’t in a puddle in the corner. I mean, in the beginning you laughed to keep from crying. Now you cry because you’re laughing about some ridiculous story. It’s pretty great.
You Prioritize – Even today I have a colleague who yells at me if I’m late getting out the door for a kid’s event or a holiday or anything. But this day, even if I have to work late, reinforces that I’ve put the kids and family and close friends as a priority. That’s just a good message to send.
You enjoy the day, not the stuff – In the beginning I made cake from scratch and got fancy and . . . it stressed the hell out of me. Then I realized that if I have time, it’s fun to make the cake. If I don’t, a decent cake is good, too. The kids started to ask for things like it’s Christmas…which I quickly put a stop to. It’s not about that, it’s about all of us together. So cake from Freeport Bakery . . . that’s just fine with everyone. It’s fine with me, too.
You make the day about us, not just her – It’s important to remember this . . . it’s certainly about her. It’s not about presents or cake or treats or any of that, though. When the kids start saying “I want (insert toy here) for Celebration Day” you remind them it’s a day about us, not about presents. Then it’s amazing. My son asked if we could call his sister in college and was happy that this year it’s Friday, and he thinks she’ll be around.
You Put Aside the Guilt – Yeah, my guilt for sure. But the kids have it, too. My son, who worried his temper tantrums wore his mother down. How he thought it was his fault she was gone. How my daughter fought her tooth and nail on everything. None of that matters. This isn’t a day to dwell on what went wrong. It’s a day to remember what was right.
It’s not about living in the past – We live different lives now. Far different than the lives we were looking to live a few years back. A daughter who isn’t in a medical field. A son who loves movies. A musician daughter. None of those were expected in the scheme of things from a few years back. Yet we will celebrate those, too. This is as much our day now as hers. That’s a good thing.
It IS about the future – We’ll talk about what’s next. It’s certainly where we’re going now. I have learned through the last few years to be very, very supportive. I am trying my hardest to do that and this helps me more and more to do so.
It IS about those close people – We use the connections we made this day to stay close to those around us. I have a friend who is my friend now . . . who years before would have been “Andrea’s friend.” That is pretty amazing and in a tangiential way Andrea’s the one who made it happen. I am better for it. Others who I might have talked with occasionally I talk with all the time. That’s important.
That smile – Yeah, I know, on here twice. I’m not simply a person about looks or image, but . . . for good or ill, when she flashed that I was hopeless. You have to admit, it’s pretty spectacular.
It’s not loss, it’s leaving them behind – We continue to age. My sons are literally feet taller than when they lost their mom. My daughters, too. My oldest is in college, about to be 21. She will remain that pretty, smart, silly, intelligent woman at the age of 40. She will never get older. It’s like we continued on another path and she’s behind us somewhere. Never meeting up again. That’s hard, for sure. Then again, we remember where we came from and that makes us happy.
Remember it’s about the journey – Part of leaving the path we were on with Andrea is remembering that it’s not about the path or where we are going. At the end of the day, we need to enjoy how we got there. Sure, we got lost in the woods here and there but how amazing was the view when you had to climb a tree to find the path? How close did we get trying to find our way? That is what it’s about.
It’s not about what she’d want . . . it’s building off what she started – No, we aren’t doing what we thought we would five years ago. That’s not a problem, not for us. Yet we know the great things she gave us before now. My girls know they can do anything and don’t get discouraged by others because of her. My sons know that their mother loved them and wanted them to be happy. No matter what the plans were . . . they’re far more now.
It’s okay to be sad – Sure, the kids and I will have moments where we’re sad. How could we not be, it’s her birthday, we loved her, love her still, and we do wish she was here to celebrate. But we don’t live in the sadness. We live and that is part of the sadness. It’s hard to know we’re going to keep experiencing these amazing things – a movie studio tour; homecoming; prom; 21st birthdays; all of the things life brings and know that she’s not experiencing them with us. But this day lets us realize we know what she’d be thinking and doing and loving us all.
Love. In the end it’s love. That’s cheesy, sad, Lennon-esque for sure . . . but it’s about love. I . . . loved . . . her. I still love her, it’s not that I ever will stop. Think about the first man or woman you loved and then it ended. Did you stop loving them, even if you had a terrible, horrible break up? No. You didn’t, stop kidding yourself. But life is about continuing the journey. You keep moving because the world carries you along on it’s crust, spinning around the sun and taking you with it. When they are gone you can try and stop with them . . . which will do more damage to you . . . or you can live. We can honor her and love her . . . but we all change in life. The hard part is that she is now unchanging, where she was in 2011 forever. We are not and we have to move forward. That’s what’s difficult. So we honor Andrea on the 30th to remember what we were and remind us that we can continue to keep living.
This is our day now. It’s also hers. Happy birthday, Andrea. Happy Celebration Day to my kids and my close circle of family/friends. Don’t be sad.
Weekends are a weird dichotomy in my home. They are the one time I sleep past 5:30 or 6:00 am. Yet I don’t get really past 8am because…essentially…they are catch-up days, too.
The last few weeks have seen an abundance of weekend events and things too, though. We had homecoming one weekend. Then I had a gig with a band – musicians I’m thrilled allow me to make some noise on the stage with them.
But then today saw me showing my exasperation with the three remaining miniature Manoucheris in my household. One had been sick with a cold, which he has since passed along to me. I started another change in eating habits because I’ve been told I’m eating too little and I won’t lose weight unless I balance my diet better. It’s true, I’m sure, but I feel more than a bit bloated from eating more than I normally do each day.
Then came today.
My daughter was in her usual position – asleep until nearly noon.
After twins arguing constantly . . . and the kitchen a complete mess . . . and several weeks of getting behind on cleaning the house I had reached nerves that had gotten more than a little raw. Add losing energy from a cold and it gets worse.
So when I had to load a plethora of dishes that one of the boys missed for the dishwasher while in the middle of prepping to vacuum I had my own temper tantrum.
“You know . . . I got up this morning, made you breakfast, mowed the lawn, did two loads of laundry and then cleaned up the front room,” I calmly asserted.
“I cannot do everything,” I informed them. “If I did I’d sleep sometime around 2032.”
It made a small dent.
When my daughter woke up I told her “good afternoon” and she rolled her eyes.
“You know, I’ve cleaned your clothes, at least some of them. You could take the rest upstairs.”
Then my son put his creativity in place and made one of the cutest Halloween decorations ever using recycled Kuerig K-cups. Ghost lights.
The pleasure was short-lived, though, when I went to wash sheets and the bottom sheet of one of their beds tore down the middle. They simply don’t make them like they used to I suppose. This created a hour-long search for old twin sheets until I can replace the custom space-themed sheets on his bed. Life of having a late wife who was part decorator, I guess.
Then came the 7:30pm hyperactivity, which seems to hit with every kid around the ages of 10-12. This is solved fairly simply with chores. Lots and lots of chores.
While making beds the sons begin to ask if I have any stories about their older sister or oldest sister and things they did that got them in trouble. After regaling them with one or two I look down and it dawns on me:
“You don’t need to start telling stories about their problems. You yourself tried to climb up your dresser only to have it fall on you. You were screaming your head off.”
That stopped the conversation dead in its tracks.
It was a long weekend of cleaning, decorating, and other issues that I never thought would come up. But in the end, as they went to bed, tired and satisfied . . . it ended, this weekend, on an up note as I turned on the ghosts and watched them twinkle in the house.
I had a long discussion with my daughter this evening about pacing.
She is in a film history class so she has taken to having long discussions about movies. When we visited her sister in college, the sister’s good friend is going to school for film so they had a lot to talk about.
Tonight, though, in the wake of having watched Citizen Kane as well as a number of other films she informed me that one of her advisers dislikes the film.
“She thinks it’s too slow.”
I rolled my eyes which caused a long discussion of how I somehow, without using the words, called the adviser an idiot, classless, and probably a whole lot of other things I didn’t remember having said (because I didn’t.)
The whole thing came after I informed my kids that I got to see a Delorean on October 21st, the day Marty McFly went to the future in Back to the Future II.
But the whole thing comes down to a discussion I’d had with an actual film director and with others in the industry. Films today are being edited, directed, and written by a post-MTV generation. The number of edits on every film is vastly different from a film cut even twenty years ago. So is the music, the pacing, and the freneticism of it.
But then . . . we also have an age when Hollywood is filled with comic book movies. I don’t dislike comic book movies, by the way, but I do leave them with a bit of exhaustion sometimes.
“So this same adviser probably hated Lawrence of Arabia because it was too slow,” I ask? This was met with eye-rolling from her part. It was warranted, I was trying to elicit a reaction.
The thing about this entire discussion is not a generational thing nor is it cultural nor industrial. This is just what some of these movies call for in the editing process. The Avengers, by Marvel, would not have long, sweeping landscapes. Yet as much as they liked that movie, Ridley Scott’s The Martian, which had those long shots, sweeping landscapes and slow moments wowed them more. “This movie deserves and Oscar,” my son said as we left the theater. I agreed.
So why do I write this? When I sit with the kids and watch an old movie, which is often – that’s our kind of habit/hobby – I don’t let them spend the whole time on video games or phones.
Citizen Kane I made my daughter look at the scene that Wells dug out the floor to put the camera low to the ground and explained – it may not be modern now . . . but it literally was groundbreaking. When directors of photography told him he couldn’t do something, Wells said “why?” Then he did it anyway.
When I bring up The Third Man, they realize that an old episode of Pinky and the Brain is completely modeled after that movie . . . and succeeds in paying homage and lampooning it at the same time.
Sure, we don’t have as many epic movies. Ben Hur would be a miniseries, not a movie. Spartacus turned into a bloody spectacle of a show, alternative to the Kubrick version.
Life is quick today, so it’s obvious that media, movies and everything are reflective of that.
But then . . . we sat and watched Back to the Future this evening, on the same day the Marty went to the future, and this was not an edit frenzy. It was pretty amazing, though, and complicated, and tackled a lot of issues and made you pay attention to the story in #1 and #2.
This after they loved Shaun the Sheep, which wasn’t quick, either. It was paced out and funny and sweeping in its small model way and they loved it!
Slower isn’t necessarily worse . . . and quicker isn’t necessarily better. My daughter walked away, smiling, because we’d come to the conclusion together that the answer to this debate was, like so many things, somewhere in-between.
(Yep, I did it. The uncool Dad thing of saying the current slang that was added to the urban dictionary. Deal with it!)
When’s the last time you did something amazing, spectacular, jaw-dropped speechless for your kids?
I don’t mean “I am (insert butler/maid/launderer/chef) for my kids” kind of thing. We all do incredible amounts of work for our kids. I don’t mean the daily grind. I also don’t include soccer practice, baseball, sports competitions, swim meets, school plays . . . none of that. I’m talking about something totally unexpected, off-the-map, hard to do, hard to find, hard to accomplish kind of thing?
I actually managed that this week. I have my share of real life. Guitar lessons on Saturdays. School clubs, student council, field trips, all of that. My daughter had an adventure for Homecoming that had me playing chauffeur for two days.
This weekend I loaded the four smaller Manoucheris into the car and drove up to Portland, Oregon. It’s not because I like rain or the show Portlandia. (Okay, I like Portlandia, but I digress)
You need some back story here. Not Disney Phineas and Ferb backstory. There’s no “stand outside and be a lawn gnome” business going on here. (There’s actually a Wikipedia page of Heinz Doofenshmirtz’s backstories. Amazing! Google the lawn gnome, it’s worth the digression. We’ll wait here for you!)
(Okay you’re back…)
My son has a soft spot for what is called stop-frame animation. He grew fascinated when I was watching a documentary one day on the director Ray Harryhausen. He is the man behind Clash of the Titans and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. My son sat, at age 10, and watched two full hours of the history of Ray Harryhausen. He has a scale model of the Jason skeleton as well as a t-shirt bearing homage to the late director.
The technique is called stop-frame because you make a model, or puppet, or what have you and you move the model a fraction. You shoot a still frame of film. You move it a little more . . . and a little more. It takes 24 of those pictures to make one single second of a film.
My son decided to start doing this himself. Last Christmas I got him software that came with a web-camera that lets him shoot stop-frame cartoons. I do believe in all sincerity that making these little movies was a boon to my son’s mental health. He was having a really hard time dealing with the grief of losing his mom. The meticulous nature and attention to detail funneled his creativity and helped I am sure of it.
Some amazing movies are made with this system. One of the biggest studios now, a studio my son knows and loves, is called Laika. They have made the movies Coraline as well as The Boxtrolls, and ParaNorman. My kids love and have seen all these films.
I reached out to the folks at Laika and told them exactly what their films and what this kind of animation has meant to my son, and to all of us. I simply wanted to have my son meet an animator or talk to one or see the inside of their building, anything would be great. To my astonishment and utter delight they told me I could come up and see them and they’d give us a full tour.
Thus the trip to Portland, the city where Laika has their headquarters.
I kept why we were going a secret, other than telling them we were visiting their older sister. When we pulled up there was no indication where we even had arrived.
“Dad, this looks like an insurance company,” they told me, knowing full well it couldn’t be.
I cannot tell you what we saw. That’s part of the deal. No photos, no phones, non-dicslosure all around is the theme of the day. None of us cared a lick. We were happy to sign it.
My son asked a million questions, enthusiastically and almost giddy. The answers he got had the same level of enthusiasm and imagination. The fact that this little 12-year-old was on the same wavelength seems to have connected with the employees who took us around.
There is nothing to compare with that starry-eyed look of astonishment and excitement when your kids are truly youthful and imaginative and seeing something they’d never thought in their wildest dreams they’d experience.
So why do I tell you this? Am I looking for the “Coolest Dad Ever” award or something? No. This is my lesson to every parent because I learned it well: our kids work really hard not just for themselves but for us, too. When my son was grieving he tried to keep it from me or he tried to work it out even though he was terrified to face it and didn’t want to deal with it. It caused him terrible problems which hurt him and made me hurt as well. I couldn’t fix this problem. Some are just too big for a dad to tackle. Yet he found this amazing thing that let him work out his frustration and grief and he worked it out as much for all of us as for himself.
So when the thought hit me that if I took the family up to visit their sister, we could stop in Portland maybe they’d let us say “hello.” Instead, this wonderful group of people at a major studio told me to come in and we’d get a tour. We’d not only get to see someone who works for this company . . . we’d see them in action. I got an event that all four kids will remember for a lifetime. We saw magic – not film magic, though that is there. We saw imagination turned technical turned artistic turned . . . beautiful.
“This would be the coolest place to work . . . ever,” my son whispered to me during the tour. I can’t disagree.
The folks at Laika told us “we need box office results in order to get the money to keep making these so we’ll need you to go see this film. Maybe see it twice!” It was a joke . . . but little do they know we were at Boxtrolls on opening day and we’ll be seeing Kubo and the Two Strings, their new film (I am allowed to tell you the title) next year, too.
Amazement. Sure my kids showed their amazement, slack-jawed, eyes glistening and floored at the imagination.
I’m not amazed at that. I’m amazed that a group of people who had no need to show us around simply said “come on in!” I’m amazed at how lively and excited they were with us and the others getting a tour that day.
I’m amazed at the love and humanity of other human beings. That is truly wonderful.
(Yes…I resisted the urge to say “that was truly amazeballs!)