It's possible I won't live long enough for my daughter Abigail to read this and make any sense of it. She's 3, after all, and I'm 51. My own dad died at age 55, which scares me a bit. When I think of him, I remind myself that he smoked unfiltered Camels, probably from a teen, and drank heavily all his life. If he ever exercised, it was in the Army before I was born.
And he held on to bitterness. He wasn’t a complex man, I knew that a 10. I’m sure he never entertained the thought that he was dying alone because of anything to do with himself. He had this unwavering idea that we would eventually return to him, not because he was a good man, but because he was the Man and that’s what he was owed. The only possible salvation for him, love, remained out of his grasp like that cliche canteen of water next to a man buried in the sand, and not because he couldn't reach it, but because his world view would never let him believe there was love, sitting right in front of him, if he’d allow himself to be loved back for who he was, and not for some misconceieved image of himself emulating John Wayne for half a century.
In Lawrence of Arabia, Omar Sharif shoots a man for drinking from his tribe's oasis, and Sharif's response when Lawrence confesses to drinking from there, too is: "You are welcome." The thief wasn’t welcome, because when he drank, he was stealing. Lawrence was merely thirsty. My dad was more like that thief. He was thirsty, true. And he knew love, or water, was available. But he just wasn't satisfied taking it except on his own terms.
Was any of this in my dad's mind as he lay infirm in his bed? Probably not. He was focused on us coming to our senses. And, to my knowledge, he wasn't a big film buff. But my point is this. I'm hoping against hope that genetics are not destiny, and that a change in outlook can improve longevity. I'd like to live to become friends with my grown up daughter. I’d like to give her hints of my past, and what has and hasn't worked out for me. I’d like, when she thinks of me after I'm gone, for her to recall a good and unassuming man whose memory she allows to rest at that oasis we all protect and hold near, our own hearts, and when she remembers me, finds those same words for me there: "You are welcome.”
When Abby was only one, we started watching movies together. They said back then that a child shouldn't have any "screen time" until at least that age (they now say 18 months, I think) and even then it should be limited to just an hour per day. My wife Laura knew I was a "movie guy” who had become out of touch with the film world in those last sleepless 12 months, so she graciously announced that any daughter of mine could exceed the one hour limit, so long as it was for watching movies with her Dad. TV and computer screens were still off limits, but Movies were okay, as part of her "genetic inheritance". The early results were promising.
The first full-length movie we watched was Casablanca, and I fast-forwarded only two of its scenes. The first, when Ugarte (Peter Lorre) is arrested and shoots at several officers. The second, the climatic scene when Rick gets the drop on Major Strasser. Both are tame by most adult standards, except those of any new parent trying keep violence and death away, and keep their kid "pure" for as long as feasible. As I skimmed over that climax, I leaned in to my daughter and narrated: “and they all got on the plane together and became the best of friends." She seemed happy with that at the time.
Looking back, I suspect she experienced little more than moving blobs of darkness and light for that hundred minute or so runtime. While she was happy and attentive back then, today she’d recoil from any two consecutive minutes of this or any other grownup film. But, what did I know?. To me, it was a special moment, one I never expected to have with my own kid. Certainly not one I'd had with my own father. If there was anything close, it was in our smoke-filled, shitbox Bronx apartment, putting the finishing touches on my childhood asthma while the old black-out drunk put cigarette scars in the arms of his pleather chair, spilling cheap wine down his undershirt to the accompaniment of Gene Kelly's trash-can dance in It's Always Fair Weather. No, our movie nights would be different. That successful running of Casablanca with the latest of the line was a metamorphic moment.
Our first Daddy Daughter Movie Night.
We were off to the races.