Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder?

Well, I sure hope so - I've been AWOL from this blog for almost a month now. I've got my excuses: laptop died; spent two weeks In-Country at Disneyworld and environs with the family; back to (new) school and sports try-out pressures; but, enough is enough. The break has allowed me to garner a ton of material that I plan on showering you with in the next while. But where to start?

Maybe I will start with how I am not a very good father. Some of my posts may come across as if I (think I) actually know what I am doing and am qualified to offer advice. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Perhaps my blog should be called Pop Culture: A Cautionary Tale.

I don't know about other dads out there but I recognize myself in depictions of awful dads in pop culture all the time. Dads seem always cast as dorks or villains these days. Are these our options now? I watch these depictions and cringe; is that really the way I am perceived? Is this to be my legacy - either a bitter angry guy offering bullshit advice and lessons to his kids or a dufus eunuch offering bullshit advice and lessons to his kids? How did it get from Leave it to Beaver to this state?

My kids screw around and break stuff, spill things or poke me in the eye - and I yell at them. Yes, I do. Loudly, at length and, by the end, I'm not making much sense. Why? I have told them countless times not to engage in certain behaviours for certain reasons. They don't listen and the result I predicted comes about, which costs me time, money or pain. So I yell. I know I shouldn't do it. It's of questionable utility and I am likely overreacting but I suffer from what a friend once described as Child Intolerance - similar to Lactose Intolerance, it's not so much I am allergic to my kids, it's that repeated exposure to them has caused me to quickly have an unpleasant reaction to minor doses of bone-headery. So, not Dad of the Year. But every time you see a Dad in a movie, TV show,  New Yorker short story, or in a Can Lit opus who yells at his kid, he can't just be a tired and flawed human being who might actually be a good parent otherwise - he is really an abusive, alcoholic guy who makes his kids' lives a living hell - and maybe is a pedophile, as well. Really? And if they're not yelling at their kids, Dads are apparently clueless and ineffective or remote and uninvolved in their kids' lives, at least in most media portrayals.

I went to see Boyhood, the new Richard Linklater film that is garnering critical praise and I was disappointed for a few reasons. Shot with the same actors over 12 years it charts the "boyhood' of the main character from about 5 to 17 years of age. Parts of the movie are fantastic observational pieces of film and the conceit of filming a Boy and his "parents" as they really age is brilliant. However, I found the movie to be too long, repetitive and self-indulgent. It would have benefitted immensely from being at least a half-hour shorter.

However what really disappointed me, again, is the portrayal of almost every single adult male in the film.  His absent Dad, as played by Ethan Hawke, is a feckless hipster. His redemption apparently comes later when grows a stupid moustache and buys a mini van in accordance with the needs of his second family and new born kid (The moustache is not redemptive, the minivan is supposedly; the moustache is just weird and incongruent and not even ironic.) The message in the movie is that a father is a foolish man who gives up what matters to him in order to look after his kids and openly mocks himself  for doing so, while also clearly regretting it. I call bullshit.

All the other males? Cartoons. The Boy's two stepdads rapidly go from being admirable, responsible males (unlike his dad) to embittered, self-hating alcoholics who hector the Boy for not being responsible or serious (WTF? BOTH of them?) - it was like seeing an Ann Marie MacDonald novel on the screen, absent a redeeming lesbian relationship. We very briefly meet a pompous, self-important teacher (whom we only ever see once) monologuing like a super villain about the Boy being irresponsible and lazy. Lastly, we meet an openly comic restaurant manager (one of my favourite characters but who seems more like he should be in School of Rock) who AGAIN lectures the Boy about being more responsible. All these guys are villains and/or losers.

There is an older step-grandfather whom we briefly meet and who seems to have a good bond with the Boy (of course, however, he's a devout Christian and gun lover  - it is set in Texas, don't forget.) but we never see him again. There's a LOT (too much) of the Boy with his first girlfriend. The first time you get laid is a big deal but it does not foretell your future or your life as a whole as much as your relationship with your parents. Perhaps I am expecting too much of TV, movies and books but it is just such a cliché. I get the feeling a lot of TV, film and book people had pretty lousy parents.

I am likely in a growing minority to have had my dad around for my whole life and him being a good role model - hardworking, supportive, fun and yet holding me to high standards. Further, I aspire to be that kind of dad myself (notwithstanding yelling at my kids for doing stupid stuff and telling them when they need to do better). I guess it's not as 'dramatic' as what you see in Boyhood, but that's what makes the movie so obviously (bad) fiction for me. I look around and I see a lot of dads doing their best and it gets no respect.

The last point I want to make about Boyhood is there is a reason why all those adult males are telling the Boy he is lazy and irresponsible. He is. He turns out to be a jerk-off sullen teenager "artiste" whose all-important girlfriend ends up dumping him because he is such a gloomy negative person. What does his Dad tell him? That it was her fault for dumping him for a University Varsity lacrosse player - he is an artist and she was never bright enough for him (the Boy). What? She chooses someone who is actually actively engaged in his life with goals and accomplishments over some moping proto-alcoholic/drug addict and she is the loser? The Dad should have told him years ago to get his head out of his ass, work hard to achieve some real goals or rather, he should have actually done that himself and shown his Boy what it means to be a real and admirable man. The fact is the Boy is turning into his Dad which, in this case, is dispiriting.

OK so I figured out what I a getting at (finally, eh?). It's classic writing advice: Show, Don't Tell. All of the men in this film needed to stop telling the Boy what he should be doing with his life and demonstrate it. I really would have liked Linklater to have given the Boy and the audience one  guy who did. I see them all the time in real life and it s a crock not to have one in this film. So,  that is my New (School)Year Resolution: More Show, Less Tell.

I hope that when I am no longer around, my kids look back on me fondly and have given them some sort of assistance in negotiating their own lives.

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