Mama Kat explores TV fathers this week. I grew up with a Jack Arnold and that suits me fine.
I would have been a few years younger than Kevin Arnold as depicted on The Wonder Years, but his fictional world feels very similar to my own experience growing up. Kevin’s dad, Jack was a man of few words who often kept to himself after coming home from a frustrating day of work.
I caught an episode titled “My Father’s Office” the other day and watched as Kevin attempted to find out exactly what Director of Distribution at Norcom meant and how it shaped his father as a man.
Kevin discovered that life had carried Jack on its current into a position which allowed him to provide for his family, but robbed him of all opportunity to nurture his dreams. Jack spoke of his old longing to be captain of a ship his eyes losing focus as they navigated using unseen stars and markers of the heavens in the telling of his story.
In the closing scene Kevin joins his father now back at home in his yard peering through a telescope. Jack places his hand on Kevin’s shoulder and points out the North Star quietly explaining ancient mariners had used it to find their way home.
My own dad drifted into a job that paid our bills though not as well as Jack Arnold’s did. He found himself in a job where he worked eighty-hour weeks without overtime pay and with Christmas day his only day off each year. He toiled for a man who never paid him a wage that would lift us above the poverty level.
As I watched Jack Arnold lean in for a better view of the heavens I wondered what had been my own father’s North Star, what led him home. I think it was my mother.
My mind shifted to the man who was my dad’s boss. I recalled him coming around a few years on Christmas day to deliver a can of Planter’s mixed nuts- my father’s Christmas bonus, this man’s thank you for a year of hard labor. He strode up to our front door amidst laughter and joyful shouts of children on Christmas perhaps expecting we would look upon him with gratitude as he redressed past grievances with cashews and peanuts. What star did this man follow? How did he navigate life?
Many years after my father died I heard that this man had developed dementia. I understand he was discovered bundling up a shoebox full of money to mail to a televangelist. It was assumed the dementia had muddled his thinking, but somehow I think that paradoxically some longstanding fog had finally lifted. I believe this man at long last realized he too needed a route made clear by the markers of the heavens. How sad that after so many years he was still desperately searching for his own North Star in the wrong places.