Saturday, June 4, 2016

Fathers & theaters

I’ll probably never see Hamilton. Certainly not on Broadway. If you’ve been priviledged to see it - and, yes, if you've seen it, you are priviledged - great for you. I understand why you blog about it and post about it on Facebook and can't stop talking about it at a party: it's a once-in-a-lifetime event, a very exclusive one, there's nothing like it anywhere, there may never be anything like it again, and you've been lucky enough to experience it.

But I’m part of the 99.9% of the country that hasn't seen it, and probably never will. I don’t have an “in” to see it, to even buy tickets to see it. I also live on the other side of the country and can't afford a trip to New York City right now. I’ll probably finally see Hamilton in 10 years or so, produced by a local amateur all-white group of performers that isn’t really sure how this whole hip hop thing is supposed to work, but they will be oh-so-earnest in their attempt to present the magic.

There’s a blog by Joe Posnanski being shared across the Interwebs right now about how he managed to take his daughter to see Hamilton on Broadway. It’s an incredibly sweet piece. His daughter cried a lot and squeezed his arm a lot, because he made her ultimate dream come true. What a gift. He knows what a huge moment he's been able to give her, that they've been able to share together. That’s something she and he will cherish for the rest of their lives. Beautiful. Great for them.

It made me think of my own father. And theater. Very different experiences from his, however.

My father and I didn’t like each other. In fact, most times, I hated him, and he was none too fond of me. He was an alcoholic who ruined most events: Christmas family gatherings, Thanksgiving family gatherings, my high school graduation, or just an evening meal… and he hated that I would refer to those ruined events, to remind everyone of what an ass he could be. He secretly recorded my telephone conversations and drunkenly mocked me with the information he gleaned from such, leaving me confused and humiliated - no teen girl should have her intimate conversations overheard by her father. He would call my friends' parents late at night and tell them, "You think you're better than me, but you're not," and ramble on and on, and I would have to face their children at school the following Monday and apologize. Most of those parents forbid their kids from coming to our house for sleep overs, and seemed nervous whenever I was in their houses. He did some really other humiliating, even abusive things I'm still not comfortable sharing on a blog, and probably will never be.

And then there were our differences in tastes and values. He wanted me to wear dresses and makeup and be beautiful and elegant, but I wanted to wear flannel and listen to Patsy Cline and watch “Star Wars.” He wanted me to be popular, I wanted to disappear. We were polar opposites on most political issues as well. We consistently made each other miserable.

But there was this one thing we did have in common: Theater. Dad loved theater. He loved a live performance in particular, especially if there was music involved. And he knew, early on, that I loved it too.

There was that time in the 1970s when he made me watch The Sound of Music on TV. I did not want to at all. I did not want to because the kids were cute and happy and singing in the commercials and, therefore, I hated them. And I did not want to because he wanted me to watch it. But I watched it. And I loved it. And I watched it every year it was on TV while I lived in our family home.

There was that time when he took me to the Executive Inn in Evansville, Indiana in the 1980s for a weekend matinee of a touring company doing 10 Nights in a Bar Room in the tiny performance space there - I think it was in the basement. And don’t think the irony of an alcoholic father taking me to a campy melodrama about an alcoholic father was lost on me even then. But the company was actually really wonderful. I laughed. A lot. It was delightful. He’d already seen the production with my mother, and he arranged for the lead actress to come to our table after that matinee performance and talk to me about how to work professionally in theater.

There was that time he took me back to the Executive Inn the following year to see a touring company doing South Pacific. It was a terrific little production as well. And he told me how he’d seen it at the movies, by himself, back in the 1950s.

There was the time he took me to see three storytellers that were touring the state, telling a story about a crime. I can’t remember the crime. I can’t remember the story. But I remember being riveted as I sat there in the high school auditorium, watching three men take turns telling a story - no light effects, no sound effects, no costumes, just them, talking.

On all four occasions, he said to my Mom, “Well, I think Jayne would really like this and should see it.” And he was insistent I see all four - the only thing he ever made me do. And I loved all four of those experiences. He was right. Other than when he taught me to drive a stick shift and took me on a very short motorcycle ride on his beloved Gold Wing, both experiences after a few years of sobriety and many years apart, it's the only great times we shared together. But during those experiences, I never grabbed his armed and squeezed it as tight as I could, like the girl in the Hamilton story. I never sobbed. I sat and watched those shows and really liked them, just like my father knew I would, but the awkwardness, the uneasiness, the distrust between us - it never left us, and we barely said anything to each other before or after the performances.

This blog that you're reading now won't go viral. I'm just not that cool. I haven't seen Hamilton. I probably won't ever see it. And I'll never get to improve my relationship with my father - he died in 1996 - 20 years ago. None of that is viral story worthy. But I haven't thought about those four theater experiences with, or because of, my father in decades, and I'm thankful for Mr. Posnanski for that. Theater is an amazing thing. I need to remember that, and enjoy it, wherever I am, more often.

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