If asked what my favorite movie of all time is (or alternately, what I think one of the best movies is), my answer always goes to “Cool Hand Luke.” It’s a 1967 Paul Newman classic and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you take 2 hours and give it a look. Paul Newman was nominated for an Academy Award and George Kennedy won an Oscar for Best Support Actor. Luke’s (Newman) prisoner number in the movie is ’37’…I’d like to think Kevin Smith is a fan of the movie as well (fans of Kevin Smith will get it).
There are so many iconic moments and lines in the movie, some have made it into our cultural vernacular (and I’d wager many don’t know the source). Failure to communicate is one such iconic line.
And on this Father’s Day, I reflect on that particular line and what it, and this movie, represent to the relationship between me and my dad. I don’t remember much of my childhood. It’s not something I can describe in a coherent story or any kind of a straight line (which is odd for an author, I know). Mostly there are moments I remember. Some specific incidents. But mostly it’s a feeling of things in my life and points in my childhood. The rest is pretty much Swiss cheese-holes here and there.
I used to think that my dad and I had a somewhat rough relationship as I was growing up. Definitely some failures to communicate, to be honest. Some of those are on him, some of them are on me. I’ve learned a lot about perception over the years. And perspective. I don’t remember Dad and I having super deep conversations growing up. No Little League games or games of catch. None of that father-son stuff that I saw my friends having (or at least what I thought they had). It’s one of the reasons that to this day, any kind of father-child redemption store gets me right in the feels. But he did teach me chess, I’m grateful for that.
We communicated through movies and television shows. M*A*S*H and the original Star Trek were always on. On the movie front, John Wayne was a staple. Robert Redford, Paul Newman were like uncles to me. Jeremiah Johnson, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and this movie that’s on right now–Cool Hand Luke–all staples in that little ranch down the street from the Gold Circle mall.
I’d always watch them when my dad was watching them. TV and Movie quotes became a language with us (and if I’m honest, probably the reason I started wanting to make movies in the first place).
A shift happened when I became a father. It wasn’t some blinding light on the road to Damascus moment (well, not all of it, anyway), but gradually I understood some of what my dad was going through. Or had gone through with me. More-so when my daughter hit her teen years. She was a lot like me, and suddenly a lot of the relationship dynamics with my own father came into sharp focus. I called my dad several times and both thanked him and apologized as the reality of being a father came to light.
And then there was a road trip in my 30’s. I will never forget it. My dad had become (and still is) one of my best road-trip buddies. On this particular road trip, on the way back from a wonderful weekend at the Farm in Kentucky, Dad and I opened up to each other more than we had my whole life. Perspectives and perceptions changed on that trip.
It had been happening throughout my adulthood, but on that trip I saw my father as a person…a friend..a confidant. There was now a humanity in that mythical image of a father and that has provided an exponential shift in the relationship that I never saw coming and have been grateful for every day since.
I can’t go back and change who I was as a child or a teen or a young adult. I can’t change that any more than my dad can change who he was. But all of that is OK. It’s led me to where I am today.
I love you, Dad. I’m thankful for you every day of my life. I am thankful for the lessons I’ve learned and continue to learn from you. When I list my heroes and inspirations, you are at the top of my list and I couldn’t be more proud to be your son.