When I was growing up, my father rarely took us to the movies. If he went, it was at my mother’s insistence and, once inside the theater, he would fall asleep. And snore. Loudly.
As a kid at the movies with my Dad, a few minutes after the film’s start, the embarrassment would begin. I’d slowly see his head slump and hear the rumbling of the oncoming snore that, once his jaw relaxed, would be released. I couldn’t blame him for falling asleep. As a traveling shoe salesman, driving for miles that day in his mid-Atlantic territory (or after doing hours of yard work on the weekend), it was a generous gesture for him to take me. But while whatever work had ended for him that day, my work was just beginning.
Seeing his head slump, I’d gently nudge my elbow into his ribcage. His head would snap upright and he’d utter the word “yeah”, confirming he was awake. I’d turn my head toward him, only to see his eyelids open and then fall. Upon my second nudging, he’d utter the word “bomb” (stating his reason for “nodding-off”).
My Dad will stay awake for a “good” movie. What’s a “good” movie? Well, while traveling for work in Pennsylvania in the late-60’s, he mentioned to my mother a movie he’d enjoyed (i.e., stayed awake for). That movie was “The Graduate”. On another occasion, he mentioned enjoying an independent movie receiving a lot of acclaim that I hadn’t bothered to see. From his rare recommendation, I saw “Good Will Hunting” right before its seven Oscar nominations and wins for best screenplay and best supporting actor.
And so, a Father’s Day tradition began of dinner and a movie. For the man that introduced me to “Ben-Hur”, the release of “Gladiator” in June 2000 was a relief. But I learned a valuable lesson: never put dinner before the movie. Shortly after eating, as Russell Crowe announced “unleash Hell” in the opening battle scene, my father began to unleash his own brand of Hell by snoring.
Ironically, as I get older, I find myself being the one falling asleep. While turnabout’s fair play, a nudging payback’s been denied- my Dad passed away five years ago, So, this Father’s Day, I’ll watch a “good” movie in his memory. I’ll try to stay awake. If I should sleep as Benjamin Braddock gets the advice to go into plastics or when Will Hunting realizes it’s not his fault, to imitate the man I’d emulated would seem a befitting fate. In that movie watching moment I’ll be, as my mother forewarned, “my father’s son.”