Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

 No Respect 

August 7, 2003

My four children — two sons, two daughters — make fun of me. I’m delighted that they are all endowed with a rich sense of humor, which I regard as one of the most important qualities a human being can have, but I seem to be the chief butt of it.

Another trait every human being should have is filial reverence, but in this, I must admit, all four of them have been sadly deprived. They laugh in my face without mercy or compunction. At our family gatherings I serve as their laughingstock. The solemn commandment “Honor thy father and thy mother” seems to induce only giggles among them, at least as regards the part about thy father.

I’d be embarrassed to describe the Father’s Day card my younger daughter sent me this year. Suffice it to say that it was sadly lacking in filial reverence. Its theme was one I’d never have raised with my own father — viz., flatulence.

This may only reflect the Zeitgeist. Greeting cards are not what they once were. The bland old Hallmark rhymes about what a priceless father you are, which helped prop up civilization through most of the twentieth century, have been supplanted by the subversive influence of Gary Larson and his ilk.

I can’t prove in court that Larson was a card-carrying member of the Soviet conspiracy, but look at a few of his cartoons and draw your own conclusions. Bear in mind that he “retired” only a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Without getting all Freudian about it, I can’t claim that my relations with my own father were paradigmatic, if that’s the word I want. I never really wanted to be like Dad, an old-fashioned, self-assured, highly practical father of the old school. I wanted to be like Roy Rogers, one of the early heroes of the media age.

[Breaker quote: A father's lament]This established an unfortunate pattern. I had difficulty relating to the real men around me; I wanted to be like the cool guys in movies. After my Roy Rogers phase came a succession of other silver-screen heroes: I had Fess Parker, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, and Jack Nicholson phases, to name a few.

Admittedly, this wasn’t the best preparation for adult life. Movie heroes never have to deal with things like overdue bills and embarrassing relatives. And while they may attract women like flies, they seldom have much in the way of fatherly qualities or patriarchal authority. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, serious and wise, was an exception, but I’ve never been the Atticus Finch type.

So when I became a father, I wasn’t really grown up. I was more like the biggest kid in the family. In his classic Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that American fathers had great affection for their children, but not much authority over them. If he’d seen the Sobrans, he’d have nodded knowingly.

I did manage to instill in my children a deep and abiding respect for Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. At times I thought they were all that was holding us together. When I needed to summon up a bit of patriarchal authority in an emergency, I adopted the raspy voice of Brando as Don Corleone. During fights between the kids, for example, I averted bloodshed by intoning the solemn line the Don speaks over Sonny’s bullet-riddled corpse: “I want no acts of vengeance.”

That was about the closest I ever came to achieving gravitas. When it came to gravitas, I ranked with Soupy Sales and the late Buddy Hackett. Once, when facing a misdemeanor charge in court, I asked each of my grown children how I should handle it. Each of the four, separately and independently, gave the same urgent advice: “Dad, don’t clown around.”

Adults take all the fun out of everything, especially when they’re your own kids. Even worse, I can testify, is being sternly lectured by your grandson. My grandson Joe, who used to live with me, would often rail on the theme of the evil of tobacco, with particular reference to the cheap Italian cigars I was partial to.

When I tried to give them up, he caught me smoking one. Glaring in disbelief, he snarled, with a venom I didn’t know seven-year-olds were capable of, “You hippocrip!

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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