I’m a little tardy on this, but I wanted to share what my wife got me for Father’s Day. After a great deal of secret preparations, she presented a one-of-a-kind Little Bookof Typewriters for me and our son:
The first page includes a scan of something we got from Tom Hanks in reply to one of my letters to him. It’s his “Eleven Reasons to Use a Typewriter” pamphlet, signed and with an inscription saying “Chad — they are all true”:
Then she took pictures of our typewriters and laid them out with their names. Here’s a few:
It’s become one of 18 Month Old’s favorite books. He’s even started saying “Dora!” when he sees it. Though he has his own typewriter, I have a real Royal Royalite that’s beat up enough to allow a toddler to tap and pick at. One day he’ll graduate to more quality machines. Here’s to raising the next generation of typists! ~/:::/°
In the meantime, he and I have this incredibly thoughtful and useful book to enjoy. We’re lucky guys.
I recently rewatched The Patriot for the first time in a long while. I was big into this movie as a lad, so rewatching it as a thirtysomething dad was something of an experiment to see how my adolescent tastes hold up.
There’s good (John Williams’ score, Mel Gibson as likeable movie star) and bad (how benign slavery is depicted in colonial South Carolina, a lot of the writing and acting to be honest).
But there was one aspect of The Patriot I appreciated completely differently than before, and that’s the depiction of fatherhood. I also noticed just how much the movie shares in common in that regard with an entirely different movie: Christopher Nolan’s 2014 sci-fi epic Interstellar.
(Here be spoilers.)
There were two moments in The Patriot that kinda breezed past me before but totally annihilated me this time around.
“We named him Gabriel”
The first act finds Gibson’s Benjamin Martin as a kindly if emotionally distant father butting heads with his oldest son Gabriel (Heath Ledger), who joins the Continental Army against Benjamin’s wishes, and his second-oldest, Thomas, who’s eager to join once he’s old enough.
When the British kill Thomas and capture Gabriel, Benjamin enlists the younger sons, Nathan and Samuel, to ambush the British unit and rescue Gabriel. All three sons survive but then witness, a bit stunned, their father’s repressed brutality unleashed in a fit of rage and grief for Thomas.
Benjamin and his sons respond to this differently. Gabriel rejoins the war effort. Nathan expresses pride in the ambush. The younger Samuel withdraws into a post-traumatic cocoon. And Benjamin succumbs to shame: for failing to protect Gabriel and Thomas, for subjecting the younger boys to the terrors of war, and for letting his violent past overcome him.
Yet the ambush earns him a serendipitous (for my purposes) nickname: the Ghost. It’s fitting for his subsequent militia fighting style, with its emphasis on guerrilla tactics and ability to evade capture. But it also signifies his presence—or lack thereof—in his children’s lives.
He carries all of this and more into the climactic battle, where he finally avenges the deaths of Gabriel and Thomas at the hands of the ruthless Colonel Tavington. Before heading home, Benjamin says goodbye to his friend and fellow soldier General Burwell (Chris Cooper), who tells him that his wife recently gave birth to a son.
“We named him Gabriel,” he says. It’s such a simple moment, elegantly delivered by Cooper, that manages to avoid mawkishness and serve as an emotional capstone to Benjamin’s long journey, which included losing two sons and his home.
“Papa, don’t go!”
Back on the daughter side of the Martin family, Susan is the youngest child and most distant to Benjamin. She refuses to speak to him, whether due to her still grieving the loss of her mother or being resentful of Benjamin’s long absences. Even after he visits the family while on furlough, she continues to stonewall him.
But when he sets off yet again, she finally lets go:
Papa! Papa, please don’t go. I’ll say anything. Just tell me what you want me to say and I’ll say it.
Reader, I cried. It’s a wrenching moment of a father and child equally longing for connection before yet another separation. I couldn’t bear to consider such a moment ever befalling me and my son—now a rascally and wondrous 18 month old.
It didn’t matter to Susan that Benjamin was riding off to avenge his sons and fight for a political cause. Her Ghost was disappearing again, and she finally had something to say about it.
And this is where Interstellar comes in.
(Again I warn of spoilers.)
“Ghost of your children’s future”
A key motif in Christopher Nolan’s near-future, time-bending space drama (a recent subject on Filmspotting’s Oeuvreview, a series I helped coin) is the “ghost” that young Murphy claims is haunting her room and sending her messages in Morse code. Her pilot father, Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper, is leaving on a mission that will take him decades in Earth-time to complete, but the despondent Murph insists the ghost’s message is telling him to stay.
In a heartbreaking scene, Cooper comes to her room to say goodbye and offers a bittersweet reflection on parenting:
After you kids came along, your mother said something to me I never quite understood. She said, ‘Now we’re just here to be memories for our kids.’ And I think that now I understand what she meant. Once you’re a parent, you’re the ghost of your children’s future.
Cooper’s prophecy comes true when he completes his mission and then, in another heartbreaking scene, watches years’ worth of messages from his kids, who bitterly rue his absence:
We also discover that the ghost in Murph’s room was actually Cooper himself, trying to communicate with Murph from across spacetime.
And that’s where Benjamin and Cooper—an 18th-century soldier and a 21st-century astronaut—also have now magically linked across spacetime: as fathers desperate to return to their children, and not merely as phantoms of themselves. They even share their goodbyes:
Benjamin to Susan: “I promise I’ll come back.”
Cooper to Murph: “I love you forever, and I’m coming back.”
A Hollywood cliché? Maybe. Would I say it and mean it to my own child? Absolutely. Which is not something I would have predicted as a youngster.
Perhaps that’s the benefit of rewatching movies at different life stages. As Roger Ebert wrote about why he loved La Dolce Vita so much: “Movies do not change, but their viewers do. The movie has meant different things to me at different stages in my life… It won’t grow stale, because I haven’t finished changing.”
Having been working from home since mid-March, I’m incredibly lucky to have had more time with my son that I would have otherwise spent away at work or on my commute. “Kids spell love T-I-M-E,” my own dad has said. It’s an insight that The Patriot and Interstellar have made ever more resonant.
We really try to keep our smartphones away from Mr. 13 Months. He’s elated when he does get his hands on one—usually just for photos or FaceTime—but then turns into Ring Withdrawal Bilbo when we take it away from him. And when he seizes the reins during FaceTime, he generates footage shakier than a Bourne movie, with occasional unflattering but funny shots of his chubby face from below.
Yesterday, though, while on the move with phone in hand, he accidentally opened the camera and managed to take a series of photos documenting his short trip from the hallway to the guest room:
Look at that natural progression from dark to light and from blurry to focused. Perhaps it’s meant to reinterpret common household fixtures in the abstract with askew angles as a comment on our uncertain post-COVID-19 world?
When reached for comment, he said, “*incomprehensible toddler babble*”
My now one-year-old and I have slowly been going through the episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood available on Amazon Prime. He’s generally not interested in extended screen time at this point, but Mister Rogers is one of the few figures he recognizes and enjoys. (Along with Alex Trebek. #proudpapa)
There’s not much I can say about Fred Rogers that hasn’t already been said. The man was a genius. And the show, which I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, remains both ahead of its time and outside of it. Its deliberately unhurried pace, humanist ethos, and intellectual respect for its young audience make it almost anti-TV, something I couldn’t have realized as a kid.
Now being on the other side of parenthood, I find watching it a delightful and enriching experience for me and for my son. Rogers’ short bits of wisdom sprinkled throughout the episodes in word and song are deceptively simple, poetic, and actionable. He had such a unique way of communicating that it has its own name: Freddish.
At first I skipped the parts in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe because they’re kinda cheesy. I much prefer Fred hanging around his house doing crafts, singing, and breakdancing. But I’ve come to appreciate how those make-believe times blend the show’s “real” people and plots with the imaginary King Friday XIII and crew.
That kind of magical realism was at the forefront of Marielle Heller’s film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which is based on the making of Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire article about Rogers called “Can You Say…Hero?” The movie plays out as one long episode of the show, the main difference being that Lloyd, the Junod stand-in played by Matthew Rhys, finds himself becoming involved in the show. Picture Picture turns into a flashback from Lloyd’s life, and Tom Hanks’ Rogers displays a photo board of characters from the show (which happened on a real episode I watched not long before seeing the movie), one of which ends up being Lloyd.
This blurring of fact and fiction works on two different levels. First, it honors the show’s commitment to showcase real-world experiences alongside its pretend adventures—a dynamic that mirrors the way young children actually experience the world.
Second, it abides by Rogers’ expressed intention to act on the show as if he were speaking to one specific child rather than an audience of millions. He really, truly believed that one person—Lloyd in the movie’s case—was special and deserved his full attention and love. (Aren’t they the same thing?)
That’s the genius of Fred Rogers: he was real, but he seemed magical. He wasn’t a saint, as his wife Joanne explains in the movie. He had to work at being good and getting better just like anyone else. But that’s the kind of neighbor we all should want and aspire to be.
My son walked for the first time today, the day before his first birthday. I was in front of him, bouncing on our exercise ball along to some music (Kira Willey’s “Everybody’s Got A Heartbeat” to be exact). He wanted in on the bouncing action. He was already standing—he’s been standing strongly in place for weeks and walking assisted for longer—so he took three small steps like it was nothing and collapsed into my lap.
I’m glad I was home to see it. I’m glad he did it right in front of me, right to me. And I’m glad my wife had her phone out to record it.
After that moment, I thought it fitting to play “Walking With Spring” by The Okee Dokee Brothers (probably my favorite song of theirs), mostly because of the chorus:
Inch by inch by
Foot by foot by
Step by step by mile
We’re takin’ it inch by inch by
Foot by foot
‘Til we find ourselves
In the wild
Welcome to the wild, little man.
A shot from his first birthday party. I guess we were accidentally celebrating something else too.
It’s one of the many random lines that has stuck in my head from a lifetime of movie watching. I think about it a lot now in relation to parenthood.
Bun (as my wife calls him) is almost one year old and my main takeaway from that time is that there is no normal. How he eats, how he sleeps (or doesn’t), how he develops. How we teach him, what we teach him, how much screen time we give him.
There ain’t no rules. And Leo wasn’t slinging empty threats. He repeatedly rams Danny’s car and gashes his side doors with spiked hubcaps.
All Danny (and we) can do is hit the gas and hold on.
My favorite new game with 7 Months is to build a small tower with his rubber blocks—to almost as tall as he is when sitting—and watch him knock it down.
He never does it the same way twice. He’ll grab the top one and bring it to his mouth, the whole tower leaning towards him before it crumbles again. The next time he’ll kick it from the bottom. Then he’ll gently caress the middle section before pushing it, or pulling it.
There’s not much point in enjoying the building part when he knocks it down so quickly. I keep rebuilding the tower so fast because I want to watch him consider it anew every time, because the world is too new for him not to.