I happily took a time-out from my notes, my filing, my journaling, Fisher Island politics, and more— to host two of my three kids who flew out from their California homes to visit their old dad and their stepmom.
I still call them “kids” even though both are probably older than many of the readers of this piece. They are aging beautifully, and it was great to see them… especially since, because of the pandemic, it has been so long between visits.
We all had reason to anticipate a perfect four days on my Island paradise, but it was not to be. At least not completely. First of all, it rained for two days. Not at all typical for Florida or the sub-tropics. Our summer rains here are usually torrential, but brief. This was California-like rain… not too heavy, but relentless.
All of that played havoc with the pickleball schedule, and all but eliminated lounge time on the beach. The “kids” compensated. They sat on the deck and read, there were some conversations about their mom and the family crisis of Alzheimer’s, there was some info on the grand kids, and all that they are accomplishing, as well as what their entire generation might be facing in the future. There was also some rain induced movie watching.
The consensus was for a comedy. Sharon and my girls indulged me by watching one of my favorites (and one they had never seen), The Lady Eve, a Preston Sturges masterpiece of the 1930s screwball comedy genre, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda.
Besides being very funny, the film has (arguably) one of the most romantic scenes ever filmed, as the two leads stand nose to cheek at the bow of a luxury liner (eat your heart out Leonardo DiCaprio).
The kids were not as overwhelmed as their old man and countered with The Big Sick, a lovely, fairly new movie starring Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley), Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano.
Ms. Hunter’s appearance as Kazan’s mom of course brought up Broadcast News, as well as her brilliant tour de force in the TV series, Saving Grace. We considered both and then somehow concluded everyone craved a musical. My girls had not seen the Netflix mini triumph, The Prom with Meryl Streep, James Corden and Nicole Kidman… it was loved by all in the room.
The departure time from Miami International loomed and my children departed. More than the guest room was empty. Tyne Daly’s mother’s admonition haunted me. Like her, I longed for “deeper, richer, fuller, better.”
Ever since my kids became full-fledged adults, I have always believed there was a wonderful closeness between us; that our extended family was really something special. I wondered if the whole COVID thing has taken us all off our game, that because of sequestration we were simply out of practice.
Like most of the world, my children are heavily engaged with major issues on their own home fronts. They were here in Florida on a vacation from all of that. I should have taken that under consideration but didn’t… at least not very much.
I continued to dwell on my “review” of the four days. Could I have been anticipating this visit for too long, prepping for it all too much? For some time, I have been editing—for their eyes only—my 30-year-old never published autobiography (Zero to 50: Life in the Hollywood Fast Lane), building a new folder in Google Drive entitled For My Heirs, meticulously censoring nearly 50 years of my personal journal, and recalling a previous visit so satisfying that I began putting together notes for a new book titled, Conversations with my Daughters.
None of this amounted to a syllabus on The Tempest or King Lear. I was thinking more on the level of a few select episodes of Father Knows Best….
Isolated during COVID I began digging into all these files as I found myself focusing on what I have come to know is certain: I am dying. Not soon, mind you. At least I hope not. Nor do I have any fatal disease. I am just doing what all people eventually do….and without a clue as to when or how.
And I don’t mean to make a thing of it… am not looking for any tribute dinners and have even pretty much given up the fantasy of Ken Burns making me the subject of one of his documentaries. I just want… while I have all my faculties and a modicum of energy… to pass stuff on. Things I have learned. Folks I have met. Failures, and successes, and how I conjured it all up… out of… pretty close to nothing.
My “candle’s” illumination may be “brief,” but so was their visit. I pause to remind myself that they were on Fisher Island seeking respite from family mishigas. There is no question that, right now, the one needing the most attention is their Los Angeles based mother. In the eyes of my offspring, old dad is fine… and for the most part they are right to think so. Truth to tell, I gave no indication otherwise, nor did I hand out a schedule of events that included “Have In depth, Heavy Conversation About Dad’s Eventual Demise and Preservation of History.”
Once they had returned to their homes I checked in with “my girls” by email. The younger of the two… who besides dealing with her mother is, herself, the mother of two very wonderful young women, wrote back: “I guess we’ll have to dig deeper next time.” She sounded so very grown up and parental. My oldest was a bit more effusive: “I think,” she wrote, “…there was a general lack of connection this trip and we are all left feeling a bit wistful about it. Perhaps coming out of quarantine has left us each in our own bubbles more than usual… Here’s to next time and trying again.”
I lift my glass to that. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a journal to censor.
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Unasked, I’ve taken some liberties as a content reviewer, and because I can, I comment on Barney’s blog. He’s good at reminiscing about the entertainment and talents of yore, provoking thought along the way. This essay, however, is special. It also hits home. It reveals the genuine feelings of a man – in this case “a dad” – and provides insight into Barney’s family dynamic. But mostly, it shares an intrinsic human need for consistent reassurance that we are needed and will be remembered with longing and exultation when we’re gone. Everyone I know can relate!!! Thank you Barney for your honesty. Dena Stewart