Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Father's North Star

Original artwork by The Dentist, age 6.  Starmen circa 1996.

I don't recall the original date this was published, but it was written in response to a writing prompt: What TV father did you have?  
Mine was Jack Arnold from The Wonder Years
Thinking of my own dad this week and am sharing in honor of him.

In the early 1970s I would have been a bit younger than Kevin Arnold was as depicted in The Wonder Years, but his fictional world feels very similar to my own experience growing up.  Kevin's dad, Jack was a man of few words who often kept to himself after coming home from another frustrating day of work.
I caught an episode titled "My Father's Office" the other day and watched as Kevin attempted to find out exactly what Director of Distribution at Norcom meant and how it shaped his father as a man.  
Kevin discovered that life had carried Jack along its current into a job that allowed him to provide for his family, but robbed him of all opportunity to nurture his dreams.  Jack spoke of his old longing to become Captain of a ship his eyes losing focus as they navigated using unseen stars and the markers of the heavens in the telling of his story.
In the closing scene, Kevin joins his father now in his backyard peering through a telescope. Jack places his hand on Kevin's shoulder and points out the North Star quietly explaining that ancient mariners had used it to find their way home.
My own dad drifted into a job that paid our bills, though not as well as Jack Arnold's did.  He found himself in a job where he worked eighty-hour weeks without any overtime pay, and with Christmas Day his only day off for the entire year.  He toiled for a man who never paid him a wage that lifted us from the poverty level.
As I watched Jack Arnold lean in for a clearer view of the heavens, I wondered what had been my own father's North Star, what led him home.  I think it was my mother.
My mind shifted to the man who was my father's boss.  I recall him coming around a few years on Christmas Day to deliver a can of mixed nuts--my father's year end bonus, this man's thank you for another year of hard labor.  He strode up to our front door amidst laughter and joyful shouts of children on Christmas, perhaps thinking we would look upon him with gratitude as he redressed past grievances with cashews and peanuts.  What star did this man follow?  How did he navigate life?  
Many years after my dad died, I heard this man developed dementia.  I understood he was discovered bundling up a shoebox full of money to mail to a televangelist.  It was assumed the dementia had muddled his thinking, but somehow I think that paradoxically some long-standing fog had finally lifted. I believe this man at long last understood that he too needed a route made clear by the markers of the heavens.  How sad that after so many years he was still desperately searching for his own North Star in the wrong places.


  1. How poignant are the things our fathers silently, laboriously, loyally do for us as we grow.

  2. Silently, laboriously and loyally describes my dad and his actions so well.

  3. Oh, this one packs a wallop. We measure the worth of men in so many wrong ways, it seems to me. And now you have me thinking about North Stars...


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