I know it’s the wrong holiday, but I’m finally catching up with the Father’s Day 2011 episode of This American Life. I commend the whole episode to you, but I was especially moved by this segment, “Astro Boy Meet Robot Dad,” a 16-minute reflection by actor-comedian Michael Ian Black about his father—and mostly his father’s death, which occurred when he was 12.
His reflection is funny and sad in exactly the right proportions, and it contains a sobering message for us dads today. Black’s parents divorced when he was much younger. He wasn’t close to his dad. Among other things, he has no memory of his father telling him that he loved him.
After describing the events surrounding his father’s death and funeral, Black says,
Everything goes back to normal. But I don’t. Rather than feel the loss of my father subside over the years, I feel it more acutely as time goes on. I want a dad. I want my dad. I still feel that way 28 years later. Meanwhile, I hurdle through life life a running back, my arm outstretched to keep people from getting too close.
“Do you wanna play ‘Battleship’?” my son Elijah asked me the other day. “I’m busy,” I said. At the time I was online trying to figure out how much money Charlie Sheen is worth.
Last week I was yelling at my son and daughter to sit correctly in their chairs, because it is dinner time. And the fact that they refuse to sit correctly infuriates me, because that is not the way we sit at dinner. I am suddenly unrecognizable to myself—a person who yells at other people about what is and is not the correct way to sit in a chair. As if I’m this snooty judge on a reality show about sitting in chairs.
Recently, Black was tucking his nine-year-old son into bed. His son was crying because his father was going out of town again. Black agreed that he had traveled too much recently, but he told his son that when he got home after this trip, he would be home for several weeks in a row—he promised.
He hugs me around the neck, and says through his tears, “You’re the best dad a kid could ever ask for.” It’s the kind of thing that would make me throw up if I saw a kid say that on TV. But this is my kid and my life. And it is such an earnest, heartbreaking moment that I almost burst into tears myself. I mean, doesn’t he know what an a-hole I am?
I stifle my own tears because if I start blubbering, it will probably just have the effect of terrifying him. Instead, I hug him back and say that he’s the best son a dad could ever ask for. And I’m careful to say that he is the best “son” a dad could ask for rather than “kid” because that would imply favoritism with his sister, which would be wrong… because she is my favorite.
That was a joke. Now I feel awful for making that joke, although not awful enough to ask them to cut it out of the story, because it was funny. You see what I’m saying—proof that I am an a-hole.
Black, as I hope you’re fortunate enough to recall, played bowling alley employee Phil Stubbs on the criminally underrated NBC comedy Ed, about a small-town lawyer who owns a bowling alley. Ed happens to be one of my favorite all-time shows, and it’s beyond insane that, although it ran for three-and-a-half seasons, it is still mysteriously unavailable on DVD. Just for fun, I’m going to check and see if—I don’t know—Saved by the Bell is on DVD. Hold on…
Black also made VH1’s I Love the ’70s (or ’80s or ’90s) one of the funniest, most mindlessly addictive guilty-pleasures on TV.
[Please note: If, like me, you’re unable to get the individual story to play, click on the first link above and skip to it. Or just listen to the entire program. It’s good!]