Friday, August 19, 2011

I Stumble and I Sway

An hour into my shift I was asked to stay late at work. I don't mind staying late--I love helping out overworked peers and I don't object to money--but I unfortunately have a streak of non adaptive throwback genes that wants to sit down and cry every time I'm not giving my preferred twelve hour notice that helps me wrap my head around the extension. Turns out I'm not remotely evolved or sophisticated, I hate breaks from patterns just as much as the most backwoods Ozark yokel.

In the spirit of making as many distractions for myself in this time of cushy paid hardships, I have crafted a list of:

The Top 15 Best TV Dads

I figure musing over father figures that would respond to my whining over extra work by telling me to rub some dirt in it will be the best possible coping mechanism.


The types of fathers being highlighted here are very specific in nature. First off, let's establish that I myself have an awesome dad. He sang me Irish lullabies and songs about girls named Mary every night when I was little, switched that out for nightly readings from books like Huckleberry Finn, The Chosen, and Last of the Mohicans after I got too old for songs, and patiently waited out my tendency from age twelve to twenty to hate his guts while in his house and avoid any visits from him in college. Nowadays he just reads my term papers and tells me I'm brilliant, politely declines to read my blog or be friends with me on facebook so that I don't have to censor myself, and doesn't give me any grief for being single other than occasionally abusing the general male gender on my behalf. He's not my friend, he's my dad, and I appreciate the attention to the distinction.

Like I said, great dad. So in the spirit of respect for fatherhood, there will be no representations of clueless dads who are roundly abused by spouse, neighbors, and children alike, such as Tim Taylor in Home Improvement. Also, any TV show where I have the "oh, yeah, he's a dad" moment is sort of an automatic disqualifier, like Ricky Ricardo in I Love Lucy. TV characters who are beloved and eccentric and truly terrible fathers also did not make this list--I'm looking at you, Red from That 70s Show and George Sr. from Arrested Development. Also, I will not even dignify Homer Simpson with the title of father. The number of online lists that cartoon gets onto makes me shudder. Also, and this is completely unfair, but when I find out too much about an actor's off-screen behavior while filming, perfectly likeable father characters like Danny Tanner from Full House are no longer palatable or listable.

An addendum to the methodology: We didn't have TV after I turned ten years old, and even when we did it was basic channels and closely monitored. If any glaringly obvious classic father figures are missing from the list, it's because I never got to watch the show. But I'm sure they're very nice. Put them on your own list, this one's mine.

And now, with plenty previous ado, we begin the countdown with

#15: John Schneider, Smallville's Jonathan Kent

Mmm. Floppy haired goodness. I'm allowed to check him out--he's not my dad.
Let's not kid ourselves. Being the dad of an alien would be hard work, even if he wasn't an indestructible god-like force. And being the dad to an indestructible god-like force would be a cake-walk if that same 'roid pumped snot face wasn't a broody little misfit who has a thing for the wrong girl almost as consistently as he's seduced by the dark, bald side of the force. Jonathan Kent pulls off moralisms with minimal fuss, is believable as a hay bale-throwing Midwesterner, and is . . . just so, so pretty. Wish he still had the The General Lee around, I wouldn't object to being taken for a spin.

#14: Jason Bateman, Arrested Development's Michael Bluth

I'll never be able to listen to "Afternoon Delight" with any kind of reverence. Not that I really could before

Michael has a lot on his plate. He has the most grasping, needy, neurotic extended family in the universe, and having his jailbird father squirrelled away in their faux home doesn't make things easier for him. And while his son, George Michael, is a peach, he's the type of pale, pudgy, hairless, cousin-lusting peach that repulses most normal people. But Michael Bluth loves him anyway, and even frequently has old-fashioned Opie-Andy moments that warm the heart.

#13: Nathan Fillion, Castle's title character

 O Captain, my Captain. Mine.
Let's face it, Rick Castle--mega rich novelist with the emotional maturity and instinct for play of a fifteen-year-old boy--as your legal guardian and moral compass would be a dream. He is the epitome of self-indulgence and good humor, like a soft serve ice cream double dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with money. In fairness to the other dads, it must be acknowledged that he sorta caught an epic break by having a daughter so grounded and self-disciplined that I suspect government brainwashing. However, his handling of boyfriends and body image demonstrates an instinct for unconditional love that earns him his spot on the list.

#12: John Spencer, The West Wing's Leo McGarry

Leo is a fantastic example of a much more realistic school of Dad. While he excels at his job, he's crazy awkward in his home life. The way he deals with this is by frequently growing petulant and dismissive with his daughter Mallory while simultaneously trying to keep her close. He barks at Mallory much more often than he opens up to her, but he still finds ways to express his affection and protectiveness, even if she'd probably prefer to flirt with his staff in peace. Gruff around the edges and incapable of make a straight statement of love, Leo ranks high in the category of adored yet off-putting patriarchs.

#11: Michael Landon, Little House on the Prairie's Charles Ingalls

If you're starting to notice the trend of Magnificent Locks, this is not happenstance. And you ain't seen nothin' yet.
He's Pa. The infinitely kinder, wiser, more practical version of his wife, one who understands Laura's high spirits and doesn't discourage his daughters from thinking they can do absolutely anything they set their minds to. Always struggling to make ends meet, he infuses their desperately poor existence with magic, protecting his children from wild beasts and Nellie Blye (synonymous?) with a tireless concern for their welfare. And then there's the hair, which I could probably dedicate a whole section of this list to. Pa is not to be beat.

#10: Andy Griffith,  The Andy Griffith Show's Sheriff Taylor

Even his ears seem kind. And law-abiding.
I couldn't claim the title of red-blooded American if I didn't acknowledge that Sheriff Taylor is the essence of Manliness. He's an officer of the law, he's a hulking figure of a man, he enjoys fishing, shootin' breeze at the local barber shop, and keeping Barney Fife in line. And above all else, he's the kindest, gentlest father to itty-bitty-Opie that anyone could ever hope for. Really, I think he could have accidentally squished him into oblivion if he wasn't so conscientious. He's the type that I'm sure cries every time he accidentally steps on a caterpillar. Except that Andy Taylor's are simultaneously so manly and so sweet that they produce harty maple syrup for his flapjacks.

#9: Peter Gallagher, The O.C.'s Sandy Cohen

Those eyebrows could kindly conquer continents. And my heart.
If pressed to reveal how I know about this character, I will claim that I am gathering only from hearsay. That is all I have to say about the matter. But seriously, Sandy is, like, the best dad ever. Coming from a wild background, he pulled himself into a position of respectability and wealth, but never lost touch with his roots. He devotes himself to his family and helping the unfortunate, never losing his idea of right and wrong while simultaneously having boundless faith in the potential of people society has written off. Also, he surfs and loathes yogaletes. Which just seals the deal.

#8: Fred MacMurray, My Three Sons' Steven Douglas

Coiffed curls and cleft chins=trust
I have a mildly shameful loyalty to the show My Three Sons. It's unabashed agenda somehow circumvents any shakily constructed cynicism I may have put up and gets me absolutely pumped about how perseverance, optimism, hard work, virtue and a good hair gel can really keep the universe on an even keel. Mr. Douglas' backseat approach to parenting is comforting in that he is always interested in his boys welfare, but equally committed to allowing them to find their own path and passions. Corny it may be, but that doesn't make it less enviable.

#7: Avery Brooks, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Commander Benjamin Sisko

This kind of dapper demeanor must be passed from father to son.
Here's a man who devoted his life to the job without sacrificing his son's upbringing. Instead, he used his position as the commander of a far-flung space station to enrich his son's thinking, exposing him to new cultures and ways of life that helped boy Jake become a phenomenal writer. Even  the initial struggle Sisko had with his son choosing a career so completely different from Starfleet was handled admirably, as Sisko relinquished the idea that his child should operate as a miniature perfection of himself. And, above all else, Sisko achieves this high rank of Fatherhood through his devotion to the greatest of sports--baseball. Jake was given every advantage, including superior taste in leisure activities.

#6: Enrico Colantoni, Veronica Mars' intrepid Keith Mars

Look at them twinkling brown eyes. Songs could and will be written.
Keith plays on multiple themes touched on by fathers lower down in the rankings. A father whose job is the absorbing task of pursuing truth and justice, Keith also recognizes and focuses on his child's potential. Ex-Sheriff Mars never tries to dissuade daughter Veronica from demonstrating her brilliance and resourcefulness, and strikes up a partnership that allows her to flouish. He may occasionally set traps of spraying ink when she starts to snoop into areas best left alone, but that's really more in the attitude of a rival colleague than an overbearing parent. His affection and faith that his daughter will develop into a truly remarkable person is never shaken, and his personal struggles never color his treatment of people in trouble or pain.

#5: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Supernatural's John Winchester

 . . . there are no words. Well, yes there are, but they'd probably creep y'all out.
 Ok, yeah, so maybe he slightly abandoned his sons for periods of their childhood in his one-man quest to capture the demon who killed their mother. And maybe he's a textbook case of the non-communicative, ever demanding, praise and affection witholding type of father. And maybe when I gaze into those eyes and contemplate his scruffy jawline I find I don't care in the slightest. No, but really. John Winchester had his flaws. But he had an iron grip on the difference between good and evil, and more than that, he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his son's life. Eternal burning, the whole nine yards. I find I can forgive quite a bit in the face of that level of devotion. Basically I just need to be in the face of his face and I am completely persuaded of all his virtues.

#4: Edward James Olmos, Battlestar Galactica's Commander William Adama

I'd be perfectly fine with this being prominently placed on currency.
Now, if I were this estimable hunk of honor, grit, and smarts, I would have considered my duty to humanity complete when I realized that I had contributed my DNA to the creation of the Sun God:
Feel free to linger over this image as long as you wish.
But was our inestimable leader of the remnants of civilization satisfied with that? Not in the slightest. He proceeded to be a truly remarkable father. While reticent and closed off at times, he sees the end of the world as a second chance, an opportunity to reach out and give all of his worldly wisdom about the value of human life. He clings to the best parts of mankind, never letting despair and bitterness overcome him or those in his command. The best part? He didn't just do this with the above godly hunk of flesh who had a genetic claim on his concern. He became the father of the entire fleet, never tiring in his duties to each of them in turn. Now, go back and stare at Apollo again if you need to. I know I do.

#3: Victor Garber, Alias' Jack Bristow

Such terrifying loyalty.
Jack brings to the table at levels of Certainty no one ever could (or should) rival. There is no force in heaven or earth that could sway Jack from his core purpose in life, which is keeping his daughter Sydney safe. Jack is unhampered with any feeling of individual significance, nor is he distracted by any semblance of a personal life outside of his daughter. Jack truly considers that his only point of worth, the sole contribution he can make to the world, is in using his particular set of skills to ensure that Sydney lives. Did we mention that this skill set involves warehouses of currency, munitions, and instruments of torture? Jack doesn't care how much he has to compromise himself. Sydney is all that matters.

#2:  William Henry Cosby, Jr., The Cosby Show's Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable

Dad is great! Gives us chocolate cake!
Dr. Huxtable brought you into this world, and he can take you out of it again! Not only is he wisecracking and silly-faced, Dr. Huxtable demonstrates an inspiring level of love and tenderness toward his brilliant wife. As a team the Parents Huxtable encourage their children to pursue their strengths wholeheartedly, kindly expecting them to see obstacles only as challenges that they will soon conquer. The level of common sense he teaches and tender affection he shows to all his children is a marker that few will ever reach, let alone surpass.

#1: Kiefer Sutherland, 24's Jack Bauer

Mr. The Bauer, Sir. My Liege.
Here it is. The epitome of what it is to be a dad. Also, the final proof that it really doesn't matter how much you suck, everyone deserves a great dad. Kim can go ahead and spit everything her  father gives up for her back in his face, but Jack still walks through fire, bombs, terrorists, torture, more bombs, incompetent world leaders, and sleep deprivation to make sure you're ok and able to continue living your sucky life. But Jack is untouched by Kim's untreatable level of lameness. He rises above it all, the perfection of filial duty, love, and bad-ass gauntlet-throwing defiance. I love my dad, Jack, but if I could trade him for you . . . I'd have to think about it. If your hair was floppy I'd already be sold.

Monday, August 15, 2011

My Emotions Wrapped in Vines

Ok. I just finished up my 16 credits that I in a fit of ambitious vanitas thought would be a great idea for my summer vacation. I have precisely two weeks until my 20 credit fall begins, I'm still in the note-taking-research-gathering stage of my symposium paper, my friends are fleeing the area like krill evading humpbacked whales, they still haven't re-released chocolate cherry Diet Dr Pepper (it's like drinking a Tootsie Roll pop! The nation is being robbed of that tantalizing taste bud treasure!), and my haircut refuses to be as punked-out-Zooey-Deschanel as I would like. In essence, today I am a crank. And in the spirit of sloughing off personal improvement for my brief two weeks of academic freedom, I am going to sink into my crankiness. It's going to be like when Mowgli is falling asleep and Kaa makes him the bed of tree leaves that perfectly fold over and snugly ensconce Mowgli into a bed of green bliss, except this time the leaves are discontent and glowering resentment. So, as an outward expression of my momentarily ill-tempered soul-klavier, I present:


1. Raisins
Hey, here's a grape. A grape that we deliberately sucked all juice and flavor and delicious grapeness out of. Essentially, the raisin is the bottled water of California. They're just baffled, bemused, and boozing it up over the fact that we keep on paying them for this product.Wanna put it in hot cereal, so that it's withered, dusty, dry skin can get sorta wet and become a mushy insult to grapeness instead of a leathery one? Or hey, you could put it in bagels. Delicious, dense, shmear-covered bagels, which you would typically take luxurious bites of at will, but now you're held up every few minutes by the fact that you're not positive if you just ate an ill-fated potato bug that inexplicably made it into the bagel dough, or a dehydrated fruit whose presence is equally mysterious.

What an alarming way to start the morning.

Or, if you're feeling particularly vicious, you can use these ravaged once-refreshing morsels to trick your friends into thinking that they're about to enjoy a bite of carrot cake or cookie. How sad, how foolish of them to think that you actually liked them and wanted to give them chocolate. That'll show them to try and look after you when you're sick. They've received the message--you return favors by feeding people grapes that have been tortured and violated until they're a mockery of their own form.

Speaking of soulless pretenders to much greater things, let's move on to the second subject on our list:

2. Iron & Wine

First things first: only the best of the best can pull off having a band name for a one-man-show. Take a wild guess on whether I'd put you in that best of the best category. Also, if you notice that most other bands can only pull off having one or two tracks per album that reach your level of mellow non-music tinkering on the banjo, it's because they've discovered that if they pursue that level of non-dynamicism for all their songs people will mistake them for hack jobs who want you to fall asleep quickly before anybody notices that their music really isn't that good. And Samuel Beam, I really can't stress this enough: You must stop whispering. If you don't stop whispering each and every one of your mediocre melodies in a tone that implies that your sub par, vague lyrics carry the secrets of the world, I may have to attack your larynx with the ragged edge of my Diet Coke can. I think it would improve the sound. And maybe provide you with a brief glimpse into an actual range of emotion for your music.

An addendum: Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel should be permitted to take turns flossing your teeth with their mandolin strings for having to suffer the indignity of their immortal "Hello darkness, my old friend, I've come to talk with you again because a vision softly creeping left its seeds while I was sleeping" being compared favorably with your vastly inferior "Have I found you? Flightless bird, jealous, weeping. Or lost you? American mouth. Big pill looming." Sheesh. No wonder Kristen Stewart picked you for the Twilight soundtrack. Ohhh, burn.

3. Harry Potter movies

The number of times I read "My Harry Potter journey is coming to an end! *sob*" and various other forms of the same sentiment when the final movie came out made me want to rip my hair out. Well, most things make me want to rip my hair out these days. My hair sucks. But this one made me also want to rip out other people's unsuspecting hairs. And eye teeth. Apparently if I were a serial killer I'd be the type to collect trophies. Not unlike Voldemort. Which brings me back round to my point. You wanna know when yours, mine, and everybody's Harry Potter journey ended? July 21, 2007 when the last book was published. I remember getting off my shift at the greasy spoon diner I was carhopping for that summer, driving directly to Barnes & Noble, and buying two copies so that Alan and I wouldn't sabotage each other to read it first. That was the end of the journey. Cause Harry's scar hadn't hurt for nineteen years, and everything was all right. Finito.

If we were talking about film adaptations that reached the caliber of book adaptation of The Lord of the Rings and The Godfather, I'd be more willing to negotiate. But no director with a sweeping vision or love of the deeper themes of the story came in and crafted an interpretation that stayed true to the characters and narrative while taking liberties that brought out the sweetest notes of the underlying message. The Harry Potter movies are crass commercialization, a capitalization on a truly delightful world of possibility and imagination that got shoved unceremoniously through a thirty-year-old carbon copy machine, emerging smeared with ink and stretched until the paper itself was almost translucent from wear.

Instead of picking apart the entire series, I will highlight one character to make my point: Hermione Jean Granger. Brilliant. Passionate. Idealistic. Loyal friend. Bitingly sarcastic. Feisty. Impatient. Know-it-all. Socially awkward . . . . Hot? Pouty, whimpering, girly? Ew! Stop it. I feel betrayed by the movie franchise. Hermione was the example that people could still like you, that you could be valued on a totally different bar graph, that smarts really did stand alone as a value, that all of these elements were so much better than not having buck teeth and frizzy hair.

Am I over identifying here? Of course I am. Which only makes my criticism carry more weight, because I'm the key part of the demographic who had the most to lose in the movie's desecration of Hermione. If there is so much as one single "but she's hot" comment on this post, I will annihilate you with rubber bands. I don't care how long it takes. I will find a way.

I'mma gonna go watch Some Kind of Wonderful now. And listen to a lot of Heartless Bastards. But not at the same time. That would make no sense.

* I am perfectly aware that I am mortally offending some of my dear friends right to the quick with this list. Know that I still love you, see the above paragraph about how cranky I am, and . . . get over it? Too harsh? Kisses!