I missed last night's Oscar telecast. I usually don't watch the Academy Awards. In 1993, I won $100 by correctly predicting all seven of the major awards while sitting on a bar stool and nursing an Old Style at the White Rabbit. I mean, how could I top THAT?
However, I read about the John Hughes tribute in the Times this morning, so I watched that bit of the telecast on YouTube. It offered a nice bit of high-school nostalgia for a Gen X'er like me; The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink were bellwether moments for people my age, especially those of us who had absolutely no idea who we were or how we fit. And I still show this to my class every quarter when I teach Georgina Kleege's "The Mind's Eye:
That's the Dream Academy playing an instrumental version of "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" by The Smiths, which also appeared on the "Pretty in Pink" soundtrack. I still treasure The Smiths, 23 years later. So thanks to Hughes for that.
But his adult-oriented scripts were pretty amazing, too. Just this last weekend, Blank and I quoted extensively from National Lampoon's Vacation while we stood in the Guthrie Theatre in St. Paul and looked out over the Mississippi River:
Dad, what river is this?
That's the Mississippi. The mighty Mississip. The old Miss...The old man..[Sings]: "Old Man River, old man river...."
The moment from the Oscars tribute that truly slayed me, though, was an exchange from She's Having a Baby. The protagonist, played by Kevin Bacon, is about to get married, and he's hoping his best friend, played by a sublime Alec Baldwin, can offer some encouragement to quell his mounting anxiety:
Do you think I'm going to be happy? I mean, honestly?
Maybe it'll work out. Who knows? [pause] Yeah, you'll be happy. You just won't know it, that's all.
Marriage and fatherhood are motherfuckers. Sure, family life is full of joy, love, laughter, warmth, and intimacy, but it's also really, really hard. After moving back to Omaha last fall, forgoing my teaching for a year, and reducing the variables in my life to writing, pedaling, and parenting, I've been forced to re-examine the roles I've played in my wife and children's lives.
So this morning I thought a bit about the dread and horror of impending fatherhood. I'll admit that I was terrified of being a father for many reasons, not the least of which was the utter failure of my own dad. But I also selfishly worried that kids would squash my freedom and my ambition. And in a sense, they did.
But a wise (and overly tall) poet once told me that men don't truly become fathers until late in the game. Women turn into mothers almost immediately, since their bodies begin to fundamentally change in response to the parasitic demands of a growing fetus. They undergo a fundamental paradigm shift of raging hormones and expanding body mass, and these changes buffet them for nine months of physical and emotional transformation. We men, on the other hand, just kind of brood and paint and shop and fret through our wives' pregnancies. Some men experience sympathetic morning sickness. Others suffer acute, shadowy "labor" pains.
Not me. And once we hit the hospital for the delivery, I adopted the role of Johnny-on-the-spot with the ice cubes. I was advocate, defender, nurturer, nurse-caller, doctor-persuader, and push coach. I rocked that maternity ward, and together, Jess and I kept Abbey from being delivered by c-section. With an assist from Wordsworth. But that's another story.
Yet I only became a dad once they handed me Abbey. THEN my hormones went berserk.
They're all over the place again lately, nine years later. Which may explain why this last clip has so haunted me today. The best evocation of the terror of childbirth that I've ever seen comes from a Hughes film. Thanks to him, too, for this: