Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Monday, September 1, 2014

Oh, the Mistakes a Parent (meaning me) Made

Since this is Labor Day, this will be brief (mustn't work too hard)!--but also saturated with guilt ...

I did and said a lot of things I regret when I was a younger (and older) father. Too many to catalogue. But today I was reminded of one of the more egregious ones. Joyce and I were having lunch with our son, Steve (now 42), and his family--wife Melissa, sons Logan (9) and Carson (5)--when the subject of sharks arose. It's recently been Shark Week, I know, and the Sharknado movies are now part of the culture. Our two grandsons are very interested in sharks (as was their father when he was their age, as I would have been if Jaws had been part of my boyhood; it wasn't).

I chatted with Steve a little about the time we saw Jaws (the first one), and I asked him when that film was first released. He thought it was 1976; I just checked: It was June 1975. In either case I was horrified: Steve was only four years old at the time. Why would I take a four-year-old to see Jaws?

Well, as Shakespeare said, thereby hangs a (shark?) tail ...

That summer of 1975 we were visiting my brothers in Massachusetts. At the time, older brother Richard was the classical music critic for the Boston Globe (he's now retired), and, as per always, he had scored us some seats for a Boston Symphony concert at Tanglewood. But younger brother Dave and I thought we'd have time to see Jaws first. So Dave, Joyce, Steve, and I--without telling Richard (who'd already gone to Tanglewood and was saving seats for us)--drove to a local movie theater to see that gory, frightening film.

By the time it was over, we were already late for the beginning of the concert. (This was in pre-cell days when we couldn't text Richard to let him know we'd be late.) We arrived just in time for intermission--and in time to meet a very worried Richard.

To whom we promptly lied. Told him some bogus story about why we were late--a story we (later that day?) rescinded and told him the truth. (It has now achieved the status of a Family Story.)

Need I note that Richard wasn't happy?

I regret that.

But even more? I regret that I took my four-year-old son to see Jaws! Here's what I sort of vaguely remember: When it started getting really scary, Joyce took him out to the concession stand. (But did that really happen, or am I fabricating a memory? I think it did happen--principally because Joyce has always had far more sense than I--and she abhors frightening movies, anyway. So ... little Steve was not in the theater during the worst parts--though that is entirely due to Joyce's maternal wisdom, not my paternal doltishness.)

Anyway, when Steve and I talked about Jaws today, I was horrified. I told him it was child abuse--and I asked him (he's passed the bar) if he could still sue. He said he could (though I'm not sure I trust him on that!).

There are many other things I regret as a father, but that's enough for now. I don't think my psyche can stand thinking about them. It would be a bit like, you know, swimming with a Great White.

PS--When I taught middle school English, I often gave my kids (as a model of descriptive writing) Peter Benchley's description of the shark in the novel Jaws (1974). I liked to use that passage for a variety of reasons (sharks are always more interesting that adverbs!), but principally because Benchley used all the senses he could (not smell--kind of hard to do that under water) and because he described the creature from head to tail. After we read it and talked about, the kids wrote their own descriptions, trying to apply what Benchley had taught them.

Here's that passage:

Rising at him from the darkling blue—slowly, smoothly—was the shark. It rose with no apparent effort, an angel of death gliding toward an appointment fore-ordained.

Hooper stared, enthralled, impelled to flee but unable to move. As the fish drew nearer, he marvelled at its colors: the flat brown-grays seen on the surface had vanished. The top of the immense body was a hard ferrous gray, bluish where dappled with streaks of sun. Beneath the lateral line, all was creamy, ghostly white. …

The fish came closer, silent as a shadow, and Hooper drew back. The head was only a few feet from the cage when the fish turned and began to pass before Hooper’s eyes—casually, as if in proud display of its incalculable mass and power. The snout passed first, then the jaw, slack and smiling, armed with row upon row of serrate triangles. And then the black, fathomless eye, seemingly riveted upon him. The gills rippled—bloodless wounds in the steely skin.

Tentatively, Hooper stuck a hand through the bars and touched the flank. It felt cold and hard, not clammy but smooth as vinyl. He let his fingertips caress the flesh—past the pectoral fins, the pelvic fins, the thick, firm genital claspers—until finally (the fish seemed to have no end) they were slapped away by the sweeping tail.

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