Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Father's Last Year with Television

My Dad lived to the age of 81 and had a very long and lovely life. That's him up there in the picture, sitting in his favorite TV chair with a TV table, waiting for dinner. He was a World War II Naval veteran and a traveling road warrior for Eastman Kodak. He fathered five rambunctious and opinionated kids and was grandfather and great grandfather to minions. But during his last year of life his world got very small, as emphysema kept him housebound on a permanent oxygen tank, 24 hours a day. He had a little scooter and he would ride it around the inside of his Florida house with the oxygen tube snaking along behind him. As a daughter living 3000 miles away, I would often feel sick with worry that his life was too bleak and lonely. But he didn't want to move, and anyway he had plenty of company. He had his TV friends, and they were always faithful and never disappointed him. His television routine was ironclad and never varied from one day to the next. God help the unsuspecting visitor who might try to change the channel from its daily journey from the Orlando ABC affiliate morning news, to Good Morning America, to Regis, followed by many MASH repeats on a cable channel and then back to the Eyewitness News at 5pm the Eyewitness News at 6pm and then Jeopardy-Wheel of Fortune. Prime time was an old movie on TNT or AMC. If there was a John Wayne movie, that would be his first choice. He had seen every single one a hundred times. And yet, after a the first few minutes of a Duke movie, he would always say..."Hmmmm. I don't believe I've ever seen this one before."

Always and forever, this was the routine and Dad LOVED it. Especially the old M*A*S*H episodes, he couldn't get enough of them. I always thought it was fascinating that my father, a life-long Republican, was so smitten by a progressive anti-war television series about the Korean war. Radar, the epitome of teddy bear hugging innocence, was his favorite character. But it was Ken Jennings, the history making, longest running Jeopardy contestant that practically kept Dad alive in his last year. He was determined to see old Ken through to the end. One night when I was visiting, Dad had a breathing attack and I had to take him to the emergency room. At first he refused to go because Jeopardy wasn't over yet. I finally convinced him there would be a TV in the waiting room.

Hour to hour, day to day, this is how the time passed for my Dad. He would have his Ensure in the morning and his frozen dinner at night. Grandsons and daughters and friends and traveling nurses would all come and go, but his television remained constant; a bright and cheerful box of life and color that kept his days full and bearable. And of all the many reasons why I love TV, I think that this one, is right up there at the top.

Here's to the memory of my father, and all the Dads who are comforted in their twilight years by television. Happy Father's Day. Or as they said on the final episode of M*A*S*H: "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen".


Lisa said...

What can I say, Jane? Your memories of your father and his love of television reaffirms why I went into the business over thirty years ago. I wanted to make people happy when they watched TV, as I had always been happy when I watched TV. And as your father had, and as you have, and every one of us reading or writing on The Flaming Nose. In spite of all that's stupid and wrong about TV, it still is capable of bringing much joy and companionship to folks. That's something many working in TV have no connection with -- that people are actually taking their time to watch your television channel or show -- but I always maintained a connection with viewers because deep down that's what I was, and still am.

It is adorable that he loved M*A*S*H so much, but a lot of intelligence and warmth went into the show, so it isn't so hard to understand after all. It will be interesting to see if TV, as it's wont to do, keeps trying to rachet down the target demographic as we are all aging. It will be an interesting proposition -- a larger older demo, which advertisers don't want, but we will be the ones consuming TV. Something's gotta give someplace. (And of course TV isn't even TV anymore, with the net and all that.)

I'm so glad that your Dad found TV to love and keep him company. TV has always been my friend, too. (My Dad wasn't much of a TV guy...can't imagine how I turned out the way I did!)

Here's to all our fathers, here or no longer with us....

Dean Treadway said...

Great post, Jane! Very astute and sentimental in the best ways.

I love discussing the connection between TV and the people who watch it. Working with Lisa at TNT, one of my main jobs was dealing with the e-mails, letters and phone calls flooding intho the station on a regular daily basis. This was a unique job, one that a lot of my fellow co-workers thought would be hellish. Yes, it could get difficult at times. But mostly it was a joy, talking with people who loved TV so much they just had to reach out to the people who were providing them programming to consume.

My dad's favorite shows were The Rifleman, Lone Ranger, The FBI, Police Story, and he loved all war and action movies. He was a real guy's guy, and I loved him. Happy Father's Day, Buddy.