Father’s Day. I always yawn when people pick a day honoring some cherished segment of society to complain.
BUT. Today I become one of those people. Kinda, sorta. Let’s just say, this is a day which has always been loaded for me being a daughter who grew up without her father. But for over a decade, I was done with all that. If anything Fathers Day only makes me winge because it’s always a Sunday where restaurants are annoyingly over-booked and where my grown kids and I (all raised without fathers) awkwardly try to decide what the hell to do with the day – do we see each other and hang out, or not?
For some reason that original heartbreaker has crept up on me this year. Well, look at him…let’s start there. This is him the year before I was born.
Yeah, that’s him alright. He could have been a movie star, no doubt, had he not been stuck in Ashland, Ky. He looks every bit James Brolin (who I cast to ‘play him’ in Gas Food Lodging) and he bears resemblance to Brolin’s son Josh. Some say Matt Dillon, some say James Garner. (On Facebook, men, exclusively men, saw Dick York from Bewitched – seriously dudes give me a break – Darren? Pshaw!) My Daddy was a dreamboat. And he knew it. His older sisters, beautiful themselves, fawned over him and his good looks.
Good looks and wits were Anders currency, they had little else, as one of the poorest families who grew up in South Ashland. My dad was next to the youngest of a whole big bunch of kids born to Anna Riffe. She was a descendant of The Hatfields and, further back, of Caleb Brewster, one of George Washington’s trusted spies portrayed in the AMC TV show Turn.
But Anna didn’t know that. And I wonder if that sense of pride might have empowered my father more – had he known he was related to the Brewsters who played such a major role in creating this country. (His ancestor Nathaniel Brewster was one of the first graduates of Harvard. My father only barely completed high school.)
My mother is herself a descendant of another of Washington’s spies, Abraham Woodhull, who’s the main character of AMC’s Turn, (I know it’s insane, and I actually directed an episode of the show! And blows my mind when I see scenes where Caleb and Abe are together, knowing they are ancestors from both my maternal and paternal lines).
Alberta Steed met Daddy when she was 12 years old. She was actually in love with his best friend Ferris. But Ferris didn’t seem to return her passion, not in the same way, though he liked her well enough (and they made out over their adolescent/teen years). My Daddy on the other hand, went for her big time. During the Revolutionary War and before and after, The Brewsters and The Woodhulls and The Jaynes intermarried and interbred in Setauket, Long Island before their descendants moved on to Virginia and eventually Kentucky. I sometimes wonder if some ancient subconcious ancestral connection brought on that spark of attraction between Bob Anders and Alberta Steed. It was very powerful and it created me.
But even before I came along, Daddy was real gone. Because of his striking looks, he was extremely appealing to women. And having grown up with older sisters, he knew how to turn girls upside down. Simply put – Dad was a dog. And he was always doggin’ around on my mom. And after they were married, it actually became worse, and he would not only dog around, he would abandon her and me for days at a time.
She had a jealous temper (Scorpio) and their fights were legendary. I get all that from her (I too be a Scorpion). She was also smart as hell and a fuck of a writer, so she could spit out ‘terrible truth’ insults in her jealous warfare. Yes, I inherited this too. Watch out for thrown plates and razor sharp phrases that will hurt you to your core, never to be forgotten.
But what else to do with a man who can’t be trusted, an abandoner? Not that mean barbs and plate shards hold him, but nothing short of abandonment causes a girl to strike out like that. Not if you’re my mom. Not if you’re me.
That’s my Daddy on the left, he played football at Ashland High School and won a sports scholarship to UK Morehead, but it wasn’t to be. I was.
My parents got married in 1953 because she was pregnant with me. My dad chewed his nails, freaked out when she told him that the rabbit died (sorry bunny). My papaw, my mom’s dad, arranged their civil ceremony and gave them a little place in the back of his linoleum tile shop, even decorated it for their wedding night with my mother’s Kay guitar on the bed and a note that said something like “let there always be music between you”.
Her mother, my beloved mamaw, wouldn’t speak to her for months, mad at her for getting pregnant. My mom was the youngest of 8 daughters. I think by the time of my conception, Grace Rice had had enough. My mamaw adored me once I was here, it was just the agony of yet another out-of-wedlock daughters’ pregnancy…and she had her reasons.
When Daddy was dying and I was at his bedside in Vegas (where else?!) he recounted the most amazing story I’d never known. I don’t think my mother even knew. He had another little girlfriend at the same time as my mom. I think her name was Cindy, maybe Becky, a very poor little country girl. He cared for her deeply. But when my mother told Daddy she was pregnant with me it forced his hand to make a break. He met Cindy at the school bus stop and said, “I can’t see you no more. I’m going to have to get married. Cause I’m going to be a dad.” He was quiet, then, “Oh she cried and cried.”
And Dad cried too – when I was born. Not cause he so moved by my birth (he wasn’t there, but in all fairness it was 1954, not many dads in the delivery room back then), not cause he was overwhelmed by the first glimpse at his baby girl. No my dad cried because I was so ugly. I was born breech and had a big red knot on my neck, and my head laid to one side as a result. My eyes were crossed and my features were squashed from the wacky trip through the birth canal, coming into the world ass-first. Yeah he cried over all that. And because, “She has a nose like Harry Steed”, my papaw.
But he DID come to find me beautiful. That is, when he could look beyond the mirror to see me, as he looked at himself, preening, grooming, admiring. Seriously. He was that vain. One of my earliest memories of Daddy was of him lifting me up into his arms and looking in the bathroom mirror together and saying, “Looky there Mary Allison, isn’t that the best looking’ man you ever did see?” I think in that moment I must have developed my first crush, “Yes Yes Yes!”
(around 1957, the football was Daddy’s idea)
There is no question, I was enamored of him. But Daddy had issues of his own. He couldn’t stay faithful, he couldn’t provide, didn’t much like work, couldn’t stay in one place (one of our various crappy apartments) for long, and he couldn’t control his temper and not only brawled with men, he knocked my mom around too. And although I don’t remember it, he made an amends on his deathbed for throwing me against a wall cause I woke him up one morning when he was hungover. I was 4.
My first heartbreak was when he was singing a song to my sister Luanna who had come along when I was 3. She was just a baby, maybe a year old. He was lying in bed with her on his belly singing, “Beautiful beautiful brown eyes…” And I was growing more and more jealous. But then the last line of the song sent me reeling, “I’ll never love blue eyes again.” I was the only one in our little family who had blue eyes. I burst into tears and tore out of the room. My heart was pierced all the way through. I remember the feeling to this day. He tried to console me, “Oh it’s just an old song, Mary Allison.” But that hurt never went away.
In 1959, Daddy left for good. And when I say that I know in my heart, it was for my good. If only that had been why he left. He went to California, to look for work. We had already done that as a family once before, we had moved to Chino, Ca. to live with his sister Billie and her family, and eventually we got our own place. I remember warmly those Chino days and the train ride out west from Kentucky. But they weren’t to last, for whatever reason, and we returned to Ashland.
(Sister Luanna and me at our Aunt Billie’s house in Chino, Ca. 1959)
He had gone before. He had hitchhiked to Detroit so many times, he always came back. Now, though, Daddy was really going. He kept saying it was not forever, he would be back. But I somehow knew, by the way my mother was crying, by the way he was crying, my Daddy was never coming back. I don’t actually remember this very well, but my mother told me I ran after him as he walked away, and I grabbed his leg and wouldn’t let go, he dragged me down the hall trying to break free, and finally did, with me lying there on the floor, desperately crying. I was five years old. And now I’m 60 years old. I thought I was over it. Until today. Dammit.
No Daddy never came back. He started a new family in California with my half brothers Dirk and Bobby, and their mother Dianne who paid for my parents divorce. I don’t think their marriage lasted any longer than his to my mom.
When I was six years old, for my birthday, he sent me a gift from California. A charm bracelet which spelled out H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D in chintzy gold letters and sparkly colored rhinestones. I cherished it. I wore it every single day until I lost it on the playground at Condit Elementary School. Frantic, I remember checking every wrist of every little girl in class to see if she’d found it. It was gone, like my Daddy. Years later, I found one on Ebay, and bought it for myself, and wore it to a few choice events – premieres etc. Then one of my kids got ahold of it and reduced H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D to:
(Clearly one of my children going through some hip hop phase, which rules out Tiffany.)
The next encounter with my Daddy after the divorce was in person. I was 7 years old and he was back in Ashland, visiting. He asked if I wanted to go to the movies. He could not have treated me to anything better, cause there was nothing I loved more than going to the movies. He let me pick the flick. I had already seen Breakfast At Tiffany’s twice. And it was playing at The Capitol, which was not my very favorite theater, I preferred Ashland’s own movie palace The Paramount (which is still there). But, this was the movie I wanted to see more than any other with my Daddy. So we went to The Capitol Theater, just him and me, to see my favorite movie.
Even though I was just a little girl, I understood that movie to my core. I still hold it precious, beyond the clothes which dominates the focus of 60s pop culture fetishists, beyond however people may discredit the movie as lesser than Capote’s novella – have you read it? It’s not appealing in the least, and I have never met anyone who’s managed to read it all the way through unless under the gun of a lousy professor. Yet I’ve seen the movie over a hundred times. Will see it many more times before I die. A story vastly improved by Hollywood.
I remember sitting in that movie theater all wound up with excitement, and flush, like I was on a date. I so hoped he loved the movie as much as I did. He seemed to. I don’t remember, I just remember – my Daddy took me to the movies.
I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not lost on me – the two gifts my Daddy gave to me: a charm bracelet spelling out Hollywood, and a trip to the movies, and yeah, I become a storyteller through movies. Well, of course. Of course.
Interesting though that my Daddy was never ‘discovered’ by Hollywood. He would have had to have been discovered, cause no effort would have come from him toward stardom. But he sure had the looks for it, and he could have easily done stunt work and been some handsome no-good asshole on a horse in The Rifleman or something. Here he was living in the shadow of Hollywood tending bar…well NORTH Hollywood to be exact. And as anyone quickly discovers – ha – North Hollywood is not Hollywood at all. It’s over the hill in the San Fernando Valley.
When I saw Daddy again, this is where he lived and where he did one good deed: he got a motel room in NoHo for my mother and my sister Luanna and me after we fled from my stepdad who was on a bender in Phoenix. I remember my first impression of LA: grimiest place ever. Thick orange smog. Then Dad found us an apartment in Sepulveda, a town in the North San Fernando Valley which no longer exists (well it’s called North Hills now). It was 1969, I hadn’t seen him since we shared popcorn and Junior Mints at The Capitol. Now I was a hippy girl and despite my insolence and all I had been through over the ensuing years, I still had expectations. Daddy expectations.
Daddy was crushingly disappointing. I think over the years there was an ideal built up – so easy to do with a fucking ghost. From that letdown, and so many things beyond my control, and so many traumas which had really not been addressed, bad turned to worse, and by the end of the year – long story – I was admitted to a series of mental hospitals and one stint in juvi.
(My mom and me, 1970, she’s pregnant with my sister Dominique, and I’m being admitted as an in-patient to Rest Haven Psychiatric Hospital which was situated above Chinatown in what was once Chavez Ravine. Tiffany saw this photo recently and wondered what the poster was. My guess is Jefferson Airplane. Those German Shepherds are just a little ominous, eh? And where’s the Downtown LA skyline, you ask? Didn’t yet exist. And yes, I’m barefoot.)
In 1971, at age 16, I decided to chart my own road map and save my life: I stuck out my thumb. I reversed my father’s abandoning choice. I left California with my adventurous disappointed soul and hitchhiked off the freeways winding through the SFValley. I carried a paper sack of belongings and dressed in boy clothes and with a paper map from the Mobil Station on Nordhoff Street, I set out on that crucial journey, eventually landing back in Ashland, Ky. to the scene of the crime – Daddy’s brutal departure for California. I reversed it, and reclaimed it.
Incredibly, Daddy was now living back in Ashland. I lived with him and his new wife briefly, but truly his daughter, I grew restless and left.
I saw my father seldom over the years, but every now and then, there he was, suddenly back, hoping to see me. He bought my little daughter Tiffany a beautiful pale pink quilted housecoat. One of his great acts of bravery was when Daddy saved me from flames when I was 4. I was wearing a little housecoat which caught on fire while I was warming myself on one of those little ornate 1920s gas heaters with the little cathedral windows. I got too close and my housecoat lit up. I don’t remember it but he bolted into quick action and tackled me to the floor rolling me around until the flames were gone. I don’t even bear a single burn scar.
When I wrote my first script in 1986, Lost Highway (not to be confused with the David Lynch film), which won both the Sam Goldwyn Screenwriting Award (first prize) and the Nicholl Fellowship, it was about my Daddy. About a record collector in search of a lost rockabilly artist, who solicits the help of his the man’s embittered and abandoned daughter in locating the jerk. I sent the script to my Daddy and he apologized for his major jerkery. The first in a series of amends. He said, “It was not YOU. It really was ME. Nah Nah you’re better than me. Better than I ever was.”
When I made Gas Food Lodging, again, the abandoning father was blatantly dad. I even cast James Brolin, who later signed a poster for my Daddy writing, “It was great being you…”. My dad was quite pleased I cast someone “good lookin’ enough” to play him.
(James Brolin being Daddy, Fairuza Balk being me in Gas Food Lodging 1992)
When he was dying, and I knew this time he really was, I went to him. See he had died once before from a heart attack. He had gone down the tunnel, he saw the white light, he saw his dead relatives in the meadow over the river calling to him, and then got pulled back, and found himself floating above the operating table, saw and heard the doctors working on him. He had that experience. And unlike everyone else who has had this experience, my old man still didn’t change his ways, and was still afraid of dying.
I drove to Vegas to see him. He’d been living there for about a decade. He was an alcoholic, womanizing, addicted gambler who smoked 3 packs of cigarettes a day. Going through the tunnel at the brink of stepping over had not slowed him down, and ironically it was not his heart that got him in the end, it was lung cancer.
He was on his fifth wife. While he was coughing up his lungs, she would watch soap operas on the overhead TV in his hospital room and announce she was going out for a ‘cig’rette’. Daddy bragged to me that the nurses couldn’t believe he was 60 years old, cause he was “so good lookin’.” Well, it’s true, I had to admit, he was frail, he was gaunt, his skin was paper thin, and his arms easily bruised. But his gray hair was silky, full, and gorgeous and his face, that face, so handsome.
I sat with him. For days. And I just let him talk. He told me everything he wanted to say. He told me about his mother, who he lost too young, and with whom he was so deeply smitten. He told me of leaving school one day, just walking right out the door, cause he wanted to see her. He described her opening the front door, looking at him with her hand on her hip, “Bobby what are you doing here?” He flirted smiling, “Mama I just wanted to see you.” And she knew he truly did. She spent the whole day lavishing him. Which was not easy for a woman who had borne some 13 kids in her life.
(With Matt Dillon, my dad’s look-alike on the set of Grace Of My Heart, 1995.)
He talked a little less about his father, Tom Anders, who by the time he met and married Anna Riffe was on the road to redemption. Anders was not his real name, it was Cantral. Tom Cantral, along with his father Alf, had once again violated the moonshining laws of South Carolina and were headed to prison when the younger Cantral, my grandfather, wrestled a gun from a US Marshall, shot him and fled. He ran to a cousins house who cut off his chains and told him, “run and don’t ever come back here again.”
Tom Cantral became Tom Anders (his mother’s maiden name) and told many stories of his origin (he had been born and raised a Cherokee in Oklahoma was one such story, but according to my DNA results from Ancestry.com, this was a tall tale created by a man on the lam). He met my grandmother Anna while working on building the bridge connecting Ashland and Coal Grove over the Ohio River. She was bringing lunch to her father, was the mother of four daughters and had just buried her third husband.
They married and had 8 children together. Tom Anders was never in trouble with the law again and had achieved his redemption. He achieved nothing more but he achieved that. Apparently, I adored him and he adored me. He died when I was a baby. And I never got to meet Anna, my grandmother. She died when my father was just 13 from a brain hemorrhage. And there is more to be discovered about her untimely death.
But my Daddy didn’t talk of that. He told me of how much he loved her. She was quiet and simple, and seemingly embodied all the ideals of her Puritan forebearers. He told me how my mother saw herself as Ruby Gentry. He told me how he thought men were more honest than women. “With your mother, she said she loved me, I said I loved her, I thought that was settled. But what she really meant was I love you if you do certain things…and don’t do other things.” Yes Daddy, romantic love is conditional. But parental love very rarely is. It should not be a disappointing relationship, it really shouldn’t be. It’s meant to be unconditional. And eventually all love should become friendship. Maybe this is what we would become.
The time had come for me to go. I called my spiritual teacher on the hospital pay phone and asked what I should do as my last moments with him. She was quiet, thinking, and then she said, “get him talking about that (near death) experience again”.
So I did. He told me as he always had in the past recounting it: he walked down a tunnel toward a bright white light, beyond was a beautiful meadow, between the meadow and the tunnel was a river. “In the meadow there was my brother Ricky calling to me, “Come on Slowpoke – that’s what he always called me.” He was growing tired but he wrestled up the next image, “And there was my mother, she was wearing a bright pink sweater – it looked like one of them old 50s movies.” I was enchanted, “You mean…like TECHNICOLOR?” He smiled and snapped his fingers, “Like Technicolor!”
I said, “Well Dad, that doesn’t sound bad.” He smiled at the ceiling, far away, “No, it was real nice.”
I felt my tears coming and gave him a kiss. “Well, I have to go now.” He said, “I’ll be foreseein’ ya’”. I knew what he meant. He smiled, flirtatiously. Dying, but still flirting. We didn’t either one say I love you. That was understood.
Upon leaving Vegas, I decided to play some slots, I had some quarters, what the hell. I stopped at one of the shitty places my dad liked, off the strip, in a strip mall. He had taught me to play the slots a few years earlier when I was in Vegas to see Martin Scorsese on the set of Casino to discuss my upcoming shoot on Grace Of My Heart. In town also that week was my daughter Tiffany who was running the merch table for the Dinosaur Jr. tour. Bass player Mike Johnson was getting married, everyone was in town at the same time. I spent an evening with my Daddy teaching me to play slots. He had emphysema and was walking around the casino with an oxygen tank, and still smoking like a fiend at the slot machines.
Now I was playing my last quarters in Vegas on my way out. I won $400 in quarters. I sent it to him to squander as he wished. He passed away a week later.
I don’t have any pictures of my Daddy and me together. At some point a jealous lover made my mother burn all her pictures of him. But even at that, I don’t recall ever seeing any photos of us together. One last thing I had confessed to him there in Vegas: I have a tendency to fall in love with men who are unavailable. He told me something strange and liberating, “That’s their problem, not yours.”
And if anyone would have known, he would.
Okay, I feel better now, carry on with your BBQ’s. I think I’ll watch Breakfast At Tiffany’s.
“Dillon, you dork! You know I don’t like being tickled!” You squealed, swatting him away with your hands. All you wanted to do was hang with your best friend for a few hours before meeting with Taylor for their new collaboration song. But, Dillon being Dillon, he wanted to annoy you with tickles. Outside, you were fuming. On the inside, you were fighting the urge to call him cute and kiss him. Yup. You caught that love bug, and it just so happens to be your best friend.
“Come on (Y/N)!” He taunted you. “All you have to do is say the magic words”. You roll your eyes.
“No way! Just stop tickling me!” He shakes his head and chuckles.
“Not gonna stop until I hear the magic words!”
“Ugh fine!” You huff in defeat. “Dillon Rupp is the sexiest, coolest, most awesome guy I know!”
“Preach!” he says and stops tickling you.
“Are you guys done doin’ it in there?” Taylor asks from behind the door. “I don’t wanna walk in and see naked butts or anything!”
Dillon rolls his eyes, not noticing your deep red blush. “Come in dude! My best FRIEND and I our fully clothed. Taylor waltzes in slowly, gaining pace as he sees you guys really are fully covered.
"Just making sure”, Taylor says, putting his hands up. “One can never be too careful”
“Yeah,” you say. “But one can be too annoying!” you smirk, high fiving Dillon.
“But if you love Dillon, you can learn to love me too!” he says and you blush.
“Yeah, we’ll see about”, you smirk. You check your phone; a new message! Opening it, you read the text aloud. “Josh wants to take me out tonight. Should I go?” you ask, turning to your best friend.
“Josh?” Dillon asks, incredulously. “Since when do you like Josh? He’s a total douche canoe! Sorry, (Y/N) but he’s not worth your time”.Your ears get redder and redder with anger. How could he say that? If you couldn’t date him, why not go out with someone else.
“Not worth my time?” You say, your voice getting louder. “You know what’s not worth my time?” you get up and walk to the door. “Spending time with the person I love so much but will never get any farther than friends!” Slamming the door, you run down the hallway.
Did she- did she really mean it? Damn, I really hope that’s true. “Where do you think she ran off to?” Taylor asked, worried. “The fans know her. She could get mobbed!"
"I don’t know”, I say, rubbing my temples and closing my eyes in defeat.
“Oh so now you don’t know (Y/N) good enough to know where she could be hiding?” Taylor asks, irritated. “You and (Y/N) go way back, like we do! I know you liked her ever since the 8th grade formal when you were each other’s first dances”.
“She doesn’t like me anymore anyway. You saw her run off!” I say, gesturing towards the door.
“Yeah I saw”, he says. “But I also saw how bad she wanted you to follow her”.
“You think if I told her, she’d be with me and not that Josh guy?” I ask, getting up to slip on my shoes.
“Of course man!” he says, excited. “Does this mean you’ll finally grow a pair and ask her?” I roll my eyes.
“Oh shut up Caniff!” I smirk and race out the door.
“Go Dill Pickle!” he cheers. “Go get her!” I laugh to myself. Now the question is; “where is she?”. Looking to the elevator, I see the sign to the stairs. They’re nice and quiet, and when (Y/N) gets mad, she runs to the most quiet part of a place. I smirk and run towards the stairs.
How could I have been so stupid? I just told him I liked him and ran away! This is so pathetic! He must think I’m a complete idiot. Well, if he’s not gonna care for me, I have someone who does. I pull out my phone and dial Josh’s number.
On the final RING, Dillon runs up the stairs. Panting, he comes to you and crashes his lips to yours. The kiss was passionate, as if he wanted this as long as you have. You run your fingers through his hair as he pulls you tighter, making you smile. This is finally happening.
“(Y/N)” Dillon says, breaking the kiss. “You can’t go out with Josh. Not when you have someone who’s been waiting what feels like an eternity just to kiss you”. you blush at his words. Dillon does too. “If you love me like I love you, then be mine already!” he exclaims, kissing you again.
“A hundred times yes!” you say, a wide grin on your face.
“(Y/N)?” you hear coming from your phone. Crap! Josh was still on the line! “(Y/N)? Are you there?”
“Yeah hi Josh”, you say into the phone. Dillon gives you a confused expression. You wave it off. “About that date? Yeah I don’t think my boyfriend would like that”, you smirk and hang up.
“Boyfriend huh?” Dillon says, his arms wrapping around your waist. “Sounds sexy coming from you”,he says cheekily. “But you know what’s even sexier?"
"What?” you ask.
“If you kiss me right now”, he winks. You bring your lips to his again.
“I love you”, you say in breathy voice.
“I love you too” he smiles and pulls me as close as he possibly can.
B-roll from Outdated. 2007-2012. Adrian Vega, Dave Willis, Kevin Tierney, Brian Clarke, Billy Mcfeely, Brian Kelly, Brendan Grandstrand, Jersey Dave, Yaje Popson, David Perry, Dylan James, Jamal Smith, Josh Wilson, Richard Quintero, Sean Colello, Shaun Webber, Robbie Sunshine, Taji Ameen, Matt Daniels, Dillon Constantine, Jason Carroll, and Nick Riccardi.