Friday, June 22, 2007

Glimpses of My Father on the Silver Screen

My mom often talked about how my dad looked a lot like Humphrey Bogart. I could never see it, but then, I didn't really know much about "Bogie" back in the day. There were, in fact, quite a few physical similarities between the two. Brown eyes, slender build, slightly receding hairline, determined jaw, and an often-pensive facial expression--all of these could easily describe either man. But this was before video rentals, classic film tributes, and cable T.V. When Mom would tell us how much Dad looked like "Bogie" we had no true reference point. Back then, the only time they ran a classic movie (except for "The Wizard of Oz") on television was on The Late Show--long past bedtime.

But lately, I've been seeing Dad in some of these classic films, if you know what I mean. I think of Mom watching these same movies and after all this time I think I understand her. "Bogie" was a movie star long before my folks met, so she had an idea of what "Bogie" was about when she met my dad and recognized these qualities in him. However, I don't find my father in "High Sierra," "Angels With Dirty Faces," "The Petrified Forest," or "The Desperate Hours." Bogart's fine creation of such menacing villains in these films obliterates any sort of semblance between him and my father. No, to see glimpses and glints of my dad on the silver screen you have to watch and listen to the devoted family/working man in "They Drive By Night," the quiet, war veteran turned hero in "Key Largo," or the hard-driving, stoically passionate riverboat captain in "The African Queen." The "Bogie" character Mom found to be the most like my dad had to be Rick, the reluctant warrior in America's most-beloved film, "Casablanca." Like the rest of the Greatest Generation and much of the Heartland in general, Rick is reluctant to battle and when is finally forced into it he fights for liberation--never for conquest. "Still Waters Run Deep" sings the song and that was my father as it still is for much of America. When there is even so much as talk of attacking America we reluctant warriors gear up. Remember these lines from "Casablanca"?

Major Strasser (of Hitler's SS): Can you imagine us in London?
Rick: When you get there, ask me.
Major Strasser: How about New York?
Rick: Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade.

My dad didn't live to see September 11, 2001. But I know how he would have responded because the day after Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the army at the age of 17. Later on, his work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory helped win the Cold War.

Devoted. Patriotic. Passionate. Hard-working. War Veteran. Quiet. As the years roll on, my pride in him grows. I see in him what my mother saw, but I would have to add that he also closely resembled a resident of one of those "...certain sections of New York." Happy Father's Day, Dad.

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