This post is about my dad. You see, in my younger years my dad spent a lot of time introducing me to things that I didn’t have interest in because “daaaaaad, nooo”. Nobody listens to their parents when they’re young but especially when they’re a teen because parents are old and uncool and just sort of in the way. As you age, though, you learn things. First, you learn that at the age you thought your parents were so ‘old’ they were really the same age you are now or, maybe, younger. And that thought is what we call ‘pending mortality’. It happens to everyone except immortals. Second, you learn that you know less as you age which means your life works on an inverse curve. It also means you realize your parents know more than you ever previously gave them credit for because of how much you thought you knew that was actually blinding you to all the things you didn’t know. It’s a difficult concept, I know. Just understand that your life as a pie chart involves about three quarters of the pie being Things You Don’t Know and the remaining quarter divided into tiny slices of Things You Do Know and Things You Could Have Known If You’d Listened To Your Parents Earlier. And third, my dad had interesting things to show me.
Some of the things dad introduced me to I had the good sense to appreciate more or less in a timely fashion. The appreciation only grew as I realized that what he’d done was unlock the door to culture and literary classics for me.
‘The Call of the Wild’ and ‘White Fang’
‘The Call of the Wild’ and ‘White Fang’ are both novels by Jack London. They are essentially companion pieces, though they feature different characters, and operate as thematic mirrors. ‘The Call of the Wild’ is about an abducted domesticated dog that has to revert to wild ways to survive the brutal environment of becoming a sled dog in the Yukon. And ‘White Fang’ is about the slow domestication of a wild wolf-dog. Both are survival tales and both centre on and are told from the main canine character’s point of view. They are not books I would ever have picked up on my own and I do have vivid memories of being particularly horrified at the passage in ‘White Fang’ where White Fang is nearly killed in a savage dogfight with a bulldog. The books are gorgeous, though, and tell violent animal and human stories with examinations of morality and redemption underpinning them. They stuck with me through all these years and I’d never have tried either of them without dad.
‘What Katy Did’
This is another gem of a book, this one by Susan Coolidge, that I’ve never been able to shake the memory of. It involves a spirited girl involved in an accident that paralyzes her and how she comes to learn the value of her inner self through coping with the aftermath. Okay, that managed to make it sound incredibly boring. It isn’t boring, it’s a delight. Katy reacts much the same way I imagine any of us would react to becoming paralyzed - that is, she’s not an optimistic saint and it takes a Herculean effort on her part to find any way to be kind or hopeful as the recovery drags on. I was heavily into Nancy Drew, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and Narnia back in the day so anything very grounded in reality, like 'Katy', I’d have dismissed out of hand on my own. I also recently learned that this isn’t a book dad had even read first - unlike many of the others he pressed into my hands - but just one he found and thought I’d enjoy. Proving that sometimes dads really do know best because ‘Katy’ is a compelling read for headstrong girls.
Most of what dad recommended to me, however, I chose to ignore in the ‘wisdom’ of my youth. The things dad thought might be of value to me were so boring and OLD (the worst crime a thing can be when you’re young, don’t you know) and uncool! Until one day I discovered... they weren’t? (Note: it helps if you read this sentence in the manner of Owen Wilson’s character Eli Cash from The Royal Tenenbaums - from the scene in which he’s describing the plot of his novel about Custer dying at Little Bighorn thusly: “What this book presupposes is... maybe he didn’t?” Moving on.)
Following, then, are a host of things that dad attempted to introduce into my formative years that I resisted until I was older. If you’re young (say, a teen) you’ll probably read this and think “You only think these things are good because you yourself are now old” to which I say “PSHAW YOUNGSTER! You know not that of which you speak. And also get off my lawn.” If you’re at all interested in culture and things that are quality, however, regardless of your age, you will read this list and nod sagely and say to yourself (or maybe out loud), “These are wise recommendations. Truly Mr. Simpson knows what he’s talking about. I’m not going to wait a decade or two to try these out like his wayward daughter did.” And power to you for being quick on the old learning draw.
Zamfir’s ‘The Lonely Shepherd’
I’ve already covered this one in the post ‘Tarantino and Zamfir: Memory By Song’ but it bears repeating because back in the day I fully hated Zamfir. I hated that damn pan flute and the haunting strains of the song and I wanted nothing more than to shove the pan flute [REDACTED]. Anyway, I wasn’t a fan. And to be fair dad didn’t really introduce Zamfir to me directly so much as he just enjoyed Zamfir on his own and made us listen to it at dinner. And in the car. And between meals. I suppose it shouldn’t take Quentin Tarantino to back up something your dad tells you but that’s what happened. The way Tarantino used ‘The Lonely Shepherd’ in Kill Bill Vol. 2 made the necessary impact and I finally got it.
Lawrence of Arabia
Yes, this movie is a bonafide classic. This movie has everything: Peter O’Toole! Alec Guinness! Anthony Quinn! Omar Sharif! David Lean! Based on a true story! Tragedy! Triumph! Unbelievable cinematography! Seven Academy Awards! And I was definitively uninterested in all my parents’ combined attempts to convince me that it was deserving of three and a half hours of my time. I used to refer to it as “death by sand” or “the endless desert movie” and things of that nature because I was an idiot. Until one day I actually watched it. And people, there’s a reason it’s a classic. It is magnificent! It’s sweeping, majestic, wrenching, glorious... all the words studios put on movie posters that you laugh at because usually they’re boldfaced lies but in this case, people, they’re all true. It’s really that good. Another point for dad.
‘A Christmas Carol’
By Charles Dickens. This is also a classic. A classic’s classic, if there’s such a thing. How can anybody not like 'A Christmas Carol'? Was I Scrooge? Was I the Grinch? It’s not that I didn’t like ‘A Christmas Carol’. I liked Christmas, of course, and the idea of ghosts and themes involving curmudgeons growing a heart and so on but I didn’t specifically enjoy reading ‘A Christmas Carol’ on its own because it wasn’t short and easily-digested like so many other Christmas things are wont to be. It was wordy and required thought. So I sort of resisted digging in. Once in awhile dad would read it to us on Christmas Eve, however, and I did enjoy that. And he had a version of it that included grotesquely wonderful clay-like caricature illustrations by Peter Fluck and Roger Law that has since become my most favorite version of the story ever. In any case my full confession is that yes, I resisted ‘A Christmas Carol’ for the worst reason of all for a budding writer: too many words. Dad was right about this too. I’ve seen the light. (Aside: the Muppets’ version always bothers me for this reason - why are all the girl Cratchits pigs and all the boy Cratchits frogs? That is NOT how DNA works, man.)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
I’m just going to throw a random assortment of quotes at you to preemptively convince you of this movie’s greatness.
General Jack D. Ripper: Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.
President Merkin Muffley: Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room.
Ambassador de Sadesky: There were those of us who fought against it, but in the end we could not keep up with the expense involved in the arms race, the space race, and the peace race. At the same time our people grumbled for more nylons and washing machines. Our doomsday scheme cost us just a small fraction of what we had been spending on defense in a single year. The deciding factor was when we learned that your country was working along similar lines, and we were afraid of a doomsday gap.
President Merkin Muffley: This is preposterous. I've never approved of anything like that.
Ambassador de Sadesky: Our source was the New York Times.
Now, of course, I love this movie so much that I can’t imagine a time I didn’t but I am quite sure there was a time I gifted my parents with a liberal eyeroll while they were watching it. After all, it was black and white. And weird. And I didn’t know any of the actors in it. George C. Scott? Peter Sellers? Directed by some Stanley Kubrick guy? I can’t say when I first voluntarily watched it but I can say this: it’s life-changing and utterly hilarious. I’ll give dad two points for this one because it’s that awesome.
There are so many more things dad - really, both my parents - introduced me to that if I were to list them all none of us would ever leave this blog. So I’ll end here with a big thank you to dad for these. (But for real I’m still not sold on the Tijuana Brass so that’s one point you don’t get.)
And today’s 'G.I. Joe' lesson (because learning is half the battle) is of course that parents frequently know more than we give them credit for in our impetuous youths. Those Who Are Young: you can get ahead of this inevitable learning curve by just listening to your parents now. Or wait. It will come full circle eventually and in twenty years this blog entry will strike you as insanely profound. Your call.
- Corinne Simpson