I would not even write about this if I had not seen an example of this prototypical behavior on a television comedy. And when you’re mining for “Life’s Ultimate Truths”, after the Bible, the next font of nurturing wisdom is unquestionably sitcoms. Especially sitcoms on premium cable.
I have talked in the past about watching and enjoying the HBOseries Crashing. In this semi-autobiographical series, protagonist – and series creator – Pete Holmes is a thirty year-old man with a strict religious upbringing who, after catching his wife cheating on him, commits to a newlife as an aspiring standup comedian.
This post is only tangentially about that. But I needed to properly “set the scene.” Anyway, in one Crashing episode, there’s this arranged dinner for Pete’s creepily clingy Mom’s birthday at which Pete has promised his now estranged spouse he will announce that they have permanently split up, a revelation Pete has been anxiously reluctant to divulge. (And therefore insisted she come withhim.)
This post is only tangentially about that as well. But we’re getting closer.
At one point, the estranged wife leaves the table and there is an uncomfortable silence amongst the remaining family members, which is finally broken when Pete’s father suddenly reports,
“I bought a new ladder.”
And here we are. The train of thought – “Toot-toot” – arriving, after two hundred and twenty-four words of contextual buildup at its destinational station. Maybe I’ll shorten it in rewrite. Though experience suggests it will get longer. (Final Tally: Wow. Two hundred and twenty-onewords.)
At the end of the episode, under or just after the “End Credits”, I can no longer remember which, Pete Holmes – as himself – explains that, like the father in Crashing, hisfather also blurts out bizarre non sequitors, confusingly out sync with the current ongoing conversation.
This vignette is funny because it is hilariously unexpected.
But it is additionally achingly accurate.
I know that. Because I’ve donethat. In fact, I may have once actually said, “I bought a new ladder” myself.
After purchasing a new ladder.
And thinking, somehow, it was worth mentioning.
Pete Holmes is uninterested in unraveling this strange but recognizable behavior, being content with the verisimilitudinous “That’s what they do.” Since, however, I have considerably more time on my hands – and am (selectively) curious by nature – I started to ponder the origin of this inexplicable, like “Birds that fly backwards” phenomenon.
Why do fathers lob tedious grenades of unasked-for information into the midst of otherwise normal conversations? (I imagine the word “tedious” and “grenades” have never before stood side-by-side in a sentence.)
Here’s the answer I came up with:
Nobody is talking to us.
And to fulfill the philosophical dictum: “I just heard my voice, therefore I am”, fathers say things that fly incongruously in from left field. It’s hardlythe “A” material, but it’s something.
What else can we reasonably contribute? We cannot provide valuable infant childcare suggestions. We have – I am speaking stereotypically here – little interest in unbelievable shopping discoveries. We have zeroto offer concerning “The Real Housewives of Anywhere.”
So we offer the best thing we can come up with.
“I just bought a new ladder.”
“I am thinking of getting a haircut.”
“I feel so relieved after filing my on-line tax payment.”
Which is immediately greeted by “That Look”, that says,
“Why are you talking nonsense?”
I know children love their fathers. But it’s like, I don’t know, a guy helps change your tire by the side of the highway and then stays around for the rest of your life. That’s exactly how it feels. They’re grateful. But it’s like,
“Are you still here?”
No question, fathers make indispensible contributions to their children’s lives. And I’m sure their offspring are appreciative of their efforts. So there’s
“Thanks for sperm donation. I especially like the chin.”
“And the money – that always comes in handy.”
And “You cried when I had my teeth out when I was nine. That was sweetly memorable.”
“But what purpose are you serving today?”
I mean, it’s not like we’ve literally been ostracized.
“Dad, nobody says, ‘Don’t jump in.’ Just say something we careabout.”
Having serious difficulty coming up with anything you might both conceivably be interested in, the remaining options are, you sit silently as if you passed away but you still pick up the check. Or you wrack your brain, searching for anything to say!
I do not have the solution to this problem. And I suspect the older I get, the worse it will be, “I bought a new ladder” eventually replaced by “I’m enjoying my new hip.”
Who knows, maybe I’m not interesting anymore. But if that’s true – that I am genuinely not interesting –