It’s always an awkward thing visiting my parents.
They’re nice people, but willfully conventional. Their dress, conversation and behavior follows very specific codes. Anything different from that really throws them. Meaning: I throw them, due to…my history. Their efforts to talk around any potentially unusual topic makes for a lot of strained conversations.
This is particularly true with my dad. When I’m around, he will think and think, grasping for topics to discuss, yet always settle on sports.
He’ll ask, “So…um. See the game last night?”
I’ll say, “No.”
He’ll pause, then keep at it. “Ah. What about the game last week?”
“At no point in time have I seen anything resembling a game.”
“Did you see the sportscenter commercial where they…”
“Football season is coming up.”
“Which one is that?”
I try to be polite, but the point is that dad can’t get out of Normal Guy mode. He’s in it, permanently, and my lack of interest in his interests generates a huge amount of distance between us. He knows that I’m an introvert…a reader…not into sports. But his mind just can’t turn that corner and go with it.
For my part, I like that he is genuinely passionate about these things. They make him happy and that’s great. I make an effort to listen to his monologues about teams and players he’s into. But it doesn’t work both ways, and that’s where the distance comes in.
It’s not that I want him to ask about my interests. It’s just: the fact that my parents are so uncomfortable around someone different from themselves…it makes any sort of connection feel almost impossible.
My dad is a smart guy and over the years he discovered a solution to this problem: movies. Any time I visit, he’ll take me out to a movie. It’s pretty obvious that this is just a way for us to be together without actually having to say anything. I’m all for it.
I let him choose what we see, because I know anything I pick out- usually weirdo, independent films- will just drive him screaming from the theater.
Unfortunately, he picks actions films…and only action films. I watch, go through it each time, but it’s painful. Action films are often loud, visually confusing and generally filled with flagrantly expository dialog.
Also, I’m never able to take action scenes themselves- the centerpiece of these movies- seriously. Grunty super-people doing backflips through exploding windows while shooting bazookas at time-traveling mega-tanks…it’s not my thing. Makes me want a nap.
In 2009, the film Avatar came out. He was pumped about that movie in a way I’d never seen, he couldn’t wait to see it.
I happened to be visiting my parents during the film’s opening day. I arrived to discover that dad had purchased two tickets in advance, without asking me. I just started closing down the old emotions, numbing them out, and mentally preparing.
So, there we were, in a long line waiting outside the theater, everyone chatting, my dad excited, grinning with anticipation.
I tried to lessen the pain by going in with low, low expectations. Still, the whole thing was a nightmare. Blue people riding dinosaurs; explosions; guns and jumping; dialog explicitly spoon-feeding the audience every theme and message. Nature good. Technology bad.
My senses felt pummeled…my brain wilted. It was a tough one to wait out.
I even tried taking my 3D glasses off several times so that I could see the film less clearly, but my dad would just elbow me and say, “No! You have to wear those! You’ll miss the effects!” I dutifully put them back on and resumed the long…long…film. If I remember correctly, Avatar was 300 hours long.
Afterwards, we had our usual post-movie conversation. He was energized. I was enervated.
He said, “That was amazing!”
I couldn’t bring myself to be honest. I usually can’t. I told him, “Yes.”
“Those scenes with the flying creatures,” he added, “Those were, just…wow. Intense.”
“Dinosaurs.” It was all I could muster.
He looked confused, said, “Those were animals from a different planet; not dinosaurs.”
“Oh! Animals. Got it.”
“What was your favorite part?” he asked.
“Well…that robot at the end. That was all right.”
“That was a weaponized suit being operated by the bad guy. Not a robot.”
“Oh the suit then, I liked the suit.”
It was obvious that I had not been paying attention. He stared. I rubbed my face. Slowly, I said “The three-dimensional glasses were…they enhanced…you know…”
He just walked away; we went home.
Once there, he looked at his watch, said, “Sportscenter.”
So we watched that for awhile. People knocked a variety of balls around different types of fields. Announcers screamed. My dad pumped his fists.
It was confusing.
Again, I wouldn’t want my parents to pretend to be interested in my interests. We’re just very different people and that’s okay. I just wish my differences didn’t make them uncomfortable. Sensory issues, social deficits…I wish they could let themselves see all of that and feel at peace with it.
Maybe then we’d feel less distant around one another. (And maybe I wouldn’t have to see so many actions films with inarticulate super-people and space dinosaurs and flying mega-tanks.)