My dad and I spent a lot of time together watching TV when I was growing up, especially after I went into puberty. Everything else in our relationship suddenly became strained in ways we didn’t expect. I started fighting with my mom all the time. I got my period, I started liking boys, and I began hating everyone around me along with selective parts of myself (teeth, hairy arms). Meanwhile, my Dad was dealing with not one, but two daughters becoming teenagers, and both my sister and I had decided our parents were generally uncool and annoying.
Our family didn’t have a lot of extra money floating around to take vacations with. We didn’t bond over camping or fishing, we didn’t go on weekend trips, we didn’t go to sports events or to the theatre. The main way we bonded, my dad and I, was TV. The TV was set up in my parents’ bedroom. My dad would watch from the bed and I would sit on the floor, leaning up against the foot of the bed. We didn’t talk during the show – that was the unspoken rule. We did our intellectual salon discussions of comedy during the commercial breaks…
DAD: Hey. You know why this is funny?
DAD: Because the whole thing is happening on one set, all in the Chinese restaurant.
ME: Yeah. So.
DAD: It’s because they’re trapped there. No escape. Everybody feels that way when you’re waiting for your table. Todo el mundo se siente asi. You see? You IDENTIFY. You see?
ME: I guess.
DAD: And then the writers, they add in the ridiculous part, the comedy, the part where these people are jerks.
ME: Yeah… ‘cuz we all want to be jerks but we can’t!
(silence while we watch.)
DAD: Yeah. It’s pretty good, you know?
ME: I know.
Once the show went into syndication we were in heaven. In my hometown, they’d show at least two, if not three episodes back-to-back. It was an hour and a half of time we sat in the same room, enjoying the same thing, father and teenage daughter. In the rest of our day, we couldn’t find common ground on anything, but during Seinfeld my father was the smartest man alive. I’d listen to him go on and on about the WHY of the funny thing we were watching. He’d dissect plot points and sound off about characters. The best was when he would guess where the writers were going with the story arc, and he’d figure it out by picking up on these tiny clues the writers were weaving in. I started to see the show more clearly, to be able to pull apart why something worked as I watched.
It’s really only now, as an adult, I can see the pricelessness of what we were doing. The stuff I picked up from my dad talking about tv with me ignited my curiosity and passion for acting and storytelling. Those early conversations were part of why I decided to become an actress, and why I love situational television comedy so damn much. And, then of course, there is all the subtext of our tv time, all the things we wanted to say but couldn’t.
DAD: Please spend more time with me.
ME: But I don’t know how to talk to you.
DAD: I’m afraid of you growing up and I don’t know how to talk to you about it.
ME: I’m afraid of everything.
DAD: You’re braver and smarter that you think.
ME: Yeah? Ok, yea!
DAD: Mi hija, I love you.
ME: I know.