Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

I made a cartoon once based on the first fan letter we got for Ren and Stimpy. It was from a kid named Anthony.
So I featured my Dad in the cartoon playing Anthony's father. I used scenes and images that were etched in my brain from being reared by a man who believed in rules and discipline.
This is how I saw him when I came home from school one day all happy, whistling a Frank Sinatra tune and ready to watch the after school cartoons on TV. He heard me come in the door and slowly, ominously turned around...
He shoved the paper in my face and blurted 'YOUR HERO'S DEAD!!!"
The headline said in huge letters
I went into shock. Then Dad took the opportunity to launch into one of his favorite lectures:
"Now maybe you can put away all your little kiddie cartoons and fantasies about being a big shot Hollywood cartoonist, and start thinking about getting serious about your future!"
"You're 11 years old!! Grow the F*@%$!! UP! It's time you started putting your paper route money in the bank. Earn some interest for when you retire."
When Dad got impatient with me (pretty much every day), he always had to hold back his emotions. I could tell part of him wanted to give me the licking I so deserved, but he would pull at his face with his huge meaty hands - the hands of a working man- to hold in the the explosion trying to rip through his skin.
Anyway all these scenes that I actually witnessed growing up ended up in "A Visit To Anthony". During the production, I told my Dad that I was making a special cartoon to honor him and he really looked forward to it. "Finally, the kid's grown up! He's showing me some Goddamn respect at last!!"
So he started telling all his friends about it: "Hey Earl! What does YOUR kid do for a living? Yeah? Ha, big deal. Well MY KID IS IN HOLLYWOOD MAKING PICTURES!! And he made one about me! ME for Chrissakes! You hear that? Yep, he's real mature. Not like that bum of yours you call a son!"

So when the cartoon was finished I got on my private jet from Hollywood and flew up to Ottawa with a video tape of the picture. I didn't show it to him right away though. I waited until we went to the cottage for the weekend.
You've heard of the American Dream? ...2 car garage, a nuclear family etc.? Well the Canadian dream is to have a "cottage".
You know your family's doing OK if you can afford to have a summer home - a rustic house on a lake out in Canada's majestic hinterland.
Well we had a cottage and my Dad had lots of friends on the lake who had their own cottages. We were eating barbecued burgers (Dad calls them "hamburgs") and he was staring at my video tape. "Gimme that Goddamn thing" and he grabbed it and tossed me in the canoe. With one furious stroke he paddled us across the lake to his best friend's cottage the only one on the lake with electricity. Inside a bunch of the guys were hanging around drinking beer, playing darts and telling dirty stories.

They said to me, "Hey Johnnie, did you bring that cartoon of your old man?" I shoved it in the VCR and we all sat down to watch it. Dad sat back in his chair beaming - until a couple minutes into the cartoon and his face turned to stone. All the guys were laughing and slapping their legs
and looking around at him as his face turned purple. They were elbowing him in the ribs and stuff. "Man, you really nailed him didn't you kid!? Har har har!!" "He's got you down, Mike! Guffaw, chortle!" Then they went back to the beer. Dad didn't say anything. In fact he didn't say anything for days.

Then when we went home and I woke up one morning, I sat down at the breakfast table. Dad was there eating his corn flakes. He didn't say anything for minutes; he just gazed at me with steel in his eyes. I was eating my bacon and Kolbassa sandwich when finally the ice broke and he said...

I kinda suspected he didn't like it, that I made him look too much like a harsh disciplinarian. I was about to explain how in cartoons you have to exaggerate and take artistic license to make the stories more entertaining when he told me what he didn't like about the cartoon. "You little twerp...

Whoa! That was the opposite reaction to what I thought I was gonna get! The he went on to explain what he didn't like about the picture.

It was these scenes, when Anthony's father thinks the kid has had an asthma attack brought on by the antics of Ren and Stimpy.
Dad said to me. "I never CRIED over anybody!
And I certainly didn't hug you OR ANYBODY ELSE!!"
"Goddamn it now my friends are gonna make fun of me every time I see them! I guess I'm gonna have to close up the cottage. It's all your fault.
I better get a new son. One that's more of a man LIKE ME."

My Dad believes in "tough love" and that's for damn sure! I now admit that yes, I made up this whole soft sequence in the cartoon just to give some contrast and relief to the tough scenes around it.

I'm going to go home for a visit in July and Dad will probably Indian leg wrestle me now that I've reminded him of the shame I brought upon him by featuring him in the cartoons - and making up some crap that didn't happen.

Anyway, HAPPY FATHER'S DAY DAD, and to all the other dads out there. Don't raise any wimps!
Another scene from real life....
Next year maybe I'll tell you the story about the time Dad gave me and all my teenage buddies a lecture about "Gang Splashes".