Friday, September 10, 2010

Steve Strong: Fun with Ben Cartwright and Hoss

I learned to read with “Fun with Dick and Jane.” Everything was so neat and tidy. Dad wore a suit and hat and went to work. Mom wore a house dress and baked. Dick, Jane and Sally always dressed like they were going to church. When I was at school, I started thinking everyone’s family was like that. And I would have persisted in that belief if it hadn’t been for the magic of television.

Although I wasn’t a great TV watcher as a child, the shows I did watch tended to be a lot like the neat and pressed world of Dick and Jane. Opie Taylor may not have had a mom, but he had his Aunt Bea right there for him. My Three Sons may not have had a mom, but they had their Uncle Charlie. The Cartwright boys may not have had a mom, but they had Hop Sing. Hey, now that I think about it, my family was the functional one. At least I didn’t have an old Chinese man for a mother figure.

But without a doubt, the best family show for my generation was Lost In Space. The Robinson family had it all: A perfect mom (so perfect in fact, she was the same mom in Lassie), a tough (but fair) dad, two daughters and a son, and - best of all - a robot. What could be better than a family from the future with their own robot? And he wasn’t a wimpy cartoon-robot like the Jetsons had. The Robinson’s robot could get tipsy, be patronizing and lovable all in the same episode. With his power-pack removed, he was useless, and was oblivious to everything around him. But best of all, if you really got him angry, he could shoot lasers out of those crab-like claws of his. The robot was sort of like your 40 year old confirmed bachelor uncle, if your uncle could shot lasers from crab-like claws.

But wait, that’s not all. To make this family even cooler, they rode around in space with an extra dad-like guy named Don, plus a bad guy they never seemed to be able to ditch, Dr. Smith.

Instead of wonderful adventures on remarkably similar-looking planets, nowadays we have reality television. We can be a fly on the wall of normal American families like the Osbournes, the Hulk Hogans, the Gene Simmons and the Kardashians. But back in the day, only cool boys like Will Robinson got TV shows about their family. If Hollywood would have made a TV show about my family, they certainly could have employed a large cast of actors.

My original family consisted of my mom and dad, me, my brother and three sisters. Really, a very regular sort of group for the 1960’s. But then things started getting interesting.

When my folks split up, my dad married a woman named Judy, so my second family would have been her and her two children, but by the time I met them my dad told me the marriage had been “annulled.” So, do I count that, or no?

My third family was my mom and her second husband, Roy. He had four kids, and they lived with us for a year, so that was cool having two more brothers. But that marriage only lasted a year too.

Next was my fourth family, which I inherited when my dad married his third wife Joni. She had two daughters and they were married long enough that I came to think of them as sisters. That marriage lasted about 10 years.

My fifth family was my mom and her third husband Dan. He had two little girls who we didn’t see that often, but were fun to have around when they visited. This marriage lasted about 12 years, I bet.

I guess my sixth family would be my dad’s fourth wife Fran. She has two daughters that I see every once in a while. Hard to think of them as sisters really, since we only knew each other as adults.

My seventh family would be my mom’s fourth husband Buzz. He was a good guy (passed away now) and has two sons that I’ve met a couple times.

So if I throw in-laws in the mix, I’m looking at six “fathers” and six “mothers” in my short little life. Final count for siblings (including step-siblings, and in-laws) seems to be nine brothers and 17 sisters. That is, unless I’m missing some. At some point I figure I ought to just round it up to 30 and call it good, right?

When I was a young adult, and about to be married for the first time, I worried a lot about the kind of husband I would be - And about the kind of father I would be. I worried that maybe I was tainted by my past and that I had no right to be a father because I didn’t have a clear picture of any male role models in my own life.

But when that first baby boy arrived, in addition to the panic I felt at being a real father, I found I could tap into an inner strength that I hadn’t ever considered before. I did have some role models for fatherhood I could try to emulate from time to time.

I could try to be as loving at Andy Taylor. I could try to be as sincere and wise as Steve Douglas. I could try to be as fair to my children as Ben Cartwright. And most of all, I could try to be as adventurous as Dr. John Robinson.

I found I could change diapers, play on the floor with action figures and sing a child to sleep. I discovered I could coach soccer and baseball, read to my children, or pretend the floor was made of hot lava. I realized I could tell stories, act like a fierce cheetah, or play basketball in the driveway.

I wonder how my children will look back someday and think about their dad. What things will they be nostalgic for? Which of my sayings will they use on their own children? What will they do to be a better dad than I’ve been?

Maybe they’ll compare me to Billy Ray Cyrus or Danny Tanner, or even Jesse Katsopolis. We may not have gotten lost in a spaceship together, but in my own defense, I think they’ll look back on the times we had together as the best times of their lives.

I think I would, if I had a dad at home when I was young.


  1. Really nice to read a piece about fatherhood this week -- thank you for that, Steve!

  2. It's wonderful for me to read all the posts in Josh's blog. You all are professional writers, and I'm just a guy who enjoys good stories. I read all the posts for the content/story and never for quality of the writing.

    That being said, your poem was very moving when I read it yesterday.

  3. Even as a mom, I could relate. Great piece!

  4. Really beautiful. I loved the pace of this. It made me laugh and well up a bit. For just a guy, you got a good thing going. I, too, am just a guy (but a girl) and haven't really written before. That 's one of the things I'm loving about this forum. You can feel the difference between the novice pieces and the pro pieces, but not always. They have all been a delight to read though.

    Thanks for this. Great to hear from a dad and refreshing to hear that it's going pretty well so far.