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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Of Fathers and Children

Yesterday, of course, was Father’s Day, and we had a pack of people over at our house for a Father’s Day BBQ — my husband Mike, my ex-husband Jay (the father of my four youngest kids) and my dad, Jim, who moved to Seattle a couple years ago. I thought about writing a post yesterday on movie dads, but geez, that’s been done and overdone the last few years, hasn’t it? Every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, it seems every other movie site has to rehash Great Movie Moms and Great Movie Dads. Besides, I was a relentless bookworm as a kid, and as such my own ideas about fathers and husbands were informed much more by books than by movies, at least until I got older.

My earliest and most influential literary dad was Pa Ingalls from the Little House on the Prairie books — and, to a lesser degree, his television incarnation in the form of Michael Landon. Landon wasn’t exactly the “Pa” that I’d formed in my mind — the wild-haired, long-bearded rebellious wanderer brave enough to take his family into the great wilderness of “out West” and smart and strong enough to keep them all safe through those years of pioneer hardship, but he certainly captured the warmth and strength and love of the father about whom Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote so passionately.

I thought a lot about Pa Ingalls during an overnight field trip I took my kids on with their school this weekend to the Pioneer Farm Museum in Eatonville. On the 67 or so mile drive out to Eatonville, when we paused for a bathroom break (for them) and a coffee break (for me), they asked me how much longer until we got there, why was it so far? I’m sure kids say that a lot when they trek out to the museum, which is probably why one of the first things they do when the kids get there is take them on a short, bumpy wagon ride, and then ask them how long it took for them to get to the farm. They they point out to the kids that journeying from Seattle to Eatonville by wagon would have taken a week, maybe two if the weather was wet and the ground soft and muddy.

While the kids got to experience hands-on the way pioneer children did things — mostly an awful lot of chores, it seemed to them — and marveled over the idea of a life in which there was no electricity, no internet, no television, no video games — I marveled over the authentic 100-plus-year-old pioneer cabins on the property, cabins built by the hands of fathers, from the ground up.

Laura Ingalls Wilder told the stories of her Little House books as an adult, calling on the memories of a childhood in which Pa was her family’s constant source of food, safety, discipline and comfort. He was the ultimate provider. When my kids exclaimed over the smallness of those sturdy little cabins and wondered how pioneer children could possibly survive a childhood in which kids — much less their adults — didn’t have their own bedrooms, I pointed out to them the care with which the cabins had been crafted, and we talked about how much hard work it had been for Pa Ingalls and the men like him not only to get their families into this wilderness to begin with, but to build these cabins that are still standing, still sturdy enough to house a family if need arose.

These modern children learned that when pioneer men (and their wives, because pioneer women had to work hard too!) wanted a house to live in, they not only had to cut down the trees with which they built those snug little log cabins, but then had to scrape the bark off each trunk because if you don’t remove all bark, moisture and bugs will invade the space between bark and wood and cause it to deteriorate very quickly (who knew?).

The kids got to experience just how much work this entailed by using a long-handled tool to scrape bark off a tree trunk (a task, we learned, that was often given to the children while the adults did the heavier work of cutting and hauling the trees). They also learned to use a two-handled saw that pioneer children used to cut smaller trees and branches into firewood, a hand drill, a two-handled knife used to shape handles for tools, and other such tools — all of which kids there age would have been quite proficient at using, because pioneer children started working with the family at around age two or three.

Then they had the opportunity to work in a real blacksmith forge, turning the wheel to pump the bellows to make a fire hot enough to heat iron, banging a red-hot horseshoe into shape, and then quenching it in a bucket of water. These tasks, they learned, would have been done all day, every day, by a child who was apprenticing in a blacksmith shop. They worked hard in the barn as well, feeding the animals (and, in the morning, mucking out all the stalls before their hour-long pioneer school session with Master Peterson, who gave them a taste of what their school day might have been like back then). All through our trip, I thought about how to relate all this to Father’s Day for my kids — how to talk to them about how, while their own dad and stepdad didn’t build the houses they live in, and we’ve never trekked across the prairie in a wagon, the character of their fathers shapes and guides them as much today every bit as much as those pioneer dads they learned a lot about on their weekend adventure.

We talked some on the drive about all the work the pioneers had to do just to survive, and what kind of personality traits a person would have to have in order to be a pioneer. Strength, courage, bravery, a willingness to work long hard hours of physical labor … is it any wonder that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote so lovingly of the father who did all those things and still, at the end of the day, found the energy and love to play a fiddle by the fireside to drive the shadows away, or to cuddle a small girl scared by the howls of wolves within the safety of his arms?

There are other fathers of literature who influenced my own ideas about what a husband and father should be: brave, noble Atticus Finch, who taught Jem and Scout about doing what’s right, no matter the cost; Matthew Cuthbert, the gentle man who, with his sister Marilla, adopted the orphaned red-haired waif in Anne of Green Gables; and “Father” March in Little Women, a man so strong of character that even though he’s away at war for much of the book, his influence and personality permeate every page.

I see bits of all these literary men in the fathers in my own life, but most especially in my own dad. He came into my life when I was a toddler, married my mother, and promptly accepted, loved, and raised me as his own. He’s my stepfather, but he’s always been the only father figure I’ve ever known or needed in my life, and his influence guided and shaped my brother Lance and me in countless ways that we joke about now, even as we know in our hearts how much that guidance has made us who we are today.

Lance and I were talking yesterday about our own perfectionistic tendencies, and how if we brought home, say, a 93 on a spelling test, the first thing our dad would ask us was, “What happened to the other seven percent?” My dad held that if you could do well enough to get 93%, you certainly could have gotten 100% with a little more effort, no excuses. And while as a kid I thought that was harsh, as an adult looking back I can see the wisdom of him pushing us to never accept of ourselves less than our best effort in anything. If a thing was worth doing, it was worth doing as well as you could do it, and that ideal was one of the greatest gifts my father gave us.

My dad lived that ideal every day of his own work life, working his way up in the pressroom of the Daily Oklahoman from a 20-year-old flyboy to being a supervisor in the years before his retirement. The one thing he got dinged on in performance evaluations, he told me in later years as he neared retirement, was his inability to delegate tasks to other people. After a lifetime of working and doing, the idea of being paid to just sit around and tell other people what to do was anathema to him.

While my dad is older and grayer now, and his hands sometimes shake, he is still, to me, that same man of strength and character that he has always been throughout my life. So to my dad, to my husband Mike, whose character is not unlike my dad’s in many ways, and to all the dads out there, loving and guiding and nurturing and doing their best to be pillars of strength and love to their own kids, I hope your Father’s Day was filled with love and laughter, and that the children to whom you’ve given so much, give back to you with their love and respect not just one day a year, but every day.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon