Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Steve Martin: Weeping for the Lost Years

In a recent posting from Delancey Place.Com this compelling excerpt appears in which Steve Martin writes of his strained relationship with his father:

"My father died in 1997 at age eighty-three, and afterwards his friends told me how much they loved him. They told me how enjoyable he was, how outgoing he was, how funny and caring he was. I was surprised by these descriptions, because the number of funny or caring words that had passed between my father and me was few. ... When I was seven or eight years old, he suggested we play catch in the front yard. This offer to spend time together was so rare that I was confused about what I was supposed to do. We tossed the ball back and forth with cheerless formality....

"My father was not impressed [with my comedy act]. After my first appearance on Saturday Night Live, he wrote a bad review of me in his newsletter for the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, of which he was president: 'His performance did nothing to further his career.' ... I believe my father didn't like what I was doing in my work and was embarrassed by it. Perhaps he thought his friends were embarrassed by it, too, and the review was to indicate that he was not sanctioning this new comedy.

Later, he gave an interview in a newspaper in which he said, 'I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.'... As my career progressed ... I did [something that] still makes sense to me: I never discussed my work with him again…

"[Years later, just before my father's death] I was alone with him in his bedroom; his mind was alert but his body was failing. He said, almost buoyantly, 'I'm ready now.' I sat on the edge of the bed, and a silence fell over us. Then he said, 'I wish I could cry, I wish I could cry.'

"At first I took this as a comment on his condition but am forever thankful that I pushed on. 'What do you want to cry about?' I said.

"'For all the love I received but couldn't return.'

"I felt a chill of familiarity.

"There was another lengthy silence as we looked into each other's eyes. At last he said, 'You did everything I wanted to do.'

"'I did it for you,' I said. Then we wept for the lost years. I was glad I didn't say the more complicated truth: 'I did it because of you.'"

Source: Steve Martin, Born Standing Up, Scribner, Copyright 2007 by 40 Share Productions, Inc., pp. 19, 171, 197.

Image: Steve Martin.