When my dad died in February of this cursed year of our Lord 2020 he really was just leaving early to avoid the traffic. And being a practical joker by nature, he didn’t nominate a next of kin. So his family did not know he had died for three weeks until the police could piece together the tiny clues he left behind in his squalid Glasgow tenement flat.
In a way, that was his gift to me. Being able to piece together tiny clues. And just like any true Celtic gift it is also has a left hand curse, the inability to keep those clues to one’s self.
It was our thing. To watch TV together and to race each other to guess the end. He could spot the storytelling clues. He taught me how to do so as well. Unfortunately, I never learned how to keep those insights to myself.
A memory from childhood: watching TV with my younger siblings. There was a scene where a woman was pacing on the edge of cliff. The scene was shot from one foot above worm’s eye level. And the back score was creepy.
“She’s going to fall off the cliff.” Nine year old me said.
Siblings looked at me in shock as though I was a soothsayer. “How did you know?”
This irritating super power is just a love of storytelling and understanding the components that make it work.
Sadly, when you peel back the layers, you dull the magic, but you replace it with wisdom.
Those sessions in front of the TV with my dad, watching the A-team and McGuyver and Knight Rider, were infuriating to those who had to sit through them with us, but to dad and me they were how we gained a greater insight into the story teller’s craft. Such as spotting Checkov’s Gun.
Anton Checkov was a Russian novelist and playwright. He came up with is a classic literary rule – if someone is shot in the third act, the gun has to be on the mantelpiece in the first act.
In practice, Chekov’s gun is an object introduced early in the story that will become useful (or even central) later in the plot. You are warned. Once you spot the trope you can never unsee it.
Recently, my dearest and I were watching the Umbrella Academy. Unwittingly I was playing out that old dynamic I had going with my Dad in spotting the TV dynamics. Unfortunately, I still lack that wisdom to keep my darn mouth shut.
Mostly I kept my soothsaying to a round up of the current episode during the credits on why this character had done this, and why that character had said that, and what I thought would happen in the next episode.
It is a great credit to the writers of the Umbrella Academy that I was only 80% right in my predictions. The other 20% were skilful misdirections that were thoroughly engaging.
Unfortunately, my dearest was certain that I had read the story on line and was just artfully destroying the fun with well-placed spoilers. And would not be dissuaded by my assurances to the contrary.
My dad was also hard to live with. And for similar reasons.
Apologies are insufficient, but the lessons learned are a peek behind that curtain where the Wizard of Oz is just a guy with a mega phone, and a gun belonging to Checkov.
So tell me please, what are ways in which your father’s influence shaped you as a person?
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