So by the time I'd finished reading to the kids and felt satisfied that they were comfortably ensconced in the palace of sleep, it was maybe quarter to ten. Still, the missus and I felt like we had what it took to watch an episode, but we didn't really have what it took to go downstairs and fire up the television, so I brought my laptop up to bed and we tuned in to "Fathers and Sons," an installment early in the fourth season, which is where we are at in the whole chronology.
The thing about watching on DVD is that when you select an episode, rather than launching you into the narrative straight off, first there pops up a menu of chapters--pictures with captions that, were you to read them, would give away much of the plot. The missus and I try hard to avert our eyes and generally we're pretty successful but with a story titled "Fathers and Sons" you pretty much know what's coming anyway.
Sure enough. The story opens with some of Dr. Green in his grumpy victim mode which he's been in ever since he got his ass kicked in the men's room by an unknown assailant. It's not a good space for him. It wears on me a little bit, so I can only imagine how his colleagues are feeling. Anyway, after Dr. Ross more or less begs him to pull his head out of his ass and Dr. Green more or less refuses, Dr. Ross walks away in disgust, only to be pulled up short by a telephone call at the front desk.
"Take a message," he barks. Like so many good-looking men, Ross is pretty rude most of the time.
In this case, the discovery that the call is long-distance and collect causes Ross to return to the phone when you'd think it might send him scurrying. But we know the drill. "Long distance" means his dad, who we last saw heading out of town with some embezzled cash. "Collect" means the money is gone. Ross goes to the phone. His curt conversation and apparent lack of emotion could only mean one thing. His father has died.
My father died eight months ago and, since I'm vulnerable to sudden surges of emotion at the best of times, I was fully prepared for the news of the death of Ross's dad to serve as a convenient focus for the exploration and release of some of the feelings I've got in great surplus. But frankly, the whole Dr. Green/Dr. Ross roadtrip in the subcompact with the broken air conditioning to find the motel where Ross's dad spent his last weeks, the careful inventory of his paltry estate, the discovery of the pristine convertible that became the metaphor for the old man (exciting, irresponsible, anachronistic)--it all seemed a little contrived and I had that pleasant feeling that I was simply watching a good TV show.
But ER has my number. And they do not hesitate to dial it up. Turns out, Mr. Ross died in a car accident. He was doing 120 in his "wife's" car. She was killed in the accident. As was a local man, Mr. Lopez--a husband and father of six. That caught in my throat. Yes, I was sad for the (fictional, imaginary) widow and her six fatherless children. But mostly I felt, with Ross, how miserable it would be to find that the man you have struggled to admire and survive, this wretched, undependable jackass of a father, was, in the end, even worse than that. His last act on earth was drunken, irredeemable slaughter.
My father could not be more different from this man. He was a careful, conservative man, scrupulously honest in his dealings with other people. I often suspected he was less than entirely honest with himself, but that's a guess. His did have this habit of setting off from his beach shack--it was seven miles over sand before you reached a tar road--with a cocktail in the cupholder--what he called a "traveler." I gave him a mildly hard time about it for years and then gave it up and satisfied myself with worrying about the humiliation he'd feel if he were ever busted. I remember being midway through his service when a little smile snuck up on me--he'd dodged that bullet.
So Ross and Green go to Mr. Lopez's funeral and while they're standing outside, the priest approaches them and there's a nice bit of dialog.
Priest: Did you know Pedro? Or the family?
Priest: I didn't think--
Ross: My father was the drunk that ran the stop sign and killed him.
Priest: But you came.
Ross: That doesn't change things.
Priest: It shows that you loved your father.
And just like that, I'm a wreck. The priest nailed it. ER is maybe the last place on earth where you can still count on the priests to do you right and this priest nailed it. I'd liked Ross's dad. He had a certain charm and, for me, none of the baggage since he was not my dad and entirely fictional. I'd always pictured him and Ross having something of a talk and kind of working it out. But that's not how it goes in ER. Or in life, as it turns out. I left a hell of a lot unsaid between my dad and me. I don't know what I was waiting for and, of course, I don't have the convenient Mexican priest to sum it up for me.
But I do have ER. ER gave me a moment, right out of the blue, where I could see my dad again and remember that I loved him. I'm all right with that in a TV show--and it was only 15 minutes and 46 seconds in.