Tuesday, September 2, 2008

My Three Dads

Okay, I know it sounds silly, but I have a confession to make: I was raised by television. Yes, yes, it's true, I admit it. While in actuality I was raised by my maternal grandmother, there was never that male adult figure in my life to teach me the things that many little boys learn from their fathers: specifically, how to be a man. I was surrounded by strong female types growing up, and while it's true that I learned a great deal from these women in my family, I had to turn to tv to get the paternal influence that was missing from my existence. I had to learn how to be an honest man, a fighter, a good husband and/or father, and how to treat a woman the way a good man should -- all from the tube!

Now, I'm only being half serious here. Because, of course, I didn't need tv to teach me right from wrong, or honesty from dishonesty. I'm my own keeper. It's been that way ever since my parents left me alone in this world. Still, I consider the following three television characters to have had the most profound influence on shaping my teenage personality, leading to the adult I am now. The essences of these three fictional characters reside within me even to this day, and those who know me really well can easily discern the part and parcel characteristics I've borrowed from these figures to make my own.


Yes, as it may be no surprise, my latching on to tv role models began at the age of 12. I'm sure there are studies out there that correlate a boy's self-identity with the time he enters puberty. So it's no surprise that my quest to find a father figure that would teach me what I needed to know to be a man would start around this time. I'd just started junior high school, and Star Trek: The Next Generation had premiered the year before. I'd grown up watching the original 60s show with William Shatner as the young, cocksure Captain Kirk. So I naturally took a disliking to this new show and its new Captain, which were nothing like the original. However, over time the show started to grow on me, to the point that it soon surpassed my love of the original. Now after all these years, ST:TNG is the quintessential Star Trek for me. Nothing before or after it tops this show. And this character was one I had a strong attachment to as a young boy.

Captain Jean Luc Picard of the U.S.S. Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) was in many ways the thinking man's captain. Unlike Kirk before him, Picard preferred to use his wits and diplomacy to defuse a dangerous situation, rather than his fists. He was a refined gentleman, well-read in various scholarly pursuits (notably music, botany, and archaeology), yet he was stern under pressure and no-nonsense when it came to saving the lives of his crew. He commanded great respect for his ability to keep his emotions in control under tense situations. All these aspects endeared me to the character, and I immediately set out to imitate Picard's demeanor.


In Jan. 1993, a spin-off to the 70s show, Kung Fu, premiered on what was then called the: "Prime Time Entertainment Network." The show was called Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, once again starring David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine (though now the grandson of the original Kwai Chang). This character has probably had the most profound effect on who I am to this day, as I credit this show for awakening the fire in me to learn everything I can about Chinese culture and language, as well as to cultivate my interest in the martial art of gong-fu.

Kwai Chang Caine, like Jean Luc Picard, was refined and wise. He was someone who could obviously carry himself in a fight, but who more often than not sought the peaceful solution to a conflict. This was who I wanted to be like. I was always a quiet and observant child by nature, and by 1993 I had grown into one of those intense, focused teenagers who other kids in high school didn't know whether to pick on or to leave the hell alone for fear he might come to class one day and go postal. But the values that Caine stood for were my values as well, and so it was easy to see why I would latch on to this character as my role model.


Finally we come to the last of my three dads, Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod. This figure appeared in Highlander: The Series as the titular character, portrayed by Adrian Paul. While premiering before Kung Fu: The Legend Continues in the fall of 1992, I wasn't introduced to the show until shortly after I had already been addicted to KFtLC. But when my friend, T, finally convinced me to check it out, I was hooked from the get-go.

Duncan MacLeod was a 400-year old Immortal, master swordsman, and martial artist. However, I found myself more drawn to the deep pathos that arose from the character's long life. How it was that, despite never being able to die, his life was far from a happy one. For in those 400 years he had to deal with the deaths of countless loved ones and friends, all the while remaining alive and struggling to make it through another year without those he cherished. As someone who had lost his mother at an early age, this pathos resonated deeply within me. I actually *felt* the heart-wrenching pain of this character's loss. I was never the same again. Duncan MacLeod, more than any character on any other show, has defined who I am as an adult man dealing with a monstrous past. The strength to face the world and the demons it held in waiting for an unsuspecting young man was drawn from this character.

So there you have it. These are the three biggest TV influences to shape my personality in those turbulent teenage years when one struggles to find himself. I'm not any one of these characters, nor am I the sum of these men. I've taken only certain facets from all three -- aspects which, I suspect, I already contained naturally -- and made them resolutely my own.

So, do any of you have tv or film characters who have inspired you in life? Please let me know.

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