It was a fortune cookie that got me thinking. The paper inside it said, “Your dearest wish is coming true.” We were eating Chinese food, my parents, siblings, my wife and kids and I. My brother said, “Well obviously, your dearest wish is to go to Hawaii.” I was, after all, going to Hawaii that weekend. “But,” I said, “I don’t think that’s my dearest wish.”
So what was my dearest wish? And was it coming true? I had a feeling the answer might be “yes.” That’s just the way I look at life. Call me a cockeyed optimist. Many people have called me worse things. Most people, in fact.
Getting ready for a long trip keys me up, as it does a lot of people. And Baltimore to Lihue is a particularly long trip–twelve hours in two planes. I don’t like flying anyway. I don’t like any situation where access to the bathrooms is in any way restricted, having, as I do, a bladder the size of a gnat’s left cheek. So I didn’t go to sleep too easily any night that week. One night–it may have been the same night I received the fortune cookie–I fell back on one of my patented sleep aids: I put in my earbuds and pulled up a random episode of Lux Radio Theater.
(Aside: Lux Radio Theater was a program which ran from 1934 until 1955 Hosted in its heyday by the great C.B. DeMille, it brought one-hour adaptations of popular films into living rooms across the nation every Monday night. It was an act of charity to those in remote areas who didn’t have a movie theater nearby, or couldn’t afford the basic luxury of movies if they did have one nearby. It was also good marketing for the films DeMille produced and the stars he was grooming. And, as indicated by the name, it was also good marketing for its sponsor, Lever Brothers, the makers of Lux soap. The adaptations are first-rate. If you’re curious, here’s a website where you can listen to them.)
(Aside to the Aside: In 1939, Lever Brothers also sponsored a daily daytime drama, The Life and Love of Dr. Susan. Starring Roland-Park-born Eleanor Phelps, it was a program aimed a housewives, concerned the trials and travails of a beautiful woman doctor, and every episode left the audience with more questions than answers about where the story was going. This form of entertainment came to be called the Soap Opera because so many soap companies sponsored the shows, hoping to reach their predominantly female audiences.)
(Way off to the side–today’s kids may not know what a “soap opera” is, since most of them have been canceled. Just envision a live-action anime with no animals and slightly more masculine boys.)
Back to my Lux Radio Theater encounter on the night of the fortune. The episode I picked that night adapted a film I’d never heard of. I only picked it because it kicked off Lux’s 1940 season, and I thought I’d be a completist. It was called Sorrell and Son. It starred Herbert Marshall, whom I’m not sure I’ve ever seen on film, but who sounds a helluva a lot like Ronald Colman. I loved this story of a father, a decorated World War I veteran and a gentleman (at a time when that word meant something more than just having nice manners) who was down on his luck. His wife had abandoned him, leaving him custody of their son, eleven-year-old Kit. His job had been eliminated after the war. To take care of Kit, Captain Sorrell, M.C., took a series of menial jobs and pinched every penny. His career, his most important work, he realized, was being father to his son.
I liked it so much I wanted to see the film. H.B. Warner, a favorite actor of mine (he has a cameo in my story “Chinigchinix Nixes Pix“) played Captain Sorrell in both the 1927 silent version and the 1934 sound version. But neither version was available from any of the usual sources, not Amazon, not YouTube, certainly not NetFlix. (I’d wager the only H.B. Warner film they probably have streaming is It’s a Wonderful Life, in which he plays Mr. Gower, the drunken pharmacist.)
Then I discovered it’s based on a book, so I sought out the book. Not easy to find, but I got a copy (thanks to my devoted wife, Renee) just a day or so before leaving for Hawaii. I’ll review the book later, but suffice to say Stephen Sorrell’s single-minded devotion to his son struck a chord in me. It got me to thinking, my dearest wish really is coming true.
Yeah, get out your Kleenex. Or your air-sick bags. I left mine clean, so there are four good ones available on the USAir flights to Kauai from BWI and Phoenix.
My dearest wish? Same as Robin Williams’s, when he played Peter “Banning” Pan in the much-underrated film Hook. I wanted to be a dad. That was always my happy thought. Still is. My dearest wish wasn’t to be a famous author, a politician, a convention promoter, a kickass, crusading journalist or a matinee idol… Most of all, I wanted to be someone’s father.
And I am. And they’re two pretty amazing someones. I take no credit. I just pretty much stay out of their way and try to help them solve what problems arise.
But I’ve had a pretty good life, and a pretty good time, spending time with them. I guess maybe I haven’t always appreciated what a privilege it is, being my sons’ dad. But that silly fortune cookie, and a bestselling book from 1925, reminded me. Compared to Stephen Sorrell, I’m wealthy and successful beyond measure. But I think, despite the hard life he faced, that distressed Captain was just as satisfied with his life as I am with mine. Like him, I know what my real job is, and it’s treated me well.
And lest you think I’m discounting the beautiful woman who made those two children with me (just as she got me that book to read), you couldn’t be more wrong. After all, without the girl who went out with me for the first time 30 years ago today as I write this, those children wouldn’t exist. My dearest wish started coming true that day. It just wasn’t fully formed for about another 14 years. And I hope it’s not done coming true yet. Because, despite the bad days, the work stress, the missed meals and the home-maintenance issues that get ignored for too long, despite the signs of age and the various tragedies that touch every life… I’m having fun.