Kids will surprise you.
About two years ago, a casting director from David “The Wire” Simon’s new show accosted me and Detective Munch (as we were walking down our street) and asked if he would be willing to appear in a scene. One of their actors had gotten sick and they wanted to film my son as he pretended to sleep. Easy-peasy!
I was ecstatic. Finally, my kid was gonna be a star, and my golden ticket, and it was all going to start with an appearance in the next project by the creator of my favorite TV show of all time! And then my then four-year-old started screaming. And screaming. And screaming. And the casting directed started backing away, and away, and away. Just like that, my hopes were dashed.
Along with any potential college fund for my selfish little dream killer.
Flash forward 26 months.
A friend of mine is a filmmaker, and this weekend he was shooting a quirky little short film that he probably wouldn’t like me referring to as “quirky” or “little” but he never returned the uneaten half of my Italian sandwich so screw him! Anyway, a few months ago, he asked if Detective Munch might be willing to appear in the short, in flashbacks as the younger version of the main character, and sent me the quirky (IN YOUR FACE, CONOR!) script. (It’s called “Observatory Blues” and here is the Detective Munch-free teaser trailer.)
I said yes and immediately crossed my fingers, both that Detective Munch would be okay with it and that my friend might eventually forget or decide to use someone else. But that didn’t happen, so over the weekend, me and the six-year-old who is quite a handful these days, and with whom I frequently butt heads, drove three hours to upstate New York for the shoot.
If I told you I was nervous, I’d be lying; I was shitting bricks.
Despite a lot of advance prep to let him know what he was in for, warnings about being the center of attention and requests that he be on his best behavior, I was afraid Detective Munch would react the way he did when he was almost an extra in a new HBO show. I was afraid he wouldn’t react well under the glare of the camera, with people looking at him. I was nervous he would act up or shut down or otherwise ruin my friend’s movie and embarrass me. And, perhaps most of all, I was afraid if he wasn’t cooperating, I would compound things by being an asshole dad, and I would ruin my friend’s movie.
But a funny thing happened: The dude killed it. He killed all of it. It’s dead.
He handled the three-hour drive, he handled the waiting around and standing in place while shots were set up and lighting was arranged and lines were rehearsed, he handled taking direction from my friend (the dad of one of his friend’s) and from complete strangers, he handled being on camera, he handled sitting still for close-ups and listening to another actor talk about “earthly pussy,” he handled everything. He didn’t throw a single fit, he hardly complained, he didn’t cry, he barely asked for the iPad (at least not during takes); he didn’t do anything but deliver. It was amazing. He was amazing. I was amazed.
Because I’m terrible.
Once again, I’m faced with the reality that my kid is just a kid, and I am often too hard on him. He surprised me on Saturday, and then he did it again on Sunday, this time with Mom and Buried in tow. Not only was he on his absolute best behavior for the second day in a row, he understood what was being asked of him and afterwards he even articulated one of the challenges of acting in a movie (“It’s hard to concentrate when there are all those people and things going on all around you.”) Apparently he even improvised a speech about Han Solo and a diarrhea planet that may or may not end up in the movie. I couldn’t be more proud?
Kids will surprise you. Your own kids will surprise you the most. You spend so much time trying to teach them things, hammering home lessons about behavior and discipline, hoping against hope that the stuff you’re saying sinks in but often seeing little evidence of it. And then, one day, it manifests. Almost out of nowhere. Instead of being the hyper little hellion who talks back and doesn’t listen, your kid behaves like someone who knows exactly what’s expected of them. And it’s mind-blowing.
I feel guilty even thinking of it that way, and even more guilty at realizing how often I forget my son is six, and how my terrible parenting feeds into and breeds some of his bad behavior. I’ve long known – from my experience as a son and as a father – that the parent-child dynamic casts such a long, dark shadow that it can sometimes be hard to see past it and recognize your parents or your kids as people in their own right.
Kids will surprise you. We spend so much time worrying about our children behaving and learning the right lessons, and stressing when they get it wrong, that we don’t always notice how often they get it right.
This weekend, my son taught me how much more I have left to learn, both about being a dad, and about him.