Each Friday in The Televangelist, Richard Clark examines the met and missed potential of television.
When I found out Monday night that my dad had died after a long battle with cancer, I figured I probably wouldn’t get around to writing a Televangelist column this week. Then, I remembered that if there was one thing you could say was a hobby of my dad’s in his later years, it was watching TV. When I would go home to visit, you could always expect to see my dad parked on the couch, remote in hand, enthralled by whatever happened to be on one of the 100+ channels he had access to. Just as I became with videogames, my dad became an expert television aficionado. He had a unique ability to avoid commercials in real time, he operated the remote like a game controller, flipping back and forth from several channels – always scanning. He watched television actively, not passively. He was never beholden to any one show and always willing to move on.
One thing that always impressed me was that even when he was engrossed in what he was watching, when I walked in the door he always managed to shift his attention completely from the still-progressing narrative onscreen in order to welcome me home. He was less intrigued by the broad narratives of what was happening on the screen as he was the individual moments, and even those took a backseat to the moments he had with his family.
Dad watched a lot of Law and Order and CSI. He had probably seen every episode of those shows several times over, laughed at every lame punchline, and when the bad guy got his comeuppance at the end, he changed the channel, satisfied. That was who he was: a man who was satisfied with justice and thoroughly dissatisfied with injustice. In the past he would argue with me about the things about which he felt deeply: war, taxes, history. He cheered on the death of dictators and welcomed good news for good people. He wanted the best for me because he believed I was one of the good guys, and he followed through by doing what he could to make it happen. He loved to watch justice, and he loved to enable justice.
One of the last gifts I bought my dad was Home Improvement on DVD. It was the show that will always remind me of him. We would watch together every single week, anticipating the catch-phrases (“I don’t think so Tim”), mimicking the infamous man-grunt, and trying to figure out what Wilson’s lower face really looked like. It was a show my dad and I bonded over, even though I would quickly and thoroughly abandon the show’s values of diligent manliness at all cost as I grew older. Still, that Christmas we watched a few episodes from that DVD, remembering a time when some mediocre tv-show was a high-point in our week, simply because it brought us together.