I spent some years tossing about in the world. “He’s finding himself,” was the euphemism offered when explaining why I was expelled from or flunked out of more than one educational institution, or “let go” by employers. Not a time I’m proud of, and the strain on family relationships was evident. I needed rescue, but didn’t even recognize it. My father did.
When he was cast as Don Quixote in a production of “Man of La Mancha,” Dad thought his wayward son might benefit from having an experience on stage. In my underdeveloped, idiot brain, Dad’s coolness factor was deficient, but he cast me a lifeline, and got me to audition. In spite of my being solidly mediocre (the bar was low), I landed the role of Paco, muleteer #5.
In the process of rehearsals and performances, I watched how my father took direction, how he paid attention to what was going on around him, how he reacted to what other actors gave him, how he made manifest his physical, vocal, and interpretive choices for his character. He was gradually transforming, and I began to experience my own small transformation.
Dad was leading me into a dream, an “impossible” dream of the possible. Night-after-night I saw my father transform from Henry Arnold into Miguel de Cervantes, and then into Don Quixote as he followed his beautiful quest jousting against evil, seeing the beauty in all things and in all people, even his enemies, until his eventual “stage” death.
When I was a child of four, I was traumatized when I saw my father’s stage death as Billy Bigelow in the musical “Carousel.” This time I was not traumatized. I was in awe of my father’s skill as an artist who used his imagination to create transcendence, a sublime moment of truth and beauty.
The reestablishment of the father/son filial bond after our “Man of La Mancha” experience was not an immediate success. Estrangement continued for a few more years. Some of us are not easily rescued. For some, the lifeline for rescue can require miles of coiled threads stretched to the limit. But in time, I came to realize my quest to find a hero was over. It was Don Quixote and my father, for they were inextricably linked.