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“We’ve all become Hamlets in this country, children of a slain father-leader…” 

-from Oliver Stone’s “JFK”

 

He calls me into the room and points at the television. Who is that, he says, on the left there. 

Rusty Stevens, I tell him. Trying to be helpful I add, Larry Mondello

Which is it, he says. 

My father does not know these things because he is of a different generation, a world apart from my own and another land. Television raised me, and on television, at that time, there were two kinds of dads.

There was “The Andy Griffith Show” dad, the single-parent widower who lost his wife in some ill-defined way, who worked hard and walked circumspectly. 

Then there was the dad of “Leave it to Beaver”, who worked hard at an ill-defined job, the stable, if sometimes stern, head of an ultimately compliant household

You saw Ward Cleaver at home, and every once in awhile, at the office. Fred Rutherford was there, too. Lumpy’s Dad. You even saw Eddie Haskell’s folks, in at least one episode

But not Mr. Mondello. Not Larry’s dad. 

Larry’s mom you saw plenty. She was a nervous gal, wrapped a little too tight, and whenever Larry got in trouble she always said the same thing. 

“If your father were here.” 

Or sometimes, “When your father gets home.” Either way, the emphasis was on the “if” and “when”. 

There is one episode, called “School Play”, where Larry’s father is seen, briefly. Aside from that fleeting appearance, Mr. Mondello is singularly absent, which rings truer than almost anything else in the mythical land of Mayfield

I once worked for a man who was a prisoner of war in WWII. There were nights he woke up screaming, his wife said, even some forty years later. 

He was a man of few words. Subdued. But when he talked about the war, he was animated. His eyes flashed. He was alive. 

In war, there was chaos, but also clarity, and purpose. There was meaning. Even for those who didn’t see action, or didn’t serve. It was still in the air; you were a man, and you were necessary. You were needed.

Now you're home and you have to throttle it back, to pleasant valley Sundays and “Kiss the Cook” aprons. So you go in the den. Shut the door, and go missing in action.

Millions of men—fathers—have died for their country, and millions are imprisoned within it. We have all become Hamlets, fatherless, turning to strangers and other ghosts. 

He calls me into the room and points at the screen. Who is that, he says, on the left there. 

It’s me, I tell him. It’s Larry Mondello. 

Which is it, he says.

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