Five or six years ago, I was working regularly with a nonprofit youth drop-in agency based in South Central L.A. Though my role was as a consultant, I was given a desk to call my own, and so I was there, on-site, about two or three times a week.
On one of my on-site days, Dick Van Dyke dropped by. He had learned of the agency’s work through some community event, and he had come by to discover more.
Once he entered the development trailer, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to approach him.
I emerged from the office I shared with Miki and extended by hand. “Hello,” I said to the venerable showman. “I’m Katie. And I’ve just got to tell you that I grew up with your show, and I had such a crush on you.
“But,” I added, “it was kind of a weird crush, because I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t know if I wanted you to be my father or if I wanted you to be my husband!”
“How about ‘Grampa?’” Dick Van Dyke replied, kindly, contorting his face to accompany his comment.
I raised my eyebrows teasingly and left him to his tour, realizing, as I headed back to my office, that his response had been a compliment: Younger than my Dad, he clearly is not old enough to be my “Grampa,” and apparently, I didn’t look old enough to be his daughter (or, for that matter, his wife).
So, that’s as far as our conversation went.
But it has stayed with me.
… More than a year ago, I ordered the entire Dick Van Dyke series on DVD (yes, there’s redundancy there), and I’ve really enjoyed watching the show that engaged me to such a degree when I was in elementary school.
Rob and Laura: the ultimate couple. Attractive and alive, they never fooled me or anyone when they climbed into those twin beds on Bonnie Meadow Road. They were in love and vibrant.
And I wanted him to be my dad…
I had a great dad… In fact, like Rob Petrie, my dad was quite funny.
Also, like Rob Petrie, my dad found ways to parlay his humor into creative pursuits.
So why would I want to replace him?
I don’t know. Maybe I liked the way Rob was at-one with his absolute klutziness. Maybe I liked the way he acted like a kid. Maybe, just maybe, it helped that Rob had a son. I know that my own dad would have appreciated having a son. It was apparent that Christmas morning when my sister and I entered the living room to discover Santa's delivery of… an electric train!
Insofar as I was elementary school age when I was developing my crush on Rob Petrie, it’s not surprising that I transferred my crush into considering his potential as a father. I mean, at that age, fantasizing about a husband?
Still, I couldn’t help but notice how he played that role so beautifully…
Especially in that era, Rob Petrie was a unique husband.
Sure, the household in New Rochelle was a sign of the times in some rather distinct ways. Laura was the housewife and mother. Rob, the bread-winner.
But: Rob worked with a professional woman (Sally Rogers), and he respected her. He respected that women could be bread winners in the world. Rob also respected Laura. She wasn’t just some “wife with an allowance.” She was a woman – a strong woman – who had opinions, dreams, talents.
And he adored her. That part was always clear.
And, regardless of what a woman expects from her man, being adored will probably always take the top of the list.
So, between the ages of six and eleven (or so), I regularly watched Dick Van Dyke. Loving the father, who was so much like my own, and dreaming about a husband…
I don’t know that most husbands these days adore their wives. I don’t know that we have a lot of time for that. With all the multi-tasking, it’s probably a bit difficult for anybody to feel adored. But, back in my pre-pubescence, that seemed like a pretty good deal. It seemed like a pretty good deal to emerge – either from a day of housewifery or from a career – to find a charmingly klutzy, extremely comic man opening his arms to my opinions, my dreams, and my talents.