Death of a TV Dad - (An essay from the website's owner)
I had just turned 30 years old and I suddenly started to cry.
Now my tears had nothing to do with the fact that I had flipped over into a new decade, but rather, I just learned that Mr. Cleaver had died.
Mr. Cleaver, Ward to his wife, June, was the father of Wallace "Wally" and Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver. They were fictional characters on the series LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, but suddenly, this ordinary family from the 1950s had become a source of tragedy to me as I viewed the opening moments flashbacks on the 1983 TV-Movie "The New Leave It To Beaver."
During the opening scenes, we learn that Ward had died and left June, his wife alone. Luckily, her boys were all grown, but that didn't mean she was totally on her own. Theodore had just gone through a divorce and he had to contend with how to support himself and his child. The solution was easy. He moved back into his childhood home where so many years ago I was first introduced to June, Beaver, Wally and most important Ward Cleaver who became the focus of my pain these many years later.
Now, Hugh Beaumont, who played the role of Ward Cleaver had died a few years earlier and it was natural that the revival series would take a moment and comment on Ward Cleaver's passing since Hugh Beaumont was no longer available to play his role.
Funny though, when Hugh Beaumont died, I was not affected, but when Ward Cleaver died, I began to bawl. I remember I was on the phone with my girflriend, at the time. I could not stop crying; I felt like a dope. How could a fictional character that I watched on Saturday nights as a child and in reruns have such an effect on me?
As I perused those deep dark thoughts looking for some Freudian justification, I realized that in my mind, I had always thought of Ward Cleaver as a father of a sort.
Now, I had a real father, and he was a devoted family man who spent his life working long hours to support his family of nine, but my father was a solitary man, who never showed his emotions. It was the fact that Ward Cleaver was such an attentive father, who always found the time to counsel his boys and teach then right from wrong that attracted him to me. It was his kind, caring attitiude that I realized would no longer be around.
Well, there were the reruns, but when a TV show does a followup TV-Movie and includes the death of a character in its timeline, then that's it, the character is gone and all the reruns in the world won't bring them back. And it was this, the fact that with Wards' passing, my own childhood had died. I realized that I was alone, 30 years old and an adult who how now had to fend for himself. This utter realization hit hard and fast and swamped my emotions to such an extent that for days afterwards I found myself sobbing.
Of course the topic of a father's death was noting new to TV. Case in point, an epsiode of TAXI, when Reverend Jim learns that his father has died. After the realization hit, he began to cry, then stop, gain his composure and then cry again. He didn't want to cry but he had to because despite any differences that he and his dad had over the years. Deep down inside Jim loved his dad and in those final moments after his father's death, he realized that his father had really loved him as well.
And so with the passing of Ward Cleaver, I finally came to grips with both his passing and the passing of my childhood into manhood. I had accepted both stoically and was ready to move on.
But, on occasion, as I zap past the TV LAND channel and see an episode of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, the sight of Ward Cleaver brings both a twinge of melancholy and happiness. Watching the show now is a bittersweet experience, which I both love and regret.
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