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David Poland

By David Poland

20 Years And Counting…

Today is the 20th anniversary of my father’s passing.

Sid Poland was a good man. He was from a different world, born in Baltimore in 1917, before television, commercial aviation, consumer refrigerators, direct dial, serious nationalized efforts towards racial or gender equality. Don’t even get started on cell phones, the internet or blogs… those all happened since his death.

It’s almost impossible for me to imagine the world in which he grew up. Ancient Egypt seems closer than 1920s Baltimore. But the stories of he and his City College buddies buying a Model A, which had to be hand cranked to start, and their adventures around town sound a lot like college or high school buddies traipsing around today… or in the 50s in Diner… or like so many young people in so many places and so many times.

I recently found a kids book about a man who sells hats. Bought it to read it to my 7-year-old as it had been read to me. But the line had blurred for me, from nearly 5 decades ago, about whether my father had actually sold hats in his early years or not.

I remember more clearly a story about him selling early refrigerators in Baltimore that required that the customer put a quarter in every day to keep it going… pay as you go… and going to pick them up while the customers screamed about the food that was ruined when they missed a day’s payment.

By the time I came into my father’s world, things were changing fast. Jack Kennedy had been shot 11 months before I was born. The civil rights movement was powerful. Women could vote and I don’t remember much before the Equal Rights Amendment was being fought about across the country. And there was The Pill.

Israel, which was so very important to my father, was in a state of constant brinkmanship with the countries surrounding them and after The Six Day War happened, he was one of those who desperately wanted to kiss the ground in East Jerusalem. And he did.

I was not a child of the 60s, when the Baby Boomers really came of age. I was just a baby. And I was not really Gen X. I was – and am – a tweener. Like so many around my age, I saw the great movies of the 1970s in revival houses and TV (especially early HBO). I remember the day that Nixon resigned, but Watergate wasn’t my fight. Ford and Carter didn’t change the world. And Reagan took us backwards into our imagination of what we thought we were after WWII while in actuality, Reagan set us back decades in terms of understanding gender, race, and how a nation cares for its least fortunate. The schizophrenia of the Reagan years really defined my tween generation. Clinton was better… but he also lied a lot… and while waving a finger in a nation’s face.

My dad missed that. And I feel good about that.

Jimmy Stewart died 3 days before my dad. Somehow that was comforting.

The freedom and the responsibility that comes with the loss of a parent is unexpected.

I’m not sure that if he was alive that there would be a Hot Button or a Hot Blog or a Movie City News.

I’m not sure if his wealth hadn’t weighed him down after a brief period in which it set him free (before he lost most of it) that I wouldn’t be more focused on financial success.

I’m not sure what my life might have been had he and my mother not adopted me at birth.

I am, like my father, a softie. This always feels odd coming out of my mouth (or fingers) as there seem to be so many people who want to tell me what a mean person I am. And I certainly have been mean at times. But I tend to believe that by “mean” what is really being expressed is that I hit a tender spot with my words and left a mark.

There was a time when I was more reckless with this skill. In those early years of The Hot Button, I just hit “publish” and kept working. I was amused by my ability to cause an emotional response (good or bad) from people more powerful than I. As time passed, I came to understand – finally – that we are (mostly) all vulnerable in similar ways.

No one would be more influential on me in this regard than Nikki Finke. She made me look like a pussycat. She never showed an ounce of compassion for anyone other than herself, except when pretending to have compassion for long enough to manipulate someone. Our relationship (now over for many years), started over a story she got wrong. Like our current president, she never would admit her mistake. She doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on the error. And she raged at me for pointing to the facts.

I’ve been fortunate to have a good grasp on power from an early age. But Nikki, always a bigger personality than me, showed me a reflection of part of myself that I did not like.

Nikki, without knowing it, convinced me to be much, much more careful with the weaponry I have. I got out of the business of reporting on misery… jobs lost… companies failing, etc. The failures of others are not a form of amusement. I found that kicking a filmmaker when they failed was not fun or funny.

Of course, this didn’t preclude some people and/or studios from having insanely thin skin. If you are playing in the big stadium, you have to be able to take the shots you have coming.

The same is true of journalists. Much of the anger held towards me comes from headlines in the early days of Movie City News. I could be brutally direct. And 17 years later, it still comes up.

But the age of Finke-ian entertainment journalism and the support of it by non-journalists like Jay Penske has led to an era of all-suck-up or all-rage coverage.

And again, I am a tweener.

I believe in people. I believe in forgiveness. I believe in the inherent kindness of which we are all capable.

I also believe in facts. I learned early on that a person who cheats will invariably cheat again… that a lie told to the advantage of “my team” will eventually lead to a lie told to the disadvantage of “my team”… that facts almost never tell the whole story, but that the avoidance of facts tells you a ton… and that things never change quite as quickly or as completely as people want to believe.

My father was a man who believed in his own magic. This became quite destructive when he was in situations where he didn’t really understand the trick that was needed to make things come together.

I don’t always understand how to use the tools I have. There are people who I have hurt over these 20 years and try as I might, I can never un-hurt them. I wish love was as sticky as hate.

We are in a time when some people, who I really like and respect, feel compelled to take a posture that is so extreme and unyielding that there is no room for anything but the same posture. And nothing enrages these people so much as facts. It is, really, my greatest disappointment in this moment in our history of discourse.

I believe that you can be righteous and completely honest and transparent about facts. And if you can’t stand the transparency, you are probably not as righteous as you think. I am sympathetic to the fear of people who have been marginalized for decades and longer. But if you want to build, you can’t build on the same kind of sand that was used against you to keep you from rising for so long.

Still, I learn new things all the time… and I don’t mean facts. I mean ideas… philosophies… the range of human emotion.

This is why I do DP/30 and why it matters so much to me. Most of the time, I get out of the chair and see the world a little differently.

I never asked my father the questions I really should have asked him. I was too young. I didn’t understand enough. I was too afraid of the answers.

And maybe I am better off wishing I had than actually having the opportunity. There are things in his life that he experienced that I am sure, even in my 50s, I could not begin to comprehend in a real way.

I know that he could never express in words the love he would have had for my son, Cameron, had he ever had a chance to meet him. But I know how much joy Cam would have brought him, just as, without all the words, I know how much love he had for me and my siblings and their children.

Twenty years into this part of my journey… twenty years after I lost my father… it is all still being digested… every day.

I miss the old man.

I am the old man.

5 Responses to “20 Years And Counting…”

  1. djiggs says:

    Beautiful remembrance of your father.

  2. Jon Weisman says:

    Great piece, David. My best wishes to you …

  3. hcat says:

    Life is like a set of scales, the hurt and loss never goes away it is just eventually balanced out by new instances of happiness.

  4. Triple Option says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Sideshow Bill says:

    Nice piece, Dave. Really touching. I’m lucky enough to still have my father, even though we aren’t close. I lost my mom a year ago, and my wife going on 4 years ago. I’m still not over either of them. Just trying to learn to live side by side with the losses. Everything is a new walk after losing a loved one. A hard walk but a walk that can be made.

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