Sunday, 27 October 2013

Father's Day: Aaron Sorkin to Roxy

You were born a week early and in the middle of the night. It was late on a Friday and mom was at a fashion show at the Pacific Design Center while I was on the set of The West Wing, a show you might watch one day with your friends and think, “Now I understand why I have to use ten words when one would do the trick.” Mom called me from her car and said she was going home—her stomach was really hurting—and I left the set to go meet at her at the house. When I got home she was lying in bed in a lot of pain. “It’s a strange pain,” she said. “It comes in a big wave and then goes away.” Mom was giving a pretty good description of a contraction.
Every light was red between our house and Cedars-Sanai, and it being 2 a.m. now with no one else on the road, I ran them all. Incredibly, Dr. Katz had just delivered another baby and was already there. “This isn’t gonna happen the way we talked about,” Dr. Katz said, “but it’s gonna happen and it’s gonna happen now.” And it did. I won’t bother trying to describe what it was like to hold you for the first time—or for that matter every time since. Words are useless at that and you’ll find out yourself one day.
The nurse taught me how to swaddle you. She made sure I understood that the blanket had to be wrapped very tightly around you to make you feel secure. My first try didn’t go so well. I crossed, folded, tucked and lifted you up, only to find that I was holding an empty blanket in my hands and a naked baby was lying on the bed. You had a look on your face that said, “Oh my God, my father’s a moron.”
Around 6 a.m. mom sent me to the house to get some things she wanted, and I used the opportunity to shower and shave. I also changed into a coat and tie. I thought it would be more confidence-inspiring for you if I looked like a dad. And that’s why you see me wearing ties so much. (I’ll tell you a secret—when I get to work I usually change into more comfortable clothes to write it in. Then I change back into dad clothes to pick you up at school and do homework. Something tells me I haven’t been fooling you.)
Back at the hospital the nurse wanted mom to get some rest and apparently I was annoying both mom and the nurse with questions like, “She’s sleeping an awful lot, is that normal?”, “Should I be concerned about her ears, they’re practically perpendicular to her head?”, “Can I grab that stethoscope a second, I just want to check one more time?” and “Do they sell stethoscopes in the lobby?”
A new father doesn’t need any extra incentive to worry but I had one. Four years earlier mom was pregnant with what should have been your older brother, Charlie. In the eighth month of the pregnancy, Charlie turned the wrong way in the womb and accidentally strangled himself on the umbilical cord and died. You and I have that in common. Grandma and Grandpa planned on having three kids—first your Aunt Debbie, then Uncle Noah and then my brother Daniel. But Daniel died at birth, and that’s why I’m here. I’m the understudy. (You might notice a lot of characters named Charlie and Danny in the stories I write—now you’ll know why.) This time around, come hell or high water, I was bringing my whole family home from the hospital.
Which I did—at 7 miles an hour with the hazard lights flashing the whole way. And now you had a name—Roxanne Sophie Sorkin. It took mom and me a long time to agree on a name. Mom accused me of only liking names from the 19th century like Millicent and Betsy, and I accused mom of only liking names of professional beach volleyball players, like Tiffany and Blair. People may think you were named after a song by Sting, but you weren’t. You were named after the heroine in a play by Edmond Rostand called Cyrano de Bergerac. Cyrano was a soldier and a poet who was in love with Roxanne, but Cyrano had a really big nose and didn’t think Roxanne could ever be interested in such a funny-looking guy, so he wrote her love letters and got a handsome soldier to pretend that he’d written them. In the final scene, Roxanne, who was incredibly brave, crosses enemy lines to bring the soldiers food and discovers that Cyrano is wounded and dying. She also discovers that he’d been the one writing the letters all along and can’t believe that he’d think she was so shallow that she’d only care about a man’s face and not his heart or his mind. It was Cyrano she’d loved all along but never knew it and now it’s too late because—spoiler—Cyrano dies right there in her arms. (There are also some really good sword fights.)
You know me well enough to know there’s probably a point to all this that I could have gotten to quicker.  Most of the world’s parents would give anything to trade their worries for my worries. After all, you’re healthy. You have food to eat and clothes to wear. You live in a nice house in a beautiful neighborhood and you’re getting a first-rate education. If you want to go to college all you have to do is get in and the rest is taken care of. But the thing is, outside of Saudi Arabia I’m raising you in possibly the world’s worst place to raise a young woman. I’m raising you in Hollywood.
So take a page from Roxanne’s playbook (the other Roxanne). Be brave and know that the bravest thing you can do is be willing to not fit in. Never take pleasure in someone else failing. Dare to fail yourself.  Be the one who doesn’t care as much about clothes as the person wearing them. Be kind, be compassionate and be humble. Once I saw you sit down next to a kid who was eating lunch all alone—always be that person. Once I saw you go up to a little girl who was crying on the playground and ask her what was wrong—always be that person. The girl who said, “I don’t associate with bullies”? That was you. You’ve got a giant heart and a world-class-brain-in-training and Roxy, you’ve got character.
Which doesn’t mean you’re not gonna screw up a ton. So even though you don’t need to be swaddled that tight anymore, I’m never far away.
Happy Father’s Day, Rox. (By the way, your ears turned out fine. False alarm.)

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