Discovering My Dad at the Movies

I didn't have a connection with my father, until we found a common interest.

by Daniela Castillo

One day when I was 8 years old, I decided to snoop through my dad’s bedroom closet. Inside I found a giant faded leather trunk, which I imagined was filled with precious jewels or other treasure.

Knowing that Dad was busy on his computer in the living room, I pulled the trunk out and opened it. Instead of finding treasure, I saw stacks of old magazines called Rolling Stone, which I’d never heard of. I assumed it was porn, since I’d recently learned about that from my cousins.

Not only was my dad a man who didn’t talk to me—he was a pervert too! The idea that my dad looked at the things my older cousins talked about so feverishly made me feel weird.

At first, I didn’t want to have anything more to do with my dad. He was quiet and withdrawn, so I didn’t feel much of a connection to him anyway. But then I began to feel sorry for him because he read porn magazines and saved them in his closet. I still liked him, so I decided not to give up on him yet.

Not One to Chat

My parents divorced when I was 3 and I’d lived with my mom ever since. I visited my dad at his house 10 minutes away, but we didn’t have conversations when I was there.

I wanted a playful and loving relationship like my friend Imani had with her dad. But my dad was not one to chat. He needed to be explaining something or really interested to get excited about anything. When he talked to his friends about movies or things they did together, I’d see him acting very enthusiastic and animated. But when I was around, he’d only talk about the news or his job.

One thing I knew Dad really liked was movies—he had a whole wall in his house devoted to them, with names like M and 8 1/2. I never bothered to ask him about his movie obsession because I figured he’d tell me if he wanted me to share his hobbies.

But the porn bothered me. So that night during dinner, I decided to confront him.

“What are those, uh, magazines in your closet?”

“What, my Rolling Stones?” he said.

Something Up His Sleeve

The nerve of him! To admit it, like everybody had a trunk full of decomposing porn magazines in their closet. “They’re my magazines from when I was 14 or so,” he said.

My fears began to fade. I knew my grandmother wouldn’t have let my father have porn magazines.

Dad explained that Rolling Stone was dedicated to music and movies, and that the magazine was still being published. He said I was too young to understand what was in the magazines but that he’d let me read them one day. He had a glow the rest of the night, like he had something up his sleeve.

As he was driving me back to my mom’s house the next morning, he asked, “So, why were you looking through my closet?”

I told him I was bored.

“Next time you come over, we’ll do something fun,” he said.

For the rest of the week, I couldn’t wait to see what my dad was planning. I imagined getting a pet, maybe a rare breed of monkey. When he picked me up, he said we were going to a museum. I was so delusional that I thought maybe we were going to the museum to get the weird monkey!

When we pulled up to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, I could see there wasn’t going to be any monkey inside that building. I felt too disappointed to protest. If this was the best he could do, I had to accept that my dad was dull and only concerned about his interests.

Better Than Monkeys

But I was wrong. Once we got inside, Dad took me to see a series of optical illusions, sculptures and lighting that I could have stared at forever. After about 15 minutes, he convinced me that there were even cooler things to see.

We saw prop displays with actual movie sets and props, including a Chucky doll used in one of the Chucky movies. And we made flipbooks of Dad and me sticking our tongues out and acting like monkeys.

After we left the museum, I wondered why it took me rummaging through his closet for him to do something so fun with me. But I already knew the answer: My dad is shy and I had to bring him out of his shell to have fun.

From that day forward, I asked my dad to take me to the movies. I wondered if he’d think I was dumb for liking animated movies like A Bug’s Life and Shrek instead of the fancy French movies he watched. But every time I laughed, he laughed, and I knew he was happy that I was having fun.

A Special Movie Teacher

By the time I was 12, Dad was taking me to some of his favorite movies. Once we went to a screening of Rashomon in Manhattan at the Film Forum. He told me it was a very special place to him and that he’d been coming here for years. Dad rarely told me about things that were important to him, so it gave the occasion a sense of discovery.

When we got there, I thought the place looked too small for a movie theater. I was used to the big multi-level theaters with giant screens. The Film Forum had only 15 rows of chairs with about 20 seats in each row.

The few people who were there looked like older versions of my dad: weird old bearded men wearing corduroy suits, college professors and cleaned-up homeless-looking people. It sure wasn’t the museum, and I was worried my dad was reverting to his old boring ways.

Rashomon turned out to be a black and white Japanese movie about four people giving different accounts of a rape and murder. Now it’s one of my favorite movies, but when I saw it for the first time, I didn’t understand that it was about people distorting reality.

Why had my dad taken me to see it? I hated that I still had to pry everything out of him. Maybe he expected me to understand the movie. Maybe he didn’t know how to be a parent. I was aggravated about having to work so hard to figure out my dad.

Gary Smith

Still Asking Questions

But that didn’t stop me from asking him questions. As we were getting into his car, I asked him why he liked Rashomon so much. Dad said it was so beautiful to watch and the acting was so great and subtle.

I had never heard him speak so passionately about anything before. I’d always seen him as an anti-social person who didn’t like to talk, but now I saw him as a man with feelings, who liked things because he sympathized with them. After Rashomon, I liked my dad as a father and an intellectual.

He’d always find interesting facts to tell me about the movies we went to see, and soon I wanted to know everything there was to know about directors, actors and critics.

I found New Yorker magazine movie critic Pauline Kael on the Internet, and I liked her reviews. When I asked my dad if he knew her work, he said, “Of course!” and gave me several of her books to read.

I loved Kael’s critiques because she treated movies as if they were breathing, living, walking beings, and she wrote as if she liked, despised or loved each particular being. I went on a mission to see every movie she’d reviewed, and so far I’ve seen about 200. (I’m a little obsessed with movies now, just like my dad.)

I watched the movies that she’d reviewed and re-read her reviews and, every time, she brought up a new point of view or small detail that I had missed. Man, this Kael lady was a genius!

Movies Are My Life

By the time I turned 14, I’d decided that I wanted to become a film journalist and write just as passionately and creatively as Pauline Kael. I’ve started journalism classes at my school this year and I hope to write for my school newspaper.

And it’s all thanks to my dad. Before we started going to the movies together, loving my dad felt like an obligation, not something I felt because we had a great relationship.

Movies showed us how much we had in common (our favorite director is François Truffaut and we love French movies). Even when we don’t agree, our discussions bring us closer. We love to debate what’s the best movie we’ve seen during the year. He’ll usually win, but I can never get mad at him because his arguments are usually pretty good.

A Cool Guy

Watching movies together also made me realize that my dad is a cool guy. Last Halloween he was going out with some friends and dressed up like the character David St. Hubbins from the movie, This Is Spinal Tap. And he can recite the whole script from the movie, Monty Python’s Holy Grail. His humor is lot like mine—spontaneous and offbeat.

Having my dad introduce me to the world of movies was better than any trip to the park with him. And knowing that my dad and I can have conversations about things that we both feel so strongly about gives me a sense of family that wasn’t complete before.

I have great relationships with all of my family members, but the most important one—with my father—wasn’t there until we got to know each other at the movie theater. A trip to the movies got me a dad and a lifetime obsession.

My dad is shy and I had to bring him out of his shell to have fun.
Explore All Topics