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A Man Called Dad : A trumpet-playing professor; a screenwriter with rules all his own; an eccentric actor whose silences can wither a man; a doctor forever chasing a dream; an ex-sailor who finally comes to his son's rescue . . . sort of. Five writers recall life with father. : The Public and Private Dad

June 14, 1995|HOLLY PALANCE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Holly Palance is a columnist for Buzz magazine

When my father, Jack, did one-arm pushups during his acceptance speech at the Academy Awards three years ago, I wanted to die.

"What's he doing ?" I gasped to my friend Tim Dalton, who was sitting right in front of me in the star-studded audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

"Relax," he said while chuckling to himself, "it only seems weird because it's your dad; for the rest of us it's fabulous."

As I sat there trying to get a grip on myself, I wondered if my father had had the same reaction many years ago in Latimer Mines, Pa., when he watched his own dad pick up things with his teeth as the local mining crowd roared in delight. "Big John" could handle the weight of tables, chairs and even a slot machine, as long as an audience was watching. He was strong and proud of it. Apparently, history was repeating itself before my very eyes.

I watched the public response and shook my head in wonder, because the private man who has always been "Daddy' to me is nothing like the bad-guy image into which he is typecast. As a dad he is completely non-judgmental, unconditionally loving and yes, at times, marvelously eccentric.

Who else would enthusiastically invite you to sit at the feet of a Spanish wine press he acquired in his travels and listen to the faint sound of termites chomping away at the wood. Or live out of the back of his car when he visits Los Angeles from his ranch several hours north of town because the idea of shelling out big bucks for a hotel room just doesn't make sense, or ask to watch his grandchildren's copy of "City Slickers" on the morning he was to report to work on "City Slickers II" because he'd never seen the original?

His poetry is passionate, and when he chooses to speak you can be sure his words will be thoughtful and interesting. I have seen him intimidate grown men with his silence when he simply felt there was nothing to say. Such was the case one night at a party when I overheard Bob Dylan say to him, "Jack, you are America!" A long silence followed and finally not knowing where to look, Dylan left the room. I mean, what do you say in response to that--"ditto"?

After Oscar night, some people said my father was off the wall, but what I learned was that he has the courage and wit to redefine where the wall ought to be. Happy Father's Day, Daddy, I love you.

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