Monday, December 21, 2020

2020 seemed to give me everything I wanted... and then it took my Dad

As 2020 winds down, I'm left with the realization that it's a year I'm always gonna remember as "the year I lost my dad." Considering how much has happened this year, it's sobering that that is what leaves a mark.

From the time Donald Trump, truly one of the worst Americans alive and easily the worst American president ever, had been elected, I'd spent practically every day counting down to Election Day 2020. In a truly dark turn of events, that day, November 3, 2020, was the first day in 73 years that my father was not on this Earth, having died the previous morning.

I started the year with so much optimism. Just two weeks in, SUPERMAN & LOIS had been picked up and thanks to prior encounters with Greg Berlanti, I had a meeting with Todd Helbing, the showrunner. Having been up for a Berlanti show the prior season, I knew that nothing was in the bag, so I went in as prepared as possible and managed to walk out with the job.

Holy shit! I'm was going to be working on a Superman show! Produced by Greg Berlanti! It was pretty much everything I wanted from the time I first came out here. When I finally met the staff, they proved to be a great bunch of people and for a month, it was a dream job. As writers' assistant, I was spending my entire day in a room with people talking about Superman, and I got to contribute quite a bit too.

Then, about a month into the room, the whole world changed. Due to a complete failure on the part of the Trump Administration to contain COVID-19, the pandemic broke out. The room moved to Zoom, and here again, I have to commend the staff I was working with. Working on Zoom is draining in a way that working in a normal room isn't, but I think we adapted about as well as any team could have.

I think it helped that as a collective, this might be the best writing staff I've been lucky enough to work with. In other rooms, I've watched as animosity brewed between some specific writers, to the point that it was obvious everyone in the room was noticing it too as it led to daily clashes between those two. I've witnessed one writer push another writer so far that the second writer simply walked out of the room at 11:30am, drove home, and didn't return until the next day. I've seen writers not intuit after months in a room which pitches aren't anywhere near viable, or be able to adapt their style when it's clear their personality isn't getting results.

We didn't really have that on our show. It was a great bunch of writers who all seemed to feel that the best part of our day was getting together and talking story. Most days, you could feel the excitement even across Zoom. I'm not exaggerating when I say that working on SUPERMAN & LOIS kept me sane this year, and helped me through what otherwise would have been an extremely difficult several months where I was isolating with only my wife and son.

At one point, we took a brief hiatus, and so, with nothing else to do, I found myself writing the teen drama mega-crossover I was born to do: CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS. I've told that story here, so I won't retread most of that ground again. But as you know, I was as shocked as anyone when - at a point when only four pages of this script existed - Ben Blacker contacted me and told me he wanted to do the Zoom live read of the script. Then, once the script was done and I showed it to Greg Berlanti, Greg generously offered to help us with casting.  This is how we got Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp to reprise their roles and make it sort of an EVERWOOD reunion.

As I returned to the show, the summer found me focusing my attention on either SUPERMAN & LOIS, or the production of the live read. Both were welcome distractions and as our amazing cast came together, it was clear that we had something special. At the same time, it was the end of the summer when Todd Helbing called me with a question, "How would you like to write the next episode?"

I found myself breaking my episode as the last pieces of the live read were falling into place. That all but confirmed to me that it was time for something that had been long delayed - I was going to remove the anonymity from The Bitter Script Reader.  And so, once we had filmed and edited the Zoom live read and announced a release date, I made that reveal as part of the announcement... on October 11, 2020.

Mere hours after I made that announcement, my mother texted me with news. My father had symptoms that appeared to be COVID and had gone for a test. 24 hours later, while I was in the Zoom Room, I got another text from my father: "I tested positive for COVID."

Late that night, I got a call from my mother. Dad had collapsed and hit his head, necessitating a trip to the emergency room. The next day, Tuesday, October 13, he was admitted to the hospital and was being given oxygen to get his blood-ox up. I spoke to him on the phone that day, immediately surprised that he sounded normal. I expected his voice to be weak, or for him to be coughing heavily, or at least sound winded. He didn't. I allowed myself to believe that this was a relatively minor case of COVID, especially when he was released that Thursday.

Friday night, October 16, he was back in the hospital after his blood-ox remained low. He would not leave again.

I spoke to him on the phone the next couple of days. Dad told me he was looking forward to my live read. He hadn't watched most of those teen shows, but he knew it was a big deal for me. He was impressed to see it all come together. In what turned out to be one of our last conversations, he said, "I'm most excited to see Greg Berlanti as The Flash."

I always took that to mean he was very impressed that I was doing something that someone as accomplished as Greg wanted to be a part of. And I think he was very excited for me that I was working with one of my professional idols.

In that same conversation, I told him that I'd just been on the notes call for my episode story area and that everyone raved about it. I read him the non-spoilery parts of the pre-meeting email, which was "We. Loved. This. Episode." He was so happy for me. I told him that I'd been working on my episode's paperwork, which included applying to the WGA. He asked what that meant. I told him it meant I was a writer. I'd be joining the union, card and everything.

But there became concern that he was talking too much and it was affecting his blood ox, so on Tuesday, October 20, they told me "no voice calls." The last conversation I would ever have with him was the day before that. I didn't realize for a few days that he had been allowed to keep his cell phone and was receiving texts, but once I did, I sent him a few pics of my son and we had a brief chat that Sunday, October 25. We texted again on Monday, October 26.

I woke up on Tuesday, October 27 to the news he'd been intubated and sedated. 

This was three days before my live read premiered. The one he'd been so excited for.

The rest of the week was a series of updates as to his condition, communicated in the forms or numbers and levels and benchmarks that aren't worth recapping. There's be improvement in one area, and then something else would go south. They'd address developing blood clots by using thinners, and then the thinners would cause trouble elsewhere in his body. So they would address that, and the distress then cascaded elsewhere.

What this leads to is me on a FaceTime call with my unconscious father on Saturday, October 31. He'd had a bad morning, but seemed to be turning around by the time they put me on the phone. I knew why they were doing this. I knew that this was the call where I was supposed to say goodbye, just in case there wouldn't be any other opportunity.

I hate goodbyes. I told him that. I told him I knew why they wanted me to talk to him. And then I said to him that I wasn't going to say goodbye. This call would not be goodbye. Instead I told him about everything that was going on. I told him I'd dedicated the live read to him and that since it debuted, so many people were sending well-wishes.

I reminded him of the line he often quoted from Dumb and Dumber, when Lloyd is told by Mary that his chances with her are "one in a million" and Lloyd says, "So you're saying there's a chance!" I told Dad that I needed him to believe it, and that I believed it.

The next day, I posted a picture of my newly-arrived WGA card to Twitter and spent the day fielding congrats from so many of my followers and peers. This was on the heels of CRISIS being very well-received just two days earlier, so my feed that weekend had been like a geyser of well-wishes and positivity. It was a lot of kindness at a time I truly needed it.

Dad did not have a good Sunday. Late in the evening here, I got a call from Mom that his condition was bad. My brother was making the four hour drive to get there because there was a very real chance that he wouldn't make it through the night. I've already told you as much about that night as I can bear, and you'll find that post here.

What I was left with in the wake of Dad's death was anger, so much anger. His death, like so many of the other 250,000 COVID casualties at the time he passed, didn't have to happen.

Any competent administration and Congress would have put everything on a true lockdown, paid people to stay home for two months, and then done contact tracing to isolate active cases and prevent a spread. They would have promoted the science aggressively, and let it be known that masks drastically reduce transmission and embraced the necessity of social distancing. They would not have prioritized "the economy" over human lives, and they wouldn't have acted like it was encouraging freeloading to take financial burdens off of people so wouldn't have to choose between going to work and staying safe.

My father is dead because of Donald Trump, because he chose to fight a pandemic like a PR problem.

My father is dead because not enough people understood how grossly unqualified and incapable this man was to lead... and that wasn't a hard thing to see. Myself and many others knew from the day he was elected that he would only bring ruin to this nation and we spent four years begging everyone else to see it. 

My father is dead because of every ignorant person who voted for Donald Trump despite all the red flags in 2016, and I promise you that just about all of them voted for Trump again the day AFTER my father died, thereby making it crystal clear their denial that boorish ignoramous completely screwed up the pandemic response. Other countries got a handle on it. We didn't - because we have a sociopathic asshole guiding our response.

I hold all of those people responsible, even those who once might have considered themselves close friends or blood relatives of my family. I will never be able to forgive them for what they did in putting that man in the White House. And I don't want people to tell me that I need to "understand" why they supported this racist garbage of a human. I have zero interest in salvaging those relationships and I could not have a lower opinion of those who tied themselves to Trump.

So you can see how all of that tends to overshadow the overwhelming positivity that happened elsewhere in the year. 

I was grateful for the many people who reached out to me as they heard of Dad's passing. One of the advantages of having a robust social media presence is that news travels fast. One of my oldest friends let me know that he felt "like I lost my second dad." A college friend who I first met at a pre-orientation event for Columbus locals attending Denison emailed me to say that he remembered meeting my Dad at that event 22 years ago, and talked about how friendly Dad was to him then.

A writer I worked with on my last show emailed me to say he spoke to my dad when I dragged my parents along to a cookout hosted by another of the writers earlier this year. Apparently Dad told him all about how we drove across the country together when I moved out here and "You know this already, but it bears repeating: he was damn proud of you. For your hard work, your perseverance, and having landed your dream show. He knew you were starting a new chapter and he was positively beaming. It was clear you and your family were the apples of his eye."

I wasn't prepared for how hard it hit to hear that from someone who'd only had one encounter with him.

So many people who Dad met only once or twice, often YEARS ago, emailed me to tell me details of their conversations with him. I have been to so many parties where a friend introduced me to their parents and I promise you, I probably couldn't pick them out of a lineup today. I don't even know if I often had any kind of in-depth conversations with those people... but Dad had such a presence that even in those short encounters, he made an impression.

These last seven weeks have been about me realizing that this impression is now a gigantic hole in the wake of his passing.

Again, the people on SUPERMAN & LOIS couldn't have been more wonderful to me. The morning of my Dad's passing, Greg Berlanti and Todd Helbing had flowers sent not just to me, but to my mother as well. That night, one of the actors on the show, Erik Valdez, happened to see a RT of my tweets about my dad's passing, noticed that we worked on the show together, and DM'd me to introduce himself and send his condolences. The next morning, I returned from a walk to find more flowers waiting for me and a very kind note from "The S&L Cast." Though he didn't claim credit, I'm sure that was Erik's doing.

All of the writers were so wonderful to me, reaching out, covering for me, being there to listen when I needed it. And in perhaps the most unexpected kindness of all, the other Arrowverse assistants - many of them, mind you, whom I've not yet met aside from email - reached out with a condolence card and gift card.

I'm telling you this because I want you to know that contrary to the stereotype of people who work in Hollywood, my co-workers, bosses, and counterparts on other shows are some of the kindest, most empathetic people you could know. Their big hearts made a horrible situation much more bearable than it would have been. All I can do is try to life up to that kindness and pay it forward when it's my turn.

Everything good about this year was connected to either this show and Greg Berlanti. I got to write my first episode of TV. I got to write SUPERMAN. I did a star-studded crossover of my favorite teen shows and got Emily VanCamp and Gregory Smith from my FAVORITE teen show to come read MY words. Because of my job, I didn't have to worry about supporting my family during the pandemic, and because of the attention the live read got, I didn't have to go through the days after it alone.

2020 took my father from me and it feels like the only way it could balance the scales is by giving me everything else I ever wanted. And yet, as I sit here reliving the past year, I'm left with these thoughts:

As your parents get older, you confront the reality that one day, they will leave you. That had definitely crossed my mind the last few years. My father was 73, but he looked nearly a decade younger. He'd been taking care of himself. His father passed at the age of 79 and looking at pictures of him, I'm struck by how he looked at least 15 years older than my father did this year. 

Beyond that, my father's mother - my grandmother - had died only four months earlier at the age of 97. I never expected we could lose him so soon after her. Think about that... my father only lived four months of his life without his mother.

I feel like an entire decade was stolen from him. He should have been here to see my four year-old son grow older. Maybe he'd have even made it to his high school graduation, or at least been around long enough that my son wouldn't only know "Papa" as a distant memory.

It's unfair and it hurts and it never should have happened.

I miss him. And I will continue to miss him forever.

I love you, Dad.

4 comments:

  1. Life can be so amazing and so cruel at almost the same time. I am really sorry for your loss. Lately with all the news of the pandemic and hospitalizations I couldn't help but have my own dad in my mind, he died 6 years ago and it just sent me in a deep depression, that I'm not entirely sure I came out of. Yesterday while on a Buffy rewatch I finally made it to the ep I was dreading, The Body... and it wrecked me again. That episode made me cry even years before my dad's death. But now? Ooof. Well, I don't really know why I am writing this. But I have loved reading about your recent success as a long time twitter follower. Hope time will heal you, and that your art can keep you afloat. Much health and love,

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  2. The indigenous folk of North American may disagree. Ol' Hickory gets my vote.

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  3. I loved reading your story about your dad's visit to the studios where NCIS had been filmed. He just seemed like such a great guy... and you just know he was so proud of you, and no matter what, he was aware that he was loved.

    Anyone who claimed to be his friend and still voted for Trump should be ashamed.

    On a happier note... as a friend for going on a decade now, I'm impressed by all you've accomplished, and I can't wait to be watching Superman & Lois and catching references and thinking "yep, that was Adam." There are very few people in the world that I know with more love for that character than you. Just do know that if you ever are recruited to write a comic tie-in or something, I expect a signed copy.

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  4. My condolences - your Dad sounds like one of the greats. And it is infuriating, all the heartbreak that could have been avoided but for one man's pathetic vanity and his vile indifference to human life. My friend, we readers have and will keep rooting for you. And even in our darkest hour, where grief burns and overwhelms us, it is heartening to experience such kindness and empathy from family, friends, colleagues - those who care about us the most, letting us know that our departed love ones matter, our feelings matter, and the joy they gave us will always be with us. Take care, friend.

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