I Never Sang for My Father
Robert Anderson adapted his own play about the difficult relationship between a middle-aged man, who wants to move away to get married, and his dominating elderly father who loses his wife.
At an airport Gene Garrison (Gene Hackman) asks where he can get a wheelchair and waits as passengers come off a plane. Tom Garrison (Melvyn Douglas) says he is surprised to see his son, but Gene says he wrote to him. Gene tells his mother Margaret Garrison (Dorothy Strickney) that he got a wheelchair for her, and he embraces her. Tom coughs and says he would not pay tourist prices to see a doctor. Margaret says she is sick with worry. Tom says he has been doing well for eighty years. He says he wants to get to the baggage to make sure no one steals their luggage, but Gene says it won’t be there yet. Tom asks where the Buick is, and Gene says he bought a Mustang in California. Tom says he thought Gene liked Buicks, but Gene says his father likes Buicks. Tom says he has traveled more than Gene, and he walks off to look after his luggage. Margaret tells Gene, who is pushing her wheelchair, that he can’t change him, and so there is no use trying. She says he is a remarkable man, and she admires the way he walks. She says he may not always remember where he is going, but he always goes with a firm step.
In the car Tom looks at the cover of a book of stories by Gene Garrison and asks him who took the picture of him. Gene says a friend. Tom says it looks weak, but Margaret says it is a nice picture. Tom says he likes a picture where the man looks him in straight in the eye. Margaret suggests they stop and shop because there will be nothing in the house for dinner. Gene says he is taking them out to dinner, and Tom says hooray. Gene says he wants to tell them about California. Tom tells him to turn left and then right. Gene parks in the driveway and brings in the luggage, unlocking the door.
Gene removes the sheets from the furniture and opens a shutter. He opens a window in the kitchen and looks at his mother in the garden.
Tom starts up his car in the garage and is glad the battery works. Gene complains that his father is mumbling, but Tom says he can hear perfectly well if people would enunciate. He quotes his professor from night school. They talk about Margaret, and Tom says she is under strain. He hopes she will not have another seizure. Gene says he knows it has been rough. Tom says she eats too fast. Tom says he got Gene’s letters from California and says they look forward to them. He says they don’t have much else these days. He asks about the woman he mentioned several times. Gene says he will tell them about it at dinner. Tom says he seems to see her a lot, and Gene admits he did. Tom notes that Carol has been dead for a year and says there is no reason why he should not go out with another woman. Tom says he was in California many years ago, and he understands his enthusiasm. Gene says he likes it. Tom says if he would move there, it would kill his mother. He says Gene is her whole life, though she is fond of his sister. Margaret calls to them, and Tom goes to get the rest of the luggage.
At a restaurant Tom tells the waitress that they missed her. Tom and Gene both order a martini at 6-1. Tom talks about his diamond ring he got from T. J. Parks and says it was appraised at $4,000. He says that when he goes to a doctor, he turns it around so they won’t think he is wealthy. Margaret says he likes to tell people the gruesome details of his life, but Tom objects. She says she can’t have anyone in because he won’t play bridge or anything. He only wants to watch westerns on TV and tells everyone the story of his life. Tom says they seem to be interested. She sighs and remembers the story of his mother’s funeral. Gene says he does not remember that one, and she tells him not to get started on it because he likes to tell everyone how he would not let his father come to her funeral. Tom asks if he should have let him and says he ran out on them when they were kids. She says he tells people how he shoved his father off the funeral coach. Tom says he would do it again; he was only ten years old. He says he had not seen them in more than a year. He showed up at the funeral weeping, begging, and drunk as usual. Tom says he shoved him off, and he did not see him until years later when he was dying in Bellevue from drinking. She asks what he wants to order, but Tom wants to finish his story. He says he visited him and sent him oranges he requested. He died the next morning. Margaret asks what he wants, and Tom says he is not hungry. The pretty waitress brings the martinis, and Tom complains she dumped the lemon peel in his drink. He says it is all right and toasts to her “smiling Irish eyes.” She says he has not changed and walks away. He says he likes to get a rise out of them and tips them if they do well; but if not, he gives them only ten percent. Margaret says he is making a fool of himself.
At home Tom is watching a western on television. Gene knocks on the bedroom door and finds his mother sitting and reading a book. She says she does not know how he can stand to watch so many westerns. Gene thinks he always wanted to be a cowboy, and she says he will not listen to what she wants to hear. She says they had only one TV, and he rode herd on it about what to watch, and then he would go to sleep after three minutes. Yet she still believes he is a remarkable man. She says it is a shame that children can’t see their parents when they are young and in love. He glances at the old pictures on their dresser. Gene hears his father call to him to come and watch the shoot-‘em-up. Gene says he will be down in a minute; but he closes the door, and his mother asks him to tell her about California. He sits on the corner of the bed near her and says he liked it a lot. She says it was good for him to get away for a while from his apartment and memories of Carol. He says he told her about Peggy whom he met in California. She remembers that she is a doctor with children. Gene says he is thinking of marrying her. She says she sounds like a lovely woman and that people would expect a man his age to marry again. He says she has a practice there and her children and their friends and schools. She says there are trains and planes and that Alice brings her children once or twice a year. She reaches out and puts her hand in his and says his father and her can get along without him. She says he makes the beds, which is the only work she is not allowed to do, and she will remember where his checkbook is. Gene says he is sorry it is working out like this, but she says they were fortunate to have him so near them for so long. She asks if he has told his father, and Gene stands up and says no; but he thinks he has guessed from his letter. Gene says that he told him that if he went out there to live, it would kill her. She scoffs and says he didn’t say that it would kill him because he doesn’t think it would hold him or mean anything to him. She says she will talk to him, though he will make a dreadful scene. Gene says she has always done that for Alice and him. He sits down again and takes her hand and tells her that he will do it.
Gene comes downstairs and sees that his father is asleep. He turns down the volume on the TV and sits down. Tom wakes up and asks him where his mother is. Gene says she is upstairs and has gone to bed. Tom says it is a good one because the guy can really handle a gun, and he increases the volume. Gene says he wants to talk to him, and Tom tells him to wait a minute. He watches the shooting, and Gene stands up and says he is going. Tom says so soon and shakes his hand as he says they see so little of him. Gene says he comes at least once a week. Tom says when he is there, his mother seems to do all the talking. He recites some poetry about doubtful joy. Gene is walking away and says he can meet him in town for lunch in a couple days because he would like to talk to him. Tom says that is a good idea and asks him to set the date. Gene says he will call and walks out the door. Tom goes out on the porch with him and says he is a comfort to them and that he does not know what they would do without him. Gene puts his hands on his father’s shoulders to say goodbye. Tom asks if he is coming for his mother’s birthday and says it will be his party. He tells Gene to remember what he said about California. Gene says goodnight, and turns to go. As he is getting into the car, Tom tells him to be careful and gives him directions. Gene turns the car around and drives off.
Gene walks upstairs and goes into his apartment. He takes off his jacket and tie with anger as he recalls the conversations with his father. He washes his face. He pours himself some liquor and sits on his bed and makes a call. He talks with Norma and says he got back a couple days ago. He invites her to come out for a drink. He says he will see her in ten minutes and says goodbye.
Gene is in bed with Norma (Lovelady Powell). She tries to get him to smile and says that just once she would like him to come see her and afterwards smile. He grins. She says if he starts feeling guilty, it upsets her and gives her the willies. He says he is sorry. She asks if he is feeling guilty because he is going to get married and is there with her. He says no, but he always feels like he is using her. She says when Carol was dying and he came running up the steps, she was touched by the whole thing. He says she makes it sound great, but somewhere she must hate him coming to her like this. She laughs and says other men go out on a binge, but he comes to her. She likes his way better because it is friendlier. He says he gets fed up with being treated like an ungrateful child by a senile man. He says he sits and watches television with him for hours while he sleeps. He caresses her and says when he is going, his father says they never get to see him. She asks why his sister can’t do some of the babysitting. He says she has been banished to Chicago for marrying a Jew. He says he hates him, and he hates hating him. He hates what it does to him because when he is around him, he shrinks. She says he will be going away soon, and he says yes. He says he feels guilty about leaving them, arguing with each other. He says he was a big man in that city because he was the mayor, the president of the Board of Education, and much more. Now they don’t even know that he exists, and his contemporaries are dead. He asks who reads the bronze plaques on school buildings. He is a forgotten man in an ungrateful city. He sighs and says he is going to walk out on him too. He says it depresses him. She tells her friend that it is a lousy world, and he agrees. She says he wants to set it all right like in the story books—love eternal beyond death, grandparents with the kiddies around them, and sex always an expression of abiding love. He thinks she wants him to grow up and laughs. She tells him not to change and kisses him.
At home Gene answers the phone and asks his dad what it is. He says he will be right there. Gene parks his car on a street and goes into a hospital. He asks for his mother’s room and goes in. She is unconscious in an oxygen tent and tells the nurse that he is her son. He asks about the doctor, and she says he thinks things are going as well as could be expected. He notices a feeding bottle and thanks her and goes out.
In a waiting area Gene embraces his father who is glad to see him and coughs. Tom says he had a shock. He tells what happened while he was fixing breakfast. He heard her scream and found her on the floor asking for nitro. He gave her the nitro and called the doctor and the ambulance. He says she had a very good time in Florida. Gene says these things happen. Tom admits he could have seen more of her there; but she only wanted to play bridge, and he met some interesting people. He met a man who knew Helen Moffett. He tells how when he was a kid, his father would take him from the city slum out to that beautiful country, and he spent time with Helen going to church, taking walks, and sitting under an apple tree. He says he did not have money and did not go there often. Her mother did not like him and thought he would turn out like his father. He says that scared her off. He has the name of the man from Florida. He told him that Helen had never married even though she had been in love as a kid. Tom suggests that they go to the Rotary Club for dinner because he has been away for two months. He says if you are absent too much, they drop you or fine you. Gene says he thought they would grab a bite there at the hospital. Tom says the coffee-shop there is terrible. They will say hello to the fellows and come right back. He says his mother is sleeping now and that she would want them to go. Gene says okay and goes along. Tom says he does not know what he would do without him.
As they walk into the Rotary Club, Gene admits he has been there before. Tom shakes hands with his friend, Rev. Sam Pell (Conrad Bain), and introduces him to his son Gene. Tom says Gene was a Marine, but Sam says he was in the Navy. Tom brags that his son saw the flag go up at Iwo Jima. Tom complains that “some bozo” has been sitting in their pew at church, and Sam says he will see what he can do. Tom and Gene order martinis. Tom tells how when he was a child, his mother used to give him a jigger of gin with garlic to keep away colds.
Gene calls Peggy and tells her that yesterday his mother had a heart attack. He says the hospital just called to tell him that his mother died a few minutes ago.
Dr. Mayberry (Daniel Keyes) tells Gene that nothing could be done. He says his father was prepared for this, and it may be a welcome relief. He says he took good care of her. The doctor realizes it is a difficult matter, but as an old friend he tells Gene that he should not be living in that big house alone.
In a funeral home Gene and Tom look at caskets. Tom sees a $900 price tag, and the director tells him the prices marked include all their services as well. Tom says they have Gene’s car and that others can use their own cars. Tom sees one that is $2,000 and asks what they are made of. The director says the caskets are put inside of a cement vault to keep out moisture. Tom says their plot is on a slope and says that is not good, but the director says it does not make much difference. Tom sees a small coffin for a child and says his mother would have fit into it. She died when he was ten. He tells the story of his father at the funeral again. He sees one for $500 and asks Gene what he thinks. Gene says he does not think it makes a different. Tom says he thinks the wood is warmer than the metal, and Gene agrees with him. Tom asks if there is a tax, and the director says it is included. Tom says they will settle on it and get out of there. The director asks Gene questions about the family. Gene asks his father if they should go, and Tom repeats that his mother was “just a little bit of thing.”
A train arrives, and Gene meets his sister Alice (Estelle Parsons) with an umbrella in the rain. They hug, and she thanks him for meeting her. He says he is glad to get out of the house for a while. She asks about their father, and Gene says he sees no change in him. He says Reverend Pell came over today, and he told him his life story and how much money he made in 1929. She says, “O God.”
In a coffee-shop Gene is perturbed and says to Alice that their mother just died and that he wanted to talk about her, but she was never mentioned except as his father’s inspiration which he took to tell the story of his life. Alice is sorry that Gene has had to take it all alone. He says he is fed up with people coming up to him and telling him that his father is a remarkable man. He says nobody talks about mother. He swears and says you would think he died. He wants to say to them that they don’t know his father; they only know the man in the newspapers. He says the night he banished her for marrying a Jew that did not get in the papers. She says, “Shh.” He says what a night that was—their mother ran out of the room sobbing, Alice shouting at him and storming out, and the father and son sitting there and eating in silence. He says that afterward he threw up.
In his car Alice tells Gene that she felt guilty about mother while coming there. She feels she should have seen her and brought the kids more often. Instead she sent flowers. Gene says he felt the same way. She says that he made his mother’s life, but he says a son should not have to do that. He says that dad always said that he did not know the meaning of the word “quit,” but he says that he quit on her. He says he was just there, and he sighs.
In the house Gene and Alice find their father asleep in his chair. Gene says when he sees him like that, he thinks of the old tiger; but when he wakes up, he has to deal with Tom Garrison. Tom touches his hand. As Tom awakes, he says, “Margaret.” Then he asks Gene where his mother is. Gene tells him that Alice is there. She says hello to him, and he takes their hands.
Gene and Alice lie awake in separate beds while Tom prays by his bed and then turns out the light and gets in bed.
At the cemetery Rev. Pell is speaking and quotes scripture.
In the front yard Alice tells Gene that she would like to create some kind of memorial for their mother, and he agrees. She suggests a shelf of books for the library. She says she liked to tell Christmas stories. He says it is a good idea. She asks him what they are going to do. She thinks he should get married and move to California; but she says it would be murder if he came to live with her. She says that he would not do it because of how he feels about Sidney, and the kids can’t stand how he tells them how to do everything. He says he can’t tell her how it makes him feel as a man to see someone who was so distinguished and remarkable just become a nuisance. She says she may sound hard; but she believes that as long as he is being taken care of, they may feel some guilt, but her responsibility is to her husband and children. He says yes; that is her responsibility. She says his responsibility is to himself. She tells him to get married again to get away from memories of Carol and her world. He says it may be mother’s death and the funeral, but all he can think about is Carol. She hugs her brother and friend from the side and tells him to get out of there. He says they only remember the terrible things about dad, but he is trying to remember what he did for them. She says she is doing a lot for her children, but she does not expect them to pay her back at the other end. She is sure they can find a full-time housekeeper, and she says he can afford it. He says he would not agree to that. She says it is that or finding a home. She says his mind is going, and they will have to start thinking about power of attorney or even committing him to an institution. He exclaims it is all so ugly. She says he kicked her out and said he never wanted to see her again. He broke their mother’s heart over that for years, and she says it was mean and unloving. She says he used to beat him when he was kid if he disobeyed him. He hated and feared him all his adult life. Gene says that still he is his father and a man, and what is happening to him as a man appalls him. He says that she does not know how ashamed he feels, not being able to say, “Papa, come live with me; I love you; I want to take care of you. She says she is going to talk to him tonight about a housekeeper and will do the dirty work; but she tells Gene that when he turns to him, he must not give in to him. He leans his forehead on hers and says he always wanted to love him, and he needed to love him. They walk with their arms around each other.
In the house at night Alice asks her father how it is coming. Tom is working at a desk and tells her he has written out receipts for her to sign for the jewelry she left her. She says okay and signs them. He says it may not be necessary, but as the executor he may be held responsible. She says she wants to talk to him, but he says first he wants Gene to hear a letter he has written to Harry Hall. He says it will only take a minute and reads it aloud, thanking him for his letter and reflecting what Margaret meant to him. He describes the work he did that led to his making $50,000 a year. Gene says he thinks that financial matters are not appropriate in answering a letter of condolence. Tom says it follows from her being his inspiration. Gene stands up and says he will see him later. Alice tells her dad that she is leaving tomorrow. Tom says she is grateful that she came and says her mother would have appreciated it. She thinks they ought to talk over his plans. He says he has many letters to answer and refers to his income tax records. She asks him if he plans to keep the house. He says of course because all his things are here. He says he will be back on his feet and implies that his head will clear up now that the strain is over. She says she worries leaving him in that house alone. He says he is perfectly all right and tells both of them not to worry about him. He says for the last year, since their mother’s first attack, he has been getting the breakfasts, making the beds, and using the dust rag. He says the laundress comes in once a week to clean up for him. He says Gene will drop in once or twice a week. She says that is the point; they think he should get a full-time housekeeper to live there. He asks if that would be proper. She laughs, and he says no, and that is final. She says she and Gene will feel a lot better—. Tom interrupts her and tells her not to worry about him but go and leave with a clear mind; he is all right. He says he will appreciate Gene dropping in now and then, but he is all right. She says they would like to get him a house-keeper. He asks what she means about them getting someone. He says he has hired and fired thousands of people in his day, and he doesn’t need anyone getting anyone for him. She asks if he will do it himself then. He says no and that he has been taking care of himself since he was eight years old. He asks what they would know about it because they were given everything on a platter. He says when they were playing on a swing, he was selling newspapers five hours a day and dancing a jig in saloons for pennies. He tells them not to tell him he can’t take care of himself. He stands up and says if he wants a housekeeper, and he doesn’t, he will hire one himself. He refers again to his executive work, and he asks them how many people they have hired. He says that Gene teaches, and that is his business; but he tells them not to talk to him about hiring and firing.
Alice stands up and says he might fall down. Tom says there is nothing wrong with his balance. She says he is sometimes dizzy when he gets up. He says nonsense. He says he appreciates their concern, but he believes he is able to carry on by himself with Gene’s help from time to time. He puts his hand on his shoulder and asks Gene if they could have dinner together once in a while. He says he will take him to Rotary, and Gene says sure. Tom says it will give them a chance to get together at last and get to know each other. Alice says that Gene wants to get married. Gene tells her to shut up; but she says he has never faced up to him and that he would let him ruin his life. He says he can handle his own life, but she says he can’t. Tom calls them children and says he does not want to interfere in either of their lives. He took care of himself at eight, and he can do it at eighty. He does not want to be a burden to his children. Gene says he will move in there until he is feeling better. Tom says he does not want to ruin his life. Gene says he did not say that. Tom says he has had the impression that his only function in the family was to supply the funds for their education. Gene tells his dad to stop it. Tom says the conversation has ended. He tells Alice that they have gotten along well for years without her help. She reminds him that he sent her away. He says she chose to lead her own life. Gene tells his dad to stop it. Tom says he has gone into the city year after year to earn money for their clothes and food and the roof over their head. He asks if now he is incompetent. He asks if that is what they are trying to tell him. He turns away and walks upstairs.
Gene complains to Alice, and she says she is only trying to get a practical matter accomplished; but he says she does not have to destroy him in the process. She says she was not discussing his competence though that will need to be discussed soon. He says he is doing it because he wants to, and he goes into the kitchen and pours himself some milk. She comes in and says he is doing it because he can’t help himself. He says when he wants to be analyzed, he will pay for it. She says when their father raged in there, he shrank. He says he did so at all the ugliness that is happening. She says he is staying because he can’t stand his wrath. She says he has never been able to stand up to his anger. His father will call him ungrateful, and he will believe him. Gene asks her if they should get out a white paper to let be known that they have done all they could to help the old man in his old age and make him happy without inconveniencing themselves. He says he has refused their help; so if he falls down, hits his head, and lies there to rot, it is not their fault. She says no one expects them to ruin their lives for an unreasonable old man. He says it is not going to ruin his life, but she says it is. He says it will be a week or a month, and she says forever. He suggests they stop arguing. He knows what he is going to do, and he can’t do anything else. He says the old man in him wants to extend mercy to that old man. He says he never had a father because he ran away from him, and his father ran away too. He says maybe he is right that it is time that they found each other. She believes that is sentimental crap. She asks what he hopes to find. He waves his hand, and she asks if he hopes to find love. She asks if he can tell from what he said what he is going to find. He tells her not to give him the textbooks. She says he wants his balls, and he’s had them.
Gene walks out of the kitchen and sits down at the dining table. She comes out and apologizes but says she wants to shock him. She asks when his father has ever regarded him as a man or an equal. She says he became a Marine for him even though he did not want to. She asks when his father was ever proud of the things he does or what he values. When has he ever mentioned his teaching or his books except in scorn. He says he just does not want his father to die a stranger. She says he is looking for something that is not there, a mother’s love in a father. She says mothers are soft and yielding. Fathers are hard and rough to teach the way of the world which is mean and selfish and prejudiced. He says that is her definition; because of what he did to her, she is entitled to it. She says she is grateful that he kicked her out because it taught her a wonderful lesson that made her able to face things. She has had to face a lot, and she is grateful to him. She learned not to expect compassion and understanding from a father, and she learned not to expect it. She says she is as grateful as hell and starts crying. Gene gets up and puts his hands on her shoulders from behind and suggests that they not argue anymore. He says he is going to stay for a while for whatever reasons, and she asks about Peggy. He says they will see because she will be there in a week for a meeting. She advises him not to lose her. She says she may be fouled up herself, but she believes she spoke the truth about him. He takes her hand and turns off a lamp. While crying she says that suddenly she misses mother so. He turns to her.
Gene kisses Alice goodbye, and she gets on a train that leaves.
Gene drives to a nursing home and parks in front. Rev. Pell tells him that this kind of place could only handle his dad reasonably well, and they go in. Inside a man shows them around. They see the hall lined with old people in wheel chairs. They go into a room and see old people playing games and sewing and writing. In the dining room the man says they fix it up at Christmas. Gene thinks of his father. Outside Pell tells him that the rates there are about $50 a day. He says the state hospital is nearby.
They park on a street and go in a large building. They go up an elevator, and a man shows them rooms with several beds in each one with no wall between the hall. Gene and Pell come out, and Gene remembers what he saw. In the car Pell says that is the other side of our miracle drugs. We keep them alive, but it is a grim alternative.
An airplane lands from Los Angeles, and Gene welcomes Dr. Margaret Thayer (Elizabeth Hubbard) and kisses her. He says it is great to see her. He refers to the real world and asks her to promise him that they will die young; but she says it is a little late for her. He laughs. He means before they become public nuisances. She asks him if it has been rough. He mentions that old man. She says she sees it all the time, and she asks if he has found a housekeeper for him. He says he looked at the homes and institutions. She says she would come east with the kids if he wants that. He says he does not want that. He does not know what he wants, but he knows he wants her. They kiss.
At night Gene parks the car and with Peggy goes to the front door. Tom answers and says it is a pleasant surprise, and Gene says he told him they were coming. Tom says his mind is a sieve. Gene introduces Dr. Peggy Thayer to his father, and Tom says he has a pain in his chest. They laugh and shake hands. Gene says she could not help him out because she is a gynecologist. He says he will take his trade to someone else. He apologizes for the condition of the house because his wife died recently. He says he has hundreds of letters to answer. He says they have to do something about her magazine subscriptions, and he has been reading a book from the book club and is amazed at what they get away with these days. He hopes his son does not read things like that but declines to describe them before a charming girl. Tom has forgotten where she is from, and Gene reminds him she is from California. Tom learns her real name is Margaret and says that was his wife’s name, but she was never called Peggy. He says Peggy is right for her.
Peggy is washing the dishes, and Gene embraces her from behind. She turns around, and they kiss. He says he is going to tuck him in and say good night. She tells him not to be mad because she thinks he is charming; but he says that most people do.
Tom is praying by his bed, and Gene knocks and comes in. Tom wonders why he never had any hair on his chest. He hopes to get some exercise and build himself up again. He remembers how they did calisthenics together. He says then they boxed, and the two men pretend to spar against each other while laughing. Tom says it is too bad that Gene never took up golf. Tom shows him pictures of the family. Gene says he never saw a picture of Tom’s father. Tom finds an envelop and shows him an old photo. Gene says he was so young. Tom says he was a fine man before he started drinking; but he became his mortal enemy. Tom shows him a piece of paper and tells how he made a home for his brother and sister. One day his father came around and ripped up all his sister’s clothes and shoes while drunk. A few days later he came back to apologize and ask for money, and he threw him out. The next day he came back and left the note which reads, “You are welcome to your burden.” Gene says he kept it. Tom says he did not see him again until he was dying at Bellevue. Gene says there must have been something there to love and understand. Tom asks in his father and laughs.
Tom shows him a father’s day card he got in 1946. He says he has all of his father’s day cards there. Tom says he never wanted children because of his background, and they did not have Alice for a long time. He says Margaret persuaded him that they would be a comfort in their old age. He pats Gene on the arm and says that he is. Tom shows him a program of his when he was in a glee club. He asks if he still sings, and Gene says he has not for years. Tom says it is too bad because he had a good voice. He remembers being upstairs hearing him practice and listening to him sing. Gene says he used to ask him to sing, “When I Grow Too Old to Dream.” Tom says he does not remember that. When he came into the room, he always seemed to be just finishing. He asks if Gene used to sing that for him, and Gene says no, though he always asked him to sing it. Tom says he enjoyed listening from upstairs. He shows him a photo of his mother when she was 25. He says she died the next year. Tom starts to cry. Gene gets up to comfort him with his hands. Tom says he never thought it would be like this; he always thought he would go first. He says he is sorry and says it just comes over him. He says he will get ahold of himself. Gene tells him not to try and says it is rough. Tom gets up and sits on the bed. Gene asks if he wants him to help him put the things away. Tom says yes and that he does not know what he would do without him.
Gene asks how he likes Peggy, and Tom says she is very pretty. Gene says he is thinking of marrying her and going out to California to live. Tom stands up, and so does Gene who says that he knows this is his home; but he would like him to come out there, and they would get him an apartment close to them. Tom suggests that they all come here to live. Gene says she is a doctor and has a practice out there and their schools and friends. Tom says they have a big house here and that Gene always liked this house. He says it is wonderful for children with the yard. Gene says he wants to get away from this area because it has been rough since Carol died. He says it would be good for him too. Tom says his mother would be happy to have the house full of children again. He says he won’t be around long, and it will be all his. Gene says it is kind of him, but he does not think it would work out. He says Peggy’s work and her children and all her family are out there. Tom says his family is there, and Gene says he knows. Tom tells him for his own good that he went out to California shortly after Carol’s death, and he was exhausted from her long illness and naturally was very susceptible. He wonders if he was able to know his own mind. Gene says he knows his own mind. Tom says he would be taking on another man’s children. He asks if he mentioned this to his mother, and Gene says she told him to go with her blessing. Tom says she would say that, but he warned him. Gene says, “For God’s sake,” and Tom tells him to go ahead; he can manage. He asks him to send him a Christmas card if he remembers. Gene says he asked him to come with him, and Tom says he is not going. Gene says he understands that but objects to the remark about a Christmas card. Tom apologizes if he offended him and says his wife always told him not to raise his voice. He says he will not make it easy for him like his mother did. He says if he wants to go, then he can go. Gene swears, and Tom says he always knew it would be like this after his mother was gone. He says he was only tolerated in the house because he paid the bills. Gene tells him to shut up, and Tom tells him not to say that to him. Gene shouts, “Shut up!” He says he asked him to come with him. He asks him what he wants. Tom turns away and sits on the bed.
Gene says if he lived there the rest of his life, it would not be enough for him. He says he tried to be his dutiful son on every conceivable occasion. He says even when his wife was dying, he wanted him to come there for Thanksgiving. Tom asks if it is so terrible to want to see his own son. Gene says it is terrible to want to possess him entirely. Tom says he will have to sign some papers for his mother’s estate, and he tells him to leave his address with his lawyer. Tom says that from tonight on he can consider him dead. He says he gave him everything, and since he was a kid, he worked his fingers to the bone for him. He says Gene was everything, and he was nothing. Tom calls him an “ungrateful bastard.” Gene asks what he wants for gratitude, and he says nothing would be enough for him. He resented everything he ever gave him. He says the orphan boy in him resented it. He says he is sorry his father had a miserable childhood. He used to tell him stories, and he would come up to his room and cry; but there is nothing he can do about it now. He says it does not excuse anything. Tom is getting into bed. Gene says he is grateful to him, and he admires him and respects him. He stands in awe at what he did with his life and says he will never be able to touch it; but it does not make him love him, and he wanted to love him. His father hated his father, and he saw what that did to him. He did not want to hate him. Tom says he does not care what he feels about him, but Gene says he does. He says he came close to loving him tonight; he never felt so open to him. He says he does not know what it cost him to ask him to come with him when he was never able to sit in the same room alone with him. He asks if he thinks his door was really open to him. Tom says it is not his fault if he never came through it. Gene says goodbye and says he will arrange to have someone come and stay with him. Tom says he does not want anyone; he can take care of himself as he always has. While getting up Tom asks who needs him. Gene is walking away. Tom goes to the door and shouts as Gene is going down the stairs saying he lived his whole life so that he could look any man in the eye and tell him to go to hell. He turns and slams the door.
Gene says that that night he left his father’s house forever. He went to California, and he saw his father a few times after that. They visited each other. Then the arteries began to harden, and they put him in a hospital. He slipped into speechless senility, and not long after he died alone. “Death ends a life but not a relationship which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some resolution which it may never find.” Alice said he would not accept the sadness of this world. He and his father may never have loved each other. He says she may have been right. Yet when he hears the word “father,” it matters.
This drama portrays a father in decline who was used to being in command and a son who is trying desperately to understand and love his father. The difficulty that comes with old age is explored as well as the responsibility that the adult children may have to take to assist their parents in their final years.