Like Father Like Son

February 22, 2010

by Mark Kennedy, Arden Professional Apprentice

I always think about my father when I work on Blue Door. Whether it’s ironing Kes Khemnu’s stubbornly wrinkled pants, >buy or focusing the lights in Thom Weaver’s design, or chatting up and helping out the Freedom Theatre folk during the Pay What You Can performance, no matter what the task is, my father pops into my head.

My father is a pediatrician with an infectious disease specialty. Always curious. Always learning. Studying for new tests even though he’s worked thirty plus years in his field. Commuting two hours each way to work in a hospital where he gets to treat kids, teach, and research all together. Spending weeks on call, taking consult after consult. Traveling to South Korea to work on the meningitis vaccine. Traveling to Africa to serve as a medical missionary. My father is determined, passionate, and works very, very hard.

Growing up I didn’t understand why my father wasn’t around as much as I wanted him to be. He was always at the hospital, always caring for other people’s children, and I used to think he just didn’t like me, that he cared more about his job than his family. Even in high school, as much as I was interested in science, I chose to focus on the arts, and we began to speak different languages. Platelets to plays.

He was also a hardcore swimmer growing up. Thanks to him, I swam competitively for ten years, and worked my brains out trying to balance swimming, theatre, and school. For a while I enjoyed it all, but by my senior year of high school the pressure of getting scholarships and best times overwhelmed me, and in spite of my father’s extra weight training sessions and personal pep talks, I quit the swim team to play Ernst Ludwig in our high school production of Cabaret. I told my parents I was unhappy swimming, I needed to focus on what I loved, and they listened. I could tell my father was still a little disappointed.

See, he has his own swimming story. When Dad was my age, he slipped a disc in his spine at a swim meet. He was told by his doctor that he would never swim again, but Dad, clearly already thinking he was a doctor, disagreed, and worked out in the pool for however little he could for months on end until he actually rehabilitated his back and was able to compete again. He did the work, all by himself, and actually healed himself.

Now, whenever I work on Blue Door, watching Lewis struggle with the stories of his father and their fathers, I notice how much we inherit from our past. I notice how all the jobs I do in this apprenticeship inherently involve the things my father values most. Working with people. Learning new skills. Diagnosing problems, coming up with solutions. And, above all else, doing hard work, even in the face of the impossible. I think about how I couldn’t have the endurance to do half this job without my training as a swimmer, and I wouldn’t have the support, emotional or financial, to pull it off without my dear old Dad.

His hard work, his love, really, keeps working on me. And this play keeps working on me, too.

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