If there was one constant decorative thread that ran through 20 Prospect, and the homes of all of the kids I knew growing up it was the recliner. Not just any recliner, Dad’s recliner. Placed front and center in the living room of houses all over America, the recliner was the strategic center of the family. If the man was the king of the castle, then the recliner was his throne. If the family were the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, then the recliner was the captain’s chair. (Our job as children was to sit in front of the TV, and take orders like Sulu and Chekov when the channel needed changing.)
Every house had one, and every Dad would retire there following a long day at work. There in his slippers, he would read the paper, or watch the evening news, an immovable, impassive statue reminiscent of Lincoln in his monument. Dad’s of that generation didn’t lie on the floor. They didn’t sit and play with the children. They didn’t work out at the gym. Lord but it was a different world.
The original Mr. 20 Prospect was from another time; a time of mid-century frugality, and manual labor. Where the majority of men had little more than a high school education and took lunch boxes to work. This was not better, or worse, it just was. As children we never knew what it was that they did, just that it was hard, and required rest when they got home. The time to engage them was after they had changed clothes, read the paper, and had their supper. When Dad got home, the cartoons were turned off, and we went outside to play.
When Dad came into the room, he didn’t need to ask to sit in his chair. The family just knew to yield it. I’m not sure at what point in the last 30 years this all changed, so I will blame it on the Baby Boomers, since they seem to be responsible for much of the world going to “hell in a hand basket.” At some point the recliner became an anachronism, and the father seated in a recliner became a caricature. A symbol of an earlier, and less enlightened time, no respectable modern man would view with anything but irony.
I bring this up because it occurred to me yesterday as I sat in the living room after dinner, reading. (As I’ve said before, I don’t watch much TV, not for religious reasons, just because I’m better than you.) No matter how I sat, or turned, I never seemed to get comfortable. With one dog on my lap, and one curled up by my feet, I wondered “whatever happened to the comfy chair?” It has never occurred to me to buy a recliner, or to position it in front of the TV, in the middle of the living room.
There’s a lot of talk these days about Man Caves (and Growleries.) Tales of men retreating to the garage where they can escape the family. Why is this? What are we afraid of? I am as guilty of it as anyone, only my “fortress of solitude” happens to be our upstairs living room, where I sit and read, or surf the web, while the family is downstairs in the “family room” watching TV.
There are worse places for a father to be. The bar comes to mind. Still, I can’t help but to wonder why we are so uncomfortable sitting in the midst of the chaos. Now we sit in self imposed exile, refugees of a role that we have never really felt comfortable filling. I’m 43 years old, why do I still feel like I’m playing make believe?