Somewhere between college and now, I turned into an adult. I’m not quite sure how the transformation happened. When I look back, there are a few moments when it really struck me, I Am A Grown Up. That morning I had to rush The Mister to the hospital, the day we closed on our house. But one thing sticks out in my mind more than the others. That was the day I watched Dirty Dancing and realized that Baby’s father was right.
Like many women of my generation, I’ve seen Dirty Dancing dozens of times. I held out for a long time because all the girls at my high school loved it, and I hated them all. But once I finally caught it, I fell in love. Now when I’m sick, feeling blue, or just in the mood for an old favorite whose lines I can recite verbatim, Dirty Dancing is one of my top choices.
Right after Patrick Swayze died a couple of years back, there was a Swayze movie marathon on TBS. Dirty Dancing was just starting when we flipped by the channel. I hadn’t seen it in a while, and the Mister had never seen it, so I convinced him to watch it with me. I’m not sure how many times I had watched the movie before that day. But it was first time I noticed that Dr. Jake Houseman wasn’t an unfair, overbearing father but a good man who was just trying to do what was best for his daughter, who he clearly loved very much.
Needless to say, it was a bit of a shock. But the more I watched, the more I saw it through the eyes of a grown up. By the end of the movie, I wondered why anyone would bother longing for a guy like Johnny Castle when there were men like Baby’s father out there in the world. Let’s look at the facts here:
1) Jake (I like to call him Jake) very rarely gets time away from his work, judging from his conversation with Kellerman at the start of the movie. Yet when he takes his whole family away for a rare vacation, does he insist that his daughters spend mandated Family Fun Time with the adults? No. They’re allowed the full run of the resort, so long as they’re around for dinner. And even then, a well-placed “I have a headache” will get them out of it. He seems pretty understanding about the fact that his daughters are young adults who will want to do their own thing.
2) He is proud about the fact that his younger daughter wants to get a degree in economics of underdeveloped nations and join the Peace Corps. We’re talking about an upper middle class man in 1963. Not only is he not ashamed of the fact that she’d rather get an education and travel the world helping people than get married right away, he brags about it to anyone who will listen. Keep in mind, this isn’t the shiny, well-executed Peace Corps we have today. The program is barely two years old, and conditions that volunteers live in are pretty squalid. Let me repeat, it’s 1963, and he’s practically ecstatic with his daughter’s life choices. We should all be so lucky in 2011.
3) Jake writes Baby a check for the equivalent of almost $1800 in today’s currency just because she asked him. His only question was whether it was for anything illegal. And she lied to him. LIED!
4) When Penny’s abortion goes poorly, he not only goes out in the middle of the night to help her, he also returns to check on her the following day. He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to help her in the first place. He could have reported her to the authorities, for that matter! But he didn’t.
5) This next thing is subtle but very important. When Jake discovers what his money was used for, he refers to the abortion doctor not as a murderer, but “that butcher.” This is clearly not his first time caring for a woman after an illegal abortion. (Perhaps he’s even performed them?) He’s less concerned about the procedure that was performed and more concerned about its affect on Penny.
6) Jake is very rude to Johnny. Baby and Johnny think he’s being incredibly unfair, blaming him for Penny’s situation. But they led him to believe that in the first place! When Jake asks the roomful of staff, “Who is responsible for this woman,” Johnny steps up and says he is. When Johnny tries to confront him before leaving the resort after being fired, Jake flat out tells him, “I see someone in front of me who got his partner in trouble and sent her off to some butcher, while he moved on to an innocent young girl like my daughter.” That’s what he would see because that’s what he told him, and that’s what Baby showed him. Later when Jake learned that he’d been wrong, he admitted it. He didn’t have to offer an implicit apology to Johnny, but he did.
In short, Jake Houseman is a stand up guy who’s just trying to do right by his daughter, a young woman who is slipping away from him as she grows up too fast. Nobody put Baby in the corner. She’s off sulking, as any teenager in her situation might do. The day I noticed all of this was the day I realized I’d crossed over that bridge into the land of adulthood.
Image copyright Vestron Pictures