How Dirty Dancing Showed Me I Was a Grown Up

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

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BaseballChica03

Political hack. Word nerd. Stays crispy in milk. Oxford Comma user. Blogger since 2001.

4 thoughts on “How Dirty Dancing Showed Me I Was a Grown Up”

  1. I just watched Dirty Dancing the other day!!! When my daughter told me she hadn’t seen it (she has a list of 80s movies that she wants to see) I told her you MUST see this movie!!!!

    So I have a fresh POV to refer from. You know, I didn’t see Jake as a bad Daddy for not wanting his daughter to mess around with the staff — I simply felt that Baby was his little girl and he wasn’t ready to see her grow up.

    He did let her have the run of the place, which kind of made me chuckle. I basically though of him as a sweet, kind hearted man who wanted what most Dad’s want for their daughters, for her to be happy and do the “right thing”. Problem is, what we parents think is the right thing for our children is not always what THEY think is the right thing.

    Love your observations. I think Jake and Johnnie actually had a lot in common. Both of them were loyal and responsible, and not about to walk away from a situation when they could step up to the plate and take responsibility.

    Johnnie saw himself as not able to “fit” into Baby’s world and wanted her to stand up for him, so we got to see Baby grow up to.

    I just love coming of age stories!!!!!

    My two favorite scenes in the movie is when Baby confronts her father as he sits by the lake, and tells him, I’m a part of this family. You can’t ignore me!

    I love when she tells him, I know I disappointed you, but you disappointed me too!!!!

    OMG, tear jerker. It’s very loving to see how he takes her words to heart and starts tearing up.

    My second favorite scene is when Johnie comes back to have his last dance with Baby, and the father goes to stop him, and the Mom, who was so absentee and seemingly clueless for the whole movie, steps in and says No, let her go!

    Love that!!! I also love when she says, in regards to Baby’s dancing. I think she gets it from me. LOL!!! So cute!!!

    All in all I always saw Dirty Dancing as a great movie about growing up, how difficult it can be for the teen to do, and how hard for the parent to accept it. Baby has a good heart and we love her and want her to be in love too! The stuff that great stories are made of. We even see the sisters growing closer, after being so estranged for the first half of the movie.

    Now have you guys ever seen the deleted scene?

    We watched it after the movie and laughed so hard. It’s a good thing they took it out!!! Some parts were okay but there was definitely some awkward moments!!!

    http://youtu.be/xLXOwumUtjI

  2. When DD was released I went to see it with my best pal and we were in our early 20’s, too old to be caught up in the high school romance and not old enough to fully understand Dr. Jake.

    What I did latch onto was Dr. Jake was an incredibly supportive father. How the heck did he not lay into her my friend and I thought? (We were raised with Tiger parents). And I sorta wished Dr. Jake had been my dad, not just because he was Jerry Orbach either.

    It’s wonderful to revisit films at different stages of your life. You can measure how life experience has changed your world views, realize “eww I was so immature, how did I think that was cool”, and most importantly pick up messages that you didn’t catch in the first or second viewings.

    FWIW I was in the minority and didn’t enjoy the movie, still don’t.

  3. I think you make very valid and realistic points, but conversely I think Johnny was doing his best to be a stand-up guy in a situation that was so out of his realm of normalcy.

    He took responsiblity for Penny when it really wasn’t his to take–showing that he cared for her more than he cared about what others thought.

    He tried to explain this to Dr. Houseman, but his temper got the best of him–because he was being judged as a someone who was less than.

    He expressed, in a vulnerable moment for a tough guy who grew up somewhat on the streets, that he just wanted Baby’s dad to treat him like he treated Robbie.

    He called Baby to task when she balked at letting her family know about them. That showed some insight on his part because it was blatantly obvious she was hiding it.

    It seemed like he appreciated Baby for her intelligence and empathy.

    But, I think the biggest thing that showed how much he’d grown is when he was the only person who referred to her as Francis at the end of the movie—he was the one to truly see her as a young woman and not someone’s child, sister, or teenager. He saw her as an independent, strong, honest, brave adult.

    In the end he showed character by acknowledging how her character made him want to be a better person.

    He may have been more rough around the edges, not as polished or educated, or as wise as Dr. Houseman, but he certainly showed that he’d grown and become more self-aware by the end of it all.

    For the record, I love Jerry Orbach and I loved him very much in this role. He was the epitome of a good man. And when he and Baby are talking on the porch and he’s tearing up….it broke my heart.

    1. The greatest thing about Dirty Dancing is that I don’t disagree with anything you said here. For the type of movie it is (teenage coming of age dance movie?), the characters and plotlines are incredibly subtle and nuanced.

      For a long time, my impression of the movie was, “Johnny’s such a good guy! Jake is a jerk! Why doesn’t he see it? He’s so unfair!” Now, it’s more like, “Johnny is such a good guy, but Jake is only going on the information he’s been provided. They are both great, and this is a sucky situation.” It’s really the kind of movie you can grow with. It holds up so well over time, which is more than I can say for some of my high school favorites!

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