With the passing of Andy Griffith, we have lost the best father in television history.
Andy, as he was simply called on the best television show ever made, “The Andy Griffith Show,” was more than folksy as he is bound to be called in tributes. He was many things, but the main thing he was, was compassionate.
How many times did his bumbling deputy Barney screw up, and Andy, the sheriff, his boss and friend, rather than punishing him, saved Barney's pride by fixing the problem that Barney made, and then made it appear that it was Barney who did it? He cared about Barney.
He cared about his son Opie. He cared about Aunt Bea, who lived with him and Opie. He cared about Floyd the barber and Goober the mechanic and even Otis the town drunk. He used wisdom, common sense and decency to solve crimes and problems in his family and the town of Mayberry, N.C.
The show was funny. Andy and Barney made up the greatest comedy team in history, and it all seemed so natural. Yes, it was a simpler time. There was no technology like now: no cellphones, no cable and no Internet. People had to interact with each other and find their amusements and their meaning in those interactions.
Now technology serves to separate us, not bring us together, by magnifying the greatest of all human flaws, our obsession with status. In the show, the humor sprang from Barney's ill-fated attempts to be a big shot, to achieve status, and Andy's gentle and wise ways to bring him back to reality. Now you get on the Net and here is an article about two actresses wearing, gasp, the same dress, and which one wore it better? The message is clear: These people matter because they are rich and famous. You can have a terrible disease, be living in an alley, and your problems don't matter. You're not important.
But thanks to technology, the show lives on. It has never been off the air, a fact that speaks to the deep yearning for community that is in all of us, so sadly lacking in today's America.
But not in Mayberry. There, everyone was important. Everyone mattered. And the essence of that community is the bond between a parent and child. Today, dads on TV are portrayed for the most part as idiots, propped up by wives who are the responsible ones. But at Andy's house, there was not a wife to be found. Aunt Bea had never married, which made her an “old maid,” also known as a fate worse than death.
But Aunt Bea had a higher calling than romance: to help raise a little boy, which she did with humor and discipline. And love. In the '50s the ideal of family life was Ozzie and Harriet: the mother, father and children. Andy defied this ideal. He was a single dad giving Opie a priceless childhood without a mother.
Knowing he was loved, Opie used his imagination and learned valuable lessons, often on his own. Andy was there to guide but rarely to preach. He was not a perfect dad, which made him real and endearing. The opening scene of Andy and Opie walking to the fishing hole with that unforgettable theme music says it all. No flashy graphics or fancy editing, Opie barefoot, throwing a rock in the pond, Andy whistling. Has the bond between father and son ever been expressed more clearly?
I thought of that scene just last week when my daughter Cayman, pole in hand, and I walked down to the pond in our neighborhood association. It was a simple moment, not worthy of TV coverage, or getting an article on the Net, but one I will treasure forever. I bought the rod-and-reel-type pole at a garage sale, and she chided me for being cheap.
“Dad, you're not going to get a pole that works at a garage sale.”
I told her, “It worked when I bought it.” And it worked now in the driveway. One time. A lovely cast just missing getting tangled in the tree. But when she reeled it in, the line stuck. Oh, oh. I stayed calm, took the reel apart, wound it by hand, and I'll be darned, it worked. A rare technical triumph for ol' dad.
We got to the pond and the pole worked fine, but there was a design problem with the bait: The bread, meat and cheese we brought fell off the hook in the water, making a meal for the tiny fish that swam around by shore but making frustration for us. A man fishing with his five grandsons saw our problem and came over with some marshmallows.
“Here try these.”
We could see them catching little fish. Cayman threw in, an admirable cast I thought, and reeled back to shore. Nothing. She tried a second time. All of a sudden about two feet from shore, the rod bent in two.
“You've hooked a piece of wood,” I said in my best imitation of a knowing father's voice. A second later, it was plain for all to see this was no piece of wood. There right before our very eyes was a very big fish flopping and fighting for its life. With a hook in its mouth. I grabbed the line to make it tight, and she pulled the fish to shore.
There lay the biggest most beautiful bass I did ever see. I used to go fishing with my dad on the lake in a rowboat, and neither of us caught a bass that big. The man and his grandsons looked on in disbelief with a touch of envy. I looked at them with gratitude. (At the store, there is an entire section devoted to catching bass with fancy lures and special bait. I didn't see any marshmallows.)
I got the hook out of his mouth and we threw him back in. That was one happy fish when he hit the water. But not as happy as one older dad.
Andy, I think, would have been proud. I know I was.