Dad can't see me

February 20, 2014 • Posted in blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind, radio, Uncategorized, writing by

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who’ve been watching hockey, curling and skiing on NBC the past couple of weeks, no doubt you’ve also seen a commercial for a new TV comedy about a father who is blind – a Deadline Hollywood article says 300 promotional spots for the new show will air before the Winter Olympics closing ceremonies this Sunday night.

“Growing up Fisher” has very talented people like Jason Bateman (executive producer) and David Schwimmer (director) behind it, and J.K. Simmons, a fine actor, plays the dad who is blind. It could be good, but if those commercials are any indication, I worry.

That’s Bob Ringwald at the piano.

I’ve run across plenty of people raised by dads who are blind, and they have interesting stories to tell. Let’s start with
Molly Ringwald.. You know, the one in all those John Hughes movies in the 1980s? Her father is blind. My brother Doug is a professional jazz trombonist, and he introduced me to Molly’s father Bob Ringwald, a talented professional jazz pianist, years ago. Molly has written a few novels, and she was asked about her dad during an NPR interview about her books. She told Scott Simon that as a child she enjoyed sitting with him during movies and plays to describe the action. “I actually think that that informed my writing,” she said. “That’s something that I’ve done for so long, that it’s made me, perhaps, observe things in a different way.”

And then there’s Gore Vidal. After the famous writer and critic died in 2012, Bob Edwards Weekend replayed an interview conducted at Vidal’s home in Los Angeles in 2006. Vidal was raised by his grandfather, a U.S. Senator from Oklahoma. Sen. Thomas Gore was blind, and Vidal was ten years old when he started reading to him. “I read grown-up books to him: constitutional law, the Congressional Record, American history, poetry,” Vidal said. ”He was extraordinary, he was my education.” Vidal guided his grandfather to Senate hearings, and he said he didn’t dare fall asleep while sitting in the balcony waiting for the session to be over — at any moment his grandfather might give a hand signal to let young Vidal know to skedaddle down the Senate stairs to guide him to the bathroom.

Growing up with a father who is blind can be interesting, and funny, too, at times. A live performance of This American Life opened with Vancouver writer Ryan Knighton telling a story about a walk in the woods he took alone with his young daughter. Knighton is blind, and when she started screaming about a bear, he panicked. After weighing his options, he realized that her frantic cries of “bear!” were only in reaction to dropping her teddy bear on the sidewalk. Knighton’s most recent book C’mon Papa: Dispatches from a Dad in the Dark is full of funny — and frightening  — stories of his first years as a father. His daughter Tess is seven years old now, and I’m sure she has some very entertaining stories to tell.

My friend Colleen was the first to call and tell me about the ads during the Olympics promoting the new blind dad TV comedy. My husband Mike confirmed that the commercial shows one scene of the father cutting a tree down with a chainsaw, and then another of him driving a car. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are blind who are looking forward to the premiere, I’m just not one of them.

Don’t get me wrong. I do hope Growing Up Fisher  is good, and that the storytelling and substance outweighs the over-the-top driving and chainsaw gimmicks featured in the trailers, but I’m not going to count on it. When I really want to learn about what it’s like to be raised by fathers who can’t see, I’ll turn to the day-to-day stories of the Ringwalds, the Knightons, and the late Gore Vidal.

Jean Thompson On February 20, 2014 at 11:26 am

I wondered what you might think of this show. I’m wondering what I will think of it. I like J.K. Simmons and I’m glad he found work. But can’t you see them pitching the idea to the networks as a great shtick: “The guy’s blind! And we play it for laughs!” Verdict to come.

bethfinke On February 21, 2014 at 10:28 am

Oh, Jean, I do hope you watch it. If so, please contact me with your “verdict.”

Carli On February 20, 2014 at 11:43 am

Beth! When I saw these commercials, I went… hmmm… then I wondered what you’d have to say about them. THEN I thought of Maysoon Zayid, who talks about representation of people with disabilities and how it’s kind of whack that Hollywood doesn’t use, say, a blind actor in the role of a blind father… are we to believe there are no blind actors who could’ve done this? (here’s her TedTalk… it’s amazing Enjoy!)

bethfinke On February 21, 2014 at 10:56 am

Thanks for this, Carli. I just watched (okay, listened to) the Ted Talk video, and while the jokes at the beginning were kind of tired, it was well worth sticking with the video until the end. Am going to pass the link on to my colleagues at my part-time job at Easter Seals Headquarters, not sure if they know about this woman or not.

I personally don’t know any actors who are blind but have often argued for screenwriters to include more people who are blind or have other disabilities in the background in scenes, just like people with disabilities are becoming more of the fabric in everyday life. My favorite example is the blind guy in the movie Contact with Jodie Foster – he is using a computer in the background of one of the scenes, and I think he has a speaking part, too. If I remember correctly, your husband knows the real physicist who is blind, the guy that character was modeled after?

PS: My guess is the actor who played the guy in Contact wasn’t blind, though.!


adventuresinlowvision On February 20, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Great post, Beth. I’m reserving judgement until I watch an episode. Ideally, yes, an actor who is blind would play the Dad, but I realize that seems to be a long shot at present with Hollywood. I liked the examples you used for Dads who are blind in your post.

By the way, I plan on tweeting during #GrowingUpFisher a la Jennifer Weiner and Roxanne Gay with The Bachelor.

bethfinke On February 21, 2014 at 10:57 am

Great idea. Tweet away!


mrayis On February 20, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Beth, I share your reservations because even when the actor himself has a disability, the show’s take on it can be abysmal. Case in point is the terrible Michael J. Fox Show, which I believe has been mercifully canceled. It took incredibly cheap shots at the condition of Parkinson’s and was just not at all funny. However, if you were to write a script for a TV sitcom about a blind writer, I would certainly tune in!

bethfinke On February 21, 2014 at 10:58 am

Oh, I’m sorry to hear about the Michael J. Fox show. I was intrigued when I heard they were going to do it, but for some reason I never tuned in to watch it. Now, after reading your note, I’m glad I didn’t.


mrayis On February 21, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Beth, Michael J. Fox is much better in his guest turns on The Good Wife,w here he plays a lawyer who uses his Parkinson’s to his advantage in a very wily way. It makes him a complex character, even something of a villain instead of a victim.

Monna Ray On February 20, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Loved your new post. Monna

L-Squared On February 20, 2014 at 8:01 pm

I know someone who was hired as a technical consultant for this show. Unfortunately, she says they take a lot of liberties with all of the blindness and guide dog stuff (which is what I feared would be the case when I first heard about the show early last summer). Of course, she is still encouraging everyone to tune in, but I, for one, am not inclined to do so. I understand that they need to make it entertaining, but it is very disappointing that the opportunity to enlighten an audience always seems to take a back seat to laughs.

Mike On February 21, 2014 at 10:29 am

Mike–Beth’s husband, here. You know, the thing is, there are plenty of different kinds of laughs to be had…full disclosure: We have heard every possible variation on “who’s driving” and it’s just about as annoying as can be. Not because it’s hurtful. It’s obvious and not funny. But maybe that’s me. I wrote the show off as soon as I saw the driving bit. Not cool from any point of view.

Carl On February 21, 2014 at 10:24 am

When I saw the ad for Growing Up Fisher I thought it looked gimmicky and silly and yes, somewhat insulting, to blind people who deal with that tough disability on a daily basis. I hope the storytelling does turn out to be good. I guess we will have to stay tuned….time will tell.

amyciskelehman On February 21, 2014 at 5:32 pm

The producer/ writer of this show actually grew up with a blind father. I might tune in. I have a blind 6 year old. We went to the Braille Challenge last month and I had to drive a 5th grade VI kiddo home after. Having only dealt with my son, after telling my husband about my experience, we agreed, it sounded like a bad Saturday Night Live skit….from me asking, “What does your jacket look like?” when we/I looked everywhere with no luck. The 5th grader replied, “Good question!”. Then my little guy asked him what buildings his day care was by. ” I have no idea Bennett. I can’t see, “was the answer. I guess it’s funny when you think about it, or deal with it everyday, because with everything that seems to go wrong, we need something to smile about. I just hope this new show doesn’t turn into making FUN of blind people.

bethfinke On February 21, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Wen I was researching the show to write this blog post I did find out that DJ Nash, the writer, has a father whiis blind.

During an interview at the elevision Critics Association winter press tour, Nash said,

“My dad went blind when he was 11 and hid his blindness from pretty much everyone outside the family.” I couldn’t dig up any details about his dad’s blindness, but my guess is that he was diagnosed with some sort of eye disease when he was 11 but didn’t lose his sight completely until much later

bethfinke On February 22, 2014 at 11:45 am

Hmm. Not sure the fifth-grader’s TVI (Teacher of the Visually Impaired) would think that boy’s comment was so funny…any chance he was just being a snarky fifth-grader?! In any case, the bit about the coat serves as yet another example of the hundreds of tiny details those of us who are blind have to keep track of to function well in a sighted society. I’ve learned never to buy a black raincoat, for example, so that when we’re ready to leave a party and the host asks which one is my raincoat, I can say “the burgundy red one.” Mike helps me choose suitcases that are odd colors so that when a red cap is helping me retrieve my luggage at an airport we can find it. I’ve been told there is a big black awning over the front door of the building I live in, so when people are kind enough to drive me home, I tell them the door is right there, under the bladck awning that says “Transportation Building.”There are hundreds of things I can’t possibly do (driving a car down the street is one example) , due to my blindness, but to keep my self-esteem I do my best to learn ways to be self-reliant — memorizing the colors of my coats and luggage is one small example, knowing what is near the places I live in or go to regularly is another . I so admire parents like you, Amy. It can be difficult for any parent to let their child try things on their own, and when you are parenting a child who can’t see, the risks arae even higher. Of course I remember meeting Bennett, and don’t I also recall spelling his name incorrectly along the way? He is a very cute and very smart little guy, adn with parents like you and your husband encourgagin him to learn Braille and other skills, he’ll do well. That’s another thing we sometimes have to keep track of — without being able to


Benita Black On March 4, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Maybe one day we can learn from Freddy, Maya and Paul Whitfield what it’s like to grow up with two blind parents!

bethfinke On March 4, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Now *that’s* a show I’d tune in to.


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