Father Figures Are Not Expendable

I had planned to write something about the movie "The Expendables 2," having attended a panel that featured some of the film's stars, including Sylvester Stallone. But in less than 24 hours Sly's son would be found dead of an overdose and the actor reportedly devastated.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

Photo via Lion's Gate.Photo via Lion's Gate.

This is not the blog that I had intended to write. I had planned to write something about the movie "The Expendables 2," having attended a pre-release panel at the San Diego Comic Convention that featured some of the film's stars, including Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crews, and Dolph Lundgren. I thought it would be an appropriate follow-up to the review that I had done on "Act of Valor." It would have been a fun one to write, too.

Why, with all the good-natured ribbing among the stars and some entertaining back-and-forth banter between Stallone and Schwarzenegger—the latter of whom was visibly pleased to be back in the public spotlight—it pretty much would have written itself.

But in less than 24 hours Sly's son would be found dead of an overdose and the actor reportedly devastated. He has since asked for privacy. The news media has headlined it as "begging" for privacy, perhaps because they like to see macho men brought to their knees. And I suppose it would be redundant to try to say that it put a retrospective damper on my take on the panel.

In the days since, I have found myself wondering how the relationship between Stallone and his son had been. Online, all I could find was that as a boy Sage Stallone had appeared in a couple of Stallone's films and had gone on to direct at least one film. It is fair to say that the men had common interests in the entertainment industry. But as far as how tight they were and the extent to which Sly exerted a paternal presence in the boy's life, I have categorically no clue. Estranged family members have gone out of their way to portray it as a less than loving one.

Having attended the panel with my own son, news of the Stallone family's loss resonated with me a little more than it might have otherwise. It made me better appreciate how fortunate I am to now have a job that avails me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with him. There are many thousands of law enforcement officers who do not have that luxury and I feel for them.

The compassion I have for cops who are parents pre-dates my having become one myself. Most male cops probably feel that way. For even if one is not yet a father himself or is never destined to be, he at least recognizes implications of the presence or absence of a father in a boy's life.

He has seen the legacies of too many men whose role as "father" amounted to little more than a needlessly prolific sperm donor. Much of his patrol experience is oriented to dealing with the offspring of these gentlemen. Accordingly, many find themselves playing the role of surrogate father to more than one youngster residing in their patrol jurisdiction.

That aspect of the job was always something that I found intriguing: that many officers spend so much time serving as surrogate fathers to young men who don't necessarily appreciate their efforts that they miss out on quality time with their loved ones. Certainly, most don't have the luxury of spending every weekend with their families. Shift work is another factor. Then there's court time. Overtime.

It all pays the bills and the family pays for it all.

Still, there are a sufficient number of cops, male and female, who have raised outstanding kids that I can't blame the profession. My ex-captain, Linda Healy, raised two fantastic young men, one of whom graduated from West Point, and the other from the Air Force Academy. And she did so as a single mother.

There have even been some men I am not particularly enamored of whose children nonetheless embodied fine character. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca's son is one. Of course, sometimes it begs the question as to what extent the mother may have played a more formative role.

Others have not fared as well. I did not know former L.A.P.D. employees-cum-political stars such as Tom Bradley and Daryl Gates. But I did have some sense of what some of their children were like due to their drug-related arrests by others within the law enforcement community.

While some might contend the proof is in the pudding, I will neither condemn nor excuse the men's performances as fathers. Besides, theirs are hardly isolated examples and I have often wondered why it is that so many children of cops take seemingly divergent paths from their fathers'. While the aforementioned constraints might play roles, they are not determining factors. One has to wonder to what extent rebellion played a role. Or how often the kids became targets of the narcotic Svengalis of the world simply because they were cops' kids.

Sometime after the Comic Con panel I noted a man staring at my own son and me as he passed us in the San Diego Convention Center lobby. I guess he liked the thought that some middle-aged man would take his son to the comic convention and let him dress up like Frodo Baggins, because he actually took the time to double back. Leaning over a counter we were seated next to, the man smiled at me approvingly and said, "You're a great dad!"

Later, I shared the anecdote with my wife. My son was quick to offer a quick-witted disclaimer.

"Yeah, but he doesn't know you."

Indeed, the man doesn't. The best that I can hope for is that my son does come to know me. For better or worse, it will at least avail him some context for whatever good or bad he has learned from me. But one thing he will know: That I love him.

It isn't a conditionless love. For just as I have seen the pernicious harm that comes from apathetic parentage, so, too, have I been witness to those who forgave their children too many trespasses. So while I am not a tiger mom exhorting or extorting him to excel above and beyond his means, I do expect him to behave himself in a manner that doesn't prove injurious to himself or others.

Assuming that you have some formal or informal role in the upbringing of a young man, I hope that you honor it. And if that young man is a son or someone you love as one, that you appreciate that relationship for all it's worth. This is the point that some writers would tell you to go home and give your son an extra hug tonight (though it might be nice if you did, irrespective of his age). In any event, I hope that you will always let him know how important he is in your life.

If things had gone the way I had initially planned, this is the point in the blog where I would be wrapping things up with some observations on the panel, like how America's favorite Texas TV copper, Chuck Norris, got the biggest audience applause during "The Expendables 2" previews, or how Arnold joked that Sly was the man that taught him how to speak English when he first came to America.

Instead, I am wondering if Sylvester Stallone would give up all his fame and money just to have his son back.

But then, this is not the blog I'd intended to write.

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