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September 25, 2009

TV's Best Dads: Nathaniel Fisher, Sr.

Nathaniel fisher sr

So I'm walking along one day, and this asshole stops me and asks me if I'm alright. He says I got a look. He'd seen a man with that same look once, and had ignored it, and that man had jumped out a nine-story window. You know the reconstruction involved in a death like that? - Nathaniel Fisher, Sr.

During his time among the living, Nathaniel Fisher Sr. seemed every bit the embodiment of the father figure of old. At least to those around him. Patriarch of the Fisher family at the center of HBO's Six Feet Under, he often remained aloof, quiet, seemingly always at work, busy keeping his family fed and sheltered even as they grew up and away from him. A cloud of smoke hung about his being. His love for his family, and he did love them, was rarely spoken, but instead offered up in ways so subtle as to be easily missed.

Nate Jr.: Could've told me you were proud of me.
Nathaniel Sr.: Never around for me to tell, which is exactly what I was proud of you for.

But after that fateful Christmas Eve when a Los Angeles city bus plowed into the side of Fisher and Sons Funeral Home’s shiny new hearse with Nathaniel at the wheel, his family began to discover that the man they thought they had known was a greater mystery than they ever would have imagined. He traded funerals for pot. He kept a secret room for his own private refuge where he smoked said pot, jammed rock music, and did things that his sons could only guess at. It was as if he was aware of the figure that he embodied, and railed against it, a protest that he conducted in private so as not to disturb the family that he had worked so hard to build and support.

Nathaniel Sr.: (commenting on the epitaph on his headstone) Is that the best anyone could come up with, Father, Husband, Caregiver?
Nate Jr.: What would you prefer; Introvert, Sadist, Mindfucker?

Old Man Fisher didn’t let death bring an end to his career as a father. In fact, he proudly carried on in one particular duty sacred to fathers everywhere: fucking with his kids’ heads. He left the family business to his boys, yanking them back together after years spent apart and forcing them to be brothers again, to confront the choices they had made thus far. You can almost picture the old bastard laughing to himself as he writes up that particular stipulation in his will, picturing the looks on his sons’ faces when they hear the news. 

He also continues to pop in on the members of his family, be it as a ghost, a dream, or a vision in their heads. Often times, it’s just to chat, though he typically finds a way to drop some bit of beyond-the-grave wisdom on their still beating hearts. 

Face it, buddy-boy, there's two kinds of people in the world, there's you, and there's everybody else, and never the twain shall meet.

You hang onto your pain like it means something, like it's worth something. Well let me tell ya, it's not worth shit. Let it go. [Looking towards ceiling] Infinite possibilities and all he can do is whine.

Parents know their kids don’t listen to them. You don’t have to die and learn the meaning of life and walk around haunting people to know that. But like any parent, Nathaniel Fisher keeps trying, though now that he’s dead, he seems a bit less invested in the results of his attempts. For him, the life that was is gone. The ride is over. But as he looks back at those he loves who are still on that ride, he can’t help but try to help them understand that doing anything with their life other than living it, really living it, is just a waste. Funny that it’s the dead guy that understands that the best.



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