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David Duchovny: My Defining Moment

Father and son reunion: I thought achieving peace with my dad was beyond my grasp, until a simple game of catch gave us back what we'd lost.
By David Keeps, Best Life

When I was young, my dad floated around as a white-collar public relations guy, writing speeches and supplementing his income as a pretty good low-stakes gambler. He left the family when I was 11, and I remember being kind of relieved, in part because I owed him over two million dollars at cards and pool.

For a long time, my father and I had an incomplete relationship. What is there to say about divorce that hasn't been said? I remember thinking, Let's move on; let's go to school and keep doing what we do. I was 13 when my father moved from New York, where we lived, to Boston; it was an unimaginable, insurmountable distance. Physically and emotionally, my father and I had fully separated from each other, and when that happens, you are disappointed and angry, mourning that loss.

By the time I was in graduate school, my father had retired and moved to Paris. I think he was shocked and curious when I dropped out to pursue acting. Becoming successful probably only made me feel less ashamed to be around him.

It reminds me of that scene in the documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster when Lars, the drummer, is playing the new album to his dad, a very humorless, intimidating-looking avant-garde musician. Here's a guy from the biggest rock 'n' roll band in the world, and he just wants his daddy to like it. Daddy strokes his beard afterward and says, "Well, of course I am not the one to make these decisions, but if it were up to me, I would press 'Delete.'"

My dad was supportive, but there was a lack of depth to our relationship. It was all superficial pleasantries: "How are you, David? How are the kids?" "Fine, Dad, how's the writing going?" (He was always a writer, even though he didn't publish his first novel, Coney, until he was 72—which I find inspiring.)

Every time we'd see each other, it felt like a siege. There was always the sense of hoping I could get out of there without any sh** going down.

A few years ago, he sent me a letter accusing me of certain things -- nothing outrageous or Oprah-worthy; just the kind of things parents and children argue about. I joined the battle, defending myself and accusing him of things. We each wrote five or six letters and everything was being dredged up and it was getting more and more heated and vitriolic. Finally, I woke up at four in the morning and just shot out of bed thinking, This is bullsh**. This has to stop.

Up to that point, I had been looking for closure. But maybe that just doesn't happen. So I wrote my dad a letter and said, "I don't want resolution. I just want you to come visit me. I can't change the past; I would just like to have you present."

He came to L.A. and, sure enough, we didn't speak of anything; we just kind of hung out. And the realization I had was that we go through our whole lives thinking we want answers. Really all we want is company, the presence of people we love in our lives. And that overrode all my own anxieties about my dad and informed my own parenting.

It's great to be able to teach your kids to read and play ball and fish, but the most important thing is just to be there. This is going to sound like I learned it from a book, but when I am frustrated and pissed at my kids, I always tell them, "I am angry at what you're doing, but I love you."

On the last day of my dad's visit, as we were waiting for the car to take him to the airport, he said, "Do you have a couple of gloves? Let's have a catch."

For 20 minutes, that's we did, this wordless back-and-forth, tossing and catching. I realized that it's not about what you say; it's about showing up and whether or not that guy is going to throw the ball back to you.

That was the last time I saw my father. He went back to Paris and died 6 or 7 months later. If you saw that in a movie, you'd throw tomatoes at the screen, but I couldn't have asked for anything more satisfying. And it meant so much to me that it was his idea. I know that he too wanted to feel again the way he felt when we were playing catch.

Whether or not he had said it, he had had the same realization that I had. We were celebrating the fact that we actually still wanted to be around each other and there was still something of substance to be had just by sitting in the same room. In that simple game of catch, my father had given me the gift of his presence one final time.

As told to David Keeps. David Duchovny's next film is Things We Lost In The Fire, opening in September.

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