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Dancing with My Father

A one hour documentry

DANCING WITH MY FATHER is an intimate family portrait grounded in a recognizable emotional reality that will touch anyone who has thought about fathers and daughters, marriage and divorce.


It is a personal documentary about how we learn to give and receive love. It begins with a seemingly simple question: why, at age 50, was I still so confused about relationships? The answer would take me from suburban Cleveland to rural Slovakia. The emotional territory I covered was even more far flung. On-camera, I had conversations with my ex-husband, father, and siblings and realized how little I had talked to the people closest to me. I call it my emotional genealogy. It started when I decided to talk to my ex-husband about what went wrong in our relationship. I soon realized that the answer to that question was buried deeper than my marriage, so I decided to go back to the longest relationship I ever had with a man, my relationship with my father.

Despite warnings to "leave him alone," "heís old," I was convinced that it wasnít too late to get to know each other. Cameras rolling, I asked him about his emotional distance. I realized that in some ways he was a "normal" 50ís dad, providing for his family and leaving the nurturing to my mother. But "normal" couldnít explain why I didnít have any memories of my father playing with me, or paying any attention to me except when we were dancing, the one passion he shared with me.

My father loves to dance and our conversations became a kind of dance. We turned to issues of emotion and love; we stepped through my familyís immigrant past. I started to track the parent/child relationship which is often like following the wind; it is a force not seen but felt; it is indistinct in form but constantly shaping us. With the piercing eye of the camera, I began to discern the form and force. I broke through layers of protective arrogance and distance to find a man filled with self-doubt, a man alienated from his feelings.

But why? I started asking about his mother and discovered a secret hidden because no one bothered to ask. I traveled to the town where my grandmother grew up in Slovakia. Standing in her tiny village, I sensed her physical and emotional isolation. She was one of a handful of Jews in an almost entirely Catholic village. Immigrating to Cleveland in 1909 changed everything. She flourished with the opportunity to work in a manís world up until she married. Forced to leave the world of work after marriage, she found herself caught between ambition and tradition. I think her anger and frustration was violently directed at her first child, her daughter. My father, a daily witness, was hurt as well.

I talked to my father's first cousins, to my sister and brother and then finally turned the camera on myself to understand how this history of anger and emotional distance may have played out in my life. I interviewed my ex-husband and reduced eighteen years to seven minutes revealing the love, silence, and anger. Long ago we both started hurting each other and neither of us had the tools to stop.

"Dancing with My Father," is about those tools, the ability to see and to talk and the growth that comes through understanding. It is about the important role fathers play in their daughtersí lives. It is about how giving love is so simple and yet so complex. It is about how love like light is a journey.