The Greatest Episode of Fresh Prince: A Personal Essay
The results are in, America has voted, and we have a winner! Season 4, Episode 24 of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is the greatest episode in the entire series, and maybe the best dramatic television ever written. After disappearing for 14 years, Lou, Will’s father, returns promising to take Will on a father-son camping trip in an attempt to rekindle the relationship. Spoiler alert: Lou shows up at Will’s home the morning of the day, cancels the trip, and leaves. Those of us who grew up with a physically absent or emotionally absent father, and watched that scene, knew how it felt to be in Will’s shoes at that moment. “How come he don’t want me, man?” Will asks this question just before breaking down on camera and leaning to Uncle Phil for a hug. Writer, Josh Kurp, explains, “Thing is, he’s not really acting here – much of Will’s speech was ad-libbed and based on his own traumatic childhood” (Kurp, 2014). At that moment, Will Smith’s childhood emotions connected with a fictional scene in his adulthood, and the emotions began to flow like the mighty waves of a class five rapid. While your emotions are valid, and it’s ok to feel this way, it’s equally important to move past this. We must realize there’s someone out there that wants us for who we are and appreciates us for being just that. I learned this painful but rewarding lesson almost two decades ago when my dad took me along to drink with his friends.
I was 11 years old sitting in the back of my dad’s ‘87 Ford F-150. The truck bed was constructed with rusted sheet metal that met together in the form of horizontal ribs along the length of the bed. I picked a spot in the middle and sat with my back against the rear window, away from the areas beginning to crack and corrode. On the inside, two cases of my father’s favorite beer sat comfortably in the passenger and middle interior seats. I examined the damaged areas of the truck bed and then reached into my pocket to pull out my journal. I tore out a few pages, licked the back of them, and applied them like an adhesive bandage over the worse areas.
The screen door slammed shut and Dad stumbled out of our two-story house holding a can of beer.
“Dad, Dad! The holes, I fixed them!” I shouted, “Well, I tried to.” He approached the truck, raised his drinking hand, emptied the final solitary alcohol driblets into his gullet, and belched. “You can’t fix that shit with paper, dipshit,” he said, “it needs completely rebuilt, and I don’t have the time or patience for that.” He crushed the aluminum can between his palms, and nonchalantly chucked it at me. I leaned my head back, just in time to dodge the projectile. The crown of my cracked against the windowpane and made an all too familiar sound. In a daze, I was reminded of a similar noise that would occur during my mother and father’s late-night disagreements. My vision cleared and I shook off the sensation of pain.
“Goddammit, Clay, Focus,” I muttered under my breath.
As he turned the ignition, the truck backfired with a loud pop. The gears grinded and sputtered before forcefully kicking itself into reverse and creeping down the road.
“This be it,” he said, as he jerked his arm to make a quick right turn. My body tossed around the back of the truck bed like a gallon of milk. We bounced and tore through fresh cut bluegrass then came to a halt behind a two-story colonial. An all-white outdoor tent, approximately 30’ x 20’, was set up with at least 40 lawn chairs neatly organized from side to side. Several long folding tables stretched across the side of the tent, filled with various meats, side dishes, and desserts. The back of the tent featured two Coleman brand coolers, filled with ice and adult beverages, and five kegs.
I sat in the back of the truck for a few moments, examining the group of middle-aged strangers swarming the alcohol area.
“Hey, Dad! Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked as I hopped down from the truck.
“Yeah, go play on the road,” he replied, elbowing his friends in the ribs. I shrugged and walked over to the food area. I grabbed myself a Dixie paper plate and another plate for support. I shoveled down three hotdogs, two chicken legs, and consumed three cans of Mountain Dew so quickly, I began to feel an awkward pain in my stomach. I walked over to my dad’s circle of friends and waited for my turn.
“I don’t feel so good,” I said, “Are we going home soon?”
My dad’s face turned to a pinkish shade that only happens when you’re extremely mad or when you’ve been in direct sunlight for too long. Gary quickly stood up, “I’ll show you the bathroom kiddo!” he said, and then walked with me to the house. He initiated small talk while we walked through the fresh-cut grass and to the back door. I noticed that his breath smelt of brisket with a slight hint of beer, but it didn’t bother me. Gary guided me through the foyer, upstairs, and then pointed to the bathroom door at the top of the carpeted stairway. “Have fun kid,” he said, “hope you feel better.” He started walking down the steps and then darted back up. “Oh, if you need anything, my son, Justin, is right across the hall.” He said, and then danced back down the steps.
After using the restroom and washing my hands, I let out a big sigh as I dried my damp hands on their 5-star hotel-quality hand towels. I opened the door quickly, almost smacking the child in the forehead, but catching it just in time. He just stood there smiling, didn’t even flinch, but he had the most contagious smile I’ve ever seen. It felt clean, sparkly, and welcoming just their home.
“Hi, I’m Justin,” he said, “Wanna play PlayStation?”
“Uhh, sure” I mumbled, as all previous knowledge and familiarity of the English language was siphoned from my brain. Justin’s bedroom ceiling was white, like the bathroom, with glow in the dark stars and clouds organized and spaced apart to perfection. All four walls were painted a charismatic blue and decorated with Toy Story posters and Disney memorabilia. Who is this kid? Why does he deserve this? Is his Grandfather Frank Lloyd Wright? In fact, Justin was not related to the Wright family. He was just a sweet kid, in a very strange place. As we played game after game, a strong pain formed in my stomach and along the cheek area of my face. I hit the pause button on my off-white controller and asked to take a break from the laughing and smiling, from the fun. I sat with my legs crossed and twisted my head to look at the window behind me. The sun had disappeared long ago and so had the partygoers. The outside was just an open yard with filled trash bags stationed where the tent, the food, and my dad’s truck were previously. The pain in my stomach turned over to a darker side, an unfamiliar pain. Judging by Justin’s reaction, my Caucasian skin tone must’ve changed to the tone of an apparition.
Justin rushed out of the room and then downstairs. A house that was filled with more laughter and amusement than a Six Flags theme park had now become a funeral home-like atmosphere. I attempted to listen to the murmurs for a few moments, placing my left ear to the floor. “Thanks, Mom!” Justin yelled and then darted back up the stairs and into the room. Justin entered the room with such excitement that he could barely get his words out. The whereabouts of my father were discovered; he was at home peacefully sleeping. Justin’s mother extended an invitation, via Justin, for me finish our game and then join them downstairs for dessert. She assured me that she would take me home after we finish the creamy mountain of homemade vanilla ice cream; a much easier goal to accomplish.
Justin’s dad owned an older pickup, around the same time as my fathers. The paint was glossy and in its original condition, no sign of rust or corrosion. We all piled into the truck, there was a spot for everyone to sit comfortably. When we arrived at my house, the crickets were the only ones making noise. The windows were pitch black. Justin and his mom both invited me to spend the night. “No thank you,” I replied, “you’ve already helped me more than you know.” We exchanged goodbyes, then they drove off into the night. I noticed that my mom, dad, and brother’s vehicles were all parked in their assigned spaces and rusted/damaged in some way. I cheerfully walked up the stairs, grabbed two duffle bags, and tossed some clothes in them.
This story is personal for me because this is the moment where I realized that my father has a problem with me. He doesn’t like the person I am, and he wants me to be someone more like him. He left me behind that day, and I realized that I don’t want to be like him. What kind of person drinks their life away and then leaves their son with a stranger so you can sleep off your buzz? My father, he’s that kind of person. It happened pretty young for me, like most, and I wasn’t able to process this until much later when I discussed it during therapy. Journalist, Tom Sykes describes his relationship with his father, “He abandoned me when I was 14. Never calls to see how I am. I always have to call him. Never explained why he left. This was the great trauma of my life” (Sykes, 2006). My father left me behind because I wasn’t on his mind. He didn’t like me, and I never got an explanation. I wasn’t an asshole kid, I had talent in various things. For whatever reason, he chose not to be interested in the person I was becoming and I’m at peace with that; the feeling is mutual.
Kurp, J. (2014, November 25) The true story behind the saddest scene in ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ history. Uproxx. https://uproxx.com/tv/the-true-story-behind-the-saddest-scene-in-the-fresh-prince-of-bel-air-history/
Sykes, T. (2006, Nov.) Confronting my absent father. Men’s Health, 21(9), 112-116.