If My Dad Could Tweet

Published in the New York Times Op-Ed

My dad, Alec Baldwin and all the uproar men.

My dad can’t tweet because he’s dead. He died in 1982, when telephones were about the only way to have a conversation with someone who was not in the same place you were.

My dad was an uproar man. Uproar was his specialty. He loved calling one daughter with news of another, often inaccurate, trying to stir up trouble and envy. When he was close to death and could barely recognize his own hands, he could remember my telephone number and continued to call any hour of the day or night. There was no caller ID then. I didn’t have the option of knowing who it was and not answering.

“Hello,” I would say.

“Your sister won the Pulitzer,” he would say. And hang up.

As I said, he never got it right.

When I read recently about Ashton Kutcher’s gaffe of a tweet about Penn State and Alec Baldwin’s Twitter tantrum after an American Airlines flight attendant told him it was time to turn off his electronics, I realized how much my dad would have loved to tweet.

He would have instantly grasped its possibilities. How enormously it magnifies the opportunity for attention and family embarrassment. Like Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Kutcher, my dad was a Hollywood guy, a screenwriter and producer.

His calls, much like their tweets, were variations on a theme: I’m still here, look at me, ignore me at your peril.

He never would have mastered the finer points of tweeting. The retweet, the follow Friday, the hashtag, the @ — all the ways one tweeter can communicate with another. My father would have preferred the basic no-frills tweet because he wouldn’t have to have a conversation. Which required paying attention to what the other person was saying. Which was a bother. My dad could be sweet, but listening was not his strong suit. On his phone calls (so memorable that I and my sisters Nora and Amy have written about them, and I have no doubt that Hallie will too), he never said hello or goodbye, those polite fronts and backs that Twitter disposes of anyway. His calls were short blasts. The 140 character restriction was made for him. Like the uproar tweeters of today, he always acted innocent after causing trouble, affecting a kind of how-did-this-happen mode when he’d engineered it.

But mostly he was into bragging. When I think of the tweets I’ve missed:

“I’ve got 2,000 followers.”

“I’ve got 5,000 followers.”

“Hey, your old man’s got more followers than God.”

“Baby, guess who shut down the system?”

My father was crushed when Hollywood lost interest in him. When he couldn’t get work. When no one knew his name. But men like my father will be able to prolong their fame, thanks to cyberspace, long after they can’t get parts in television or the movies. If Twitter shuts you down, there’s always Facebook, which Salman Rushdie recently used to blow off a girlfriend. A man with a need for uproar always finds an opportunity.

Once when I complained to my dad about his calls, which came one after another exactly as tweets do, in a relentless endless stream, he said by way of an apology, “I live half my life in the real world and half on the telephone.”

He was truly ahead of his time.

published in the New York Times