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Life With My Father Jack

Original photo of Ryan with his dad from the Person to Person article I'm sitting in my father's chair at his desk in the den of our home in Beverly Hills. It's impossible to be here and not remember all the times we were together in this room, although the recollections are sometimes unwelcome intruders in view of the tragic conclusion of his life.

Dad was hardly ever alone in the den. He had "friends," friends who'd hang around with him whether he was at home, at the studio or anywhere else. They were inseparable.

The family at the circus in 1975(?) - photographer unknown Dad was a real Irishman. He could be the life of the party, roaring with laughter. He could turn on, as the expression goes, around a crowd of people, electrifying them with fascinating stories and funny jokes. But toward the end, a shell grew around him, and he retreated within it. After he and my mother, Shirley Jones, divorced, he was depressed much of the time, though he did his best to hide the lonliness that engulfed him. Yet I could tell; he might fool others, but not me.

My father, Jack Cassidy, was a respected entertainer. He sang and danced well and had a number of major acting parts to his credit. He was an incredible human being. He should have had 20 more years ahead of him -- he could have achieved so much more.

If only there had been more time, I could have helped him. We were close. But I was only nine years old when he died, too young to perceive much and not able to say or do what was necessary to make him as happy as he needed and deserved to be.

His memory is partially why I'm considering a career you don't hear much about from teenagers such as myself -- law enforcement.

Some young people despise the police because they see in them a reflection of twisted authority at times exercised by their own fathers. My father, however, was the best possible authority figure -- reprimanding my brothers and me when we needed it, his Irish temper exploding like a volcano. But we all knew that behind this outburst was a desire to see us mature and find happiness, peace and meaning in our lives.

So when I see a policeman, I don't automatically fume and fuss and all that; in fact, I happen to be involved in a citizen ride-along program that in one form or another is in effect all over the country. I have my own uniform and go with officers in a radio car from time-to-time. Right now I look at this as a kind of hobby, but with the idea that it could by preliminary training for a career in a few years.

"Oh, Dad," I say to myself as I look about the den, my gaze resting on a picture one place, another elsewhere. "If only you could be here now and see what I do."

We did so much together. We'd drive out in the country and fish or play ball or just talk, but then we were tuned into each other so that sometimes we'd end up saying nothing, just enjoying one another's company.

But I always had to share my father with those friends of his. They seemed to hang around all the time. I tried to tell Dad that they were doing him no good, that they were a rotten influence.

He would laugh at me and say, "You're like your mother. You worry too much. I'll outlive you both."

But he didn't. My father died in flames. His apartment ignited, and after the fire nothing was left but black, charred ruin.

At first Mom, David, Shaun, Patrick, my stepfather Marty Ingels and I thought the report of his death must be a mistake. The last we knew he was off in Palm Springs and not actually in his Hollywood apartment when the fire broke out.

All of us gathered to the house, waiting. Those were the longest three hours we'd ever known.

Two detectives stood in the doorway, looking grim. They told us that the body had been identified by examining dental records, and that these clearly indicated he was dead, my father was dead.

Later I went over to what was left of the apartment. I skirted the blackened pieces of furniture, and thought of his body lying there amongst them before it was taken away. I was overcome with grief. Where were his precious friends now.

Probably the hardest thing to take was not being able to say goodbye. Dad's wish had been that his body be cremated and scattered over the ocean, and this was indeed done. I couldn't even lean over his coffin and kiss him on the forehead one final time.

The den is so quiet now. Patrick is just finishing his series of appearances on Broadway in The Pirates of Penzance; Mom and my stepfather are away for a couple of weeks; David is working on a new direction for his career; Shaun has his wife and child.

Dad's won career had been such an exciting one. He could play so many different roles -- on the stage, TV, in the movies. All of us thought he was destined for an Emmy Award at some point, maybe even an Academy Award. He had that kind of talent.

Even though she has remarried, Mom still tells people what a remarkable human being Dad was.

"Jack was colorful, crazy in a way, but fascinating also. He was never boring, that man. He loved life and lived every minute of it to the absolute maximum."

He lost a lot of that sparkle during the final couple of years. He was lonely, without his family around him. He couldn't reach out and find us there on a daily basis. He could only reach for the telephone and call except on those increasingly rare occasions when he would visit.

I said we were close, and we were. I seemed to be his last link with what once was. Now I'm not sure what I think about premonitions and such, but I do remember being with Dad on a plane trip to New York City about three months before his death. He seemed more weary than usual, though he tried hard to keep up a front so I wouldn't worry about him.

Despite his best efforts, though, his true feelings poked their way up to the surface, and I realized by comments he made then as well as earlier that he was concerned about death. Listening to him, I shivered, wondering what it all meant. I asked him why he had been thinking as he had, but he shrugged his shoulders and went on to something else.

Here in the den, a clock is ticking. Our smoky-gray cat just announced his presence with a single meow. Otherwise the house is still.

Something else comes to mind, an observation made by Dad's doctor a few days after the tragedy: "If Jack hadn't died that way, his body would have deteriorated rapidly of disease and he may not have lived much longer than a couple of years anyway."

Ryan at 1981(?) Hollywood Christmas Parade - Photo by David Klodt If he'd not died a sudden and briefly painful death, he would probably have ended his life much more slowly, in the midst of continuous pain. Always concerned about his looks, actually a little vain, my father would have had to watch himself being slowly eaten away from inside, ultimately to become a pale distortion of what he once was.

Hard as I try not to be bitter, sometimes I still am engulfed by such feelings, resenting the friends who dominated him, who destroyed his will to resist. He thought he couldn't exist without them.

I wipe away some tears. These always come when I think of the man my father was and how close we'd been -- and how much, how very much I want to reach out an hug him again.

Those friends! They came between him and everyone he loved. Little else mattered. Just four packs a day, 20 friends in each.

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