I never met him but I consider him a close friend and, tonight, as so many mourn his death, in a way I am mourning as well.
His name was Tony Dow but for so many he will always be known as Wally Cleaver.
I love classic situation comedies and have written and spoken extensively about my love of I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show and so many others. These were the greatest examples of the uniquely American art of the Situation Comedy. I love them all.
But, as much as I love I Love Lucy and the others, MY show was Leave it to Beaver.
I am 7 years younger than Jerry Mathers and 10 years younger than Tony Dow but growing up in a family with one older brother, I identified with the show from the first time I watched it as a kid.
My mother didn’t wear pearls to breakfast and didn’t set a table with fine china and crystal for dinner each evening. My father didn’t have all the answers and didn’t turn every mistake I made into a gentle learning opportunity. My friends weren’t as colorful and quirky as Beaver and Wally’s friends. I never backed my father’s car into the street or climbed a billboard to see whether there was real soup in the soup bowl. I never made a funny face to ruin my class yearbook picture and I never insulted a friend who spoke only Spanish by repeating what I had been taught to say by a “friend” and telling him he had a face like a pig.
I never did any of those things but, in my mind, I was just like Beaver and although I had and still have a very close relationship with my older brother whom I love so dearly and respect so deeply, I always felt like Wally was another older brother.
He was just adventurous enough. He occasionally did “goofy” things but usually was the one to warn Beaver about the stupid things he was about to do and often helped him out of trouble he had gotten into. He was steady and he was wise and I learned so much from him.
And that is why Leave it to Beaver was my show. It was my show because I learned so much from it. I Love Lucy always made me laugh but Leave it to Beaver made me think about what it meant to grow up. And Wally, served, in many ways to be the role model of the one who made it through the hardest part of childhood.
I’m 67 and I still watch the show and I still love it and I still learn from it.
And Wally was always one of my most important teachers.
But, as true as that might be, what I’m feeling tonight is sadness: sadness for Tony Dow’s family and close friends who are in mourning but also sadness for me because tonight, I feel so much older.
I know how to feel better though. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to watch an episode of Leave it to Beaver and I know it will make me smile and it might just teach me something essential about life.
That is why it is MY show and why I feel tonight like I have lost a close friend.
May the memory of Tony Dow be for a blessing.