“Schoolboy Father” (1980)

Rob Lowe is the first actor I can remember thinking was so handsome he didn’t seem real. It was while watching The Outsiders, a movie that, while not entirely responsible for my sexual awakening (that would be The Lost Boys, about four years later), was certainly a benchmark moment in it. Though my favorite character was and still is Patrick Swayze as big brother Darrell (responsible, sensitive, and not afraid to cry–yes, please!), Rob Lowe as middle brother Sodapop defined the phrase “eye candy.” Did he even have any dialogue in that movie? Hell, I don’t remember, but hatchi matchi, was he just a thing to behold.

The closest modern equivalent to Rob Lowe in his prime (though Rob Lowe in his 50s is still pretty smokin’ too) is Dan Stevens in The Guest. They’re both so good looking that it seems almost unnatural, not in a “too much plastic surgery” sense but rather in a “DNA splicing in an underground laboratory” sort of way. Humans aren’t supposed to be that good looking. Gazing upon them for too long would be like gazing into the Ark of the Covenant.

With a face like that, Rob Lowe had no choice but to become a movie star. It was either that or making a career out of servicing bored, lonely housewives. The majority of his acting roles, particularly in the 80s, were smug assholes who got away with a lot of nonsense specifically because they were ridiculously good looking. Take St. Elmo’s Fire (please!): his character is a shitty saxophone player with a shitty mullet and not a single redeeming quality other than his chiseled, kissed by an angel face. He abandons his wife and child, gets drunk and crashes his best friend’s car, and indiscriminately sleeps with his female friends, yet when he leaves town to inflict his sax wheezing on another city, everyone is so very sorry to see him go. A wink and a smirk is all it takes for this work of art to be forgiven for his repulsive behavior.

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Because of this, it’s a challenge to buy Rob Lowe as a shy, awkward teen in Schoolboy Father, an ABC Afterschool Special that marks one of his first onscreen appearances. Lowe plays Charles Elderberry, a suburban high school student working as a grocery store bag boy. Does he look like he should be playing someone named Charles Elderberry, a suburban high school student working as a grocery store bag boy? No, he does not, he looks like he should be playing someone named Brad Wainwright III, a rich piece of shit who plies his girlfriends with coke and rides in his Porsche. But, whatever, let’s go with it.

Charles finds out via newspaper announcement (read by his mother in a tone of voice that suggests she’s clutching an invisible string of pearls) that his summer fling, Daisy (Dana Plato), has given birth. After literally counting on his fingers and confirming with a friend that it takes nine months for a human baby to be born, Charles, cute but dumb as a bag of hammers, determines that he’s probably the father.

He spends time doing some moony-eyed reflecting over his relationship with Daisy, which seems to have lasted a week and abruptly ended with her dumping him and ordering him to never contact her again. Daisy is a bit…mercurial, with her moods ranging from “angry” to “unreasonably angry,” and spends much of her time on screen looking as such:

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When Charles visits Daisy in the hospital, she rails at him for ruining her life and leaving her to deal with the pregnancy on her own, which would be understandable, if not for the fact that, as Charles reasonably points out, she never told him she was pregnant in the first place. Daisy has already decided to put the baby up for adoption, and you would think that Charles would welcome the opportunity to put as much distance between himself and this raging lunatic as possible, before she plunges a letter opener into his throat. There’s just one little sticking point: he’s fallen instantly in love with his newborn son, and like no 16 year-old boy anywhere ever, wants the chance to be a father.

Though Daisy, a social worker, and Charles’s mother all push hard for adoption, he stands firm. He’s going to raise his child on his own, even if his best explanation for how the child was made in the first place was “We didn’t know she could get pregnant!” Sure, he might end up putting the diaper on the baby’s head or trying to feed it Totino’s Pizza Rolls, but at least it would have a real father.

His insistence on not giving up his son eventually wears down the social worker, and she agrees to let him take the baby home for a few days to see how it works out. I’m not sure if social workers normally allow helpless infants to be taken care of on a trial basis, like someone trying out exercise equipment, but fine. As long as he doesn’t give it a bath in the dishwasher, what could go wrong?

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Not surprisingly, this turns out to be a terrible idea and everything immediately goes to hell. Losing just one night of sleep renders Charles incapacitated. His grades plummet. He loses his lucrative bagging career. His social life suffers. An invitation to a cute classmate’s birthday party isn’t a good enough reason for Mom, who works all day and goes to school at night, to drop everything and babysit for him. He yells at the baby when it refuses to stop crying. This poor kid is barely capable of taking care of a hamster, let alone a human being.

Now, a single father as devastatingly handsome as Rob Lowe should have every woman between the age of 16 and 40 within a 20 mile radius offering to help him, whether it involves changing the baby, cooking meals, or giving Dad a soothing, shirtless massage. But alas, no, all Charles has is his mother, who isn’t nearly as willing as he expected her to be to take on all the unpleasant aspects of baby care, such as anything that doesn’t involve just smiling at it or talking about how it will surely play for the NFL someday. Charles discovers, accurately, that good intentions aren’t enough to make parenting an easy task.

He returns the baby to the social worker, thankfully in one piece, and signs the adoption paperwork. The social worker sticks it in and breaks it off by saying “He will have a father, Charles. It just won’t be you.” The episode ends, like the previously reviewed What Are Friends For?, on a bummer note, with the main character weeping in despair, the right decision having been the most painful one.

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As was usually the case with ABC Afterschool Specials, Schoolboy Father is charmingly corny and well-meaning, and its ending is surprisingly moving. It may seem that everyone is unnecessarily hard on Charles, but really, leaving a baby to be raised by a teenager, let alone a teenager who has to use his fingers to count to nine, is just a dreadful idea. Yes, yes, we all know stories about someone, a grandmother or a high school friend or whatever, who was a teenage parent and managed to raise the child to adulthood without accidentally setting it on fire. Nevertheless, the show makes it abundantly clear that Charles is ill-equipped for the task, especially since his desire to be a parent is driven mostly by his issues from being abandoned at a young age by his own father. This kid doesn’t need to be taking care of a baby, he needs to be working out his absent parent angst through bad poetry, like normal teenagers.

As for Rob Lowe, while not entirely believable as a dork who doesn’t know how to talk to girls, he does offer the role a certain appealing earnestness. He doesn’t realize he’s incompetent, ergo you find yourself rooting for him to get it together and figure it out. And who knows, maybe one day Charles Elderberry, now a weathered but still fabulously attractive man in his fifties, will be walking somewhere and pass a younger, equally attractive man on the street. They’ll look at each other, and they’ll nod in recognition. My god, that is a good looking man, they’ll both think. And he looks so familiar!

 

Original airdate: October 15, 1980

Watch it here

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One comment

  1. Jen Boggs · August 15, 2016

    If you’ve never read Rob Lowe’s memoirses, you should. In the first (and superior) one, he talks about how disappointed he was to see how little of his work made it into the final cut of The Outsiders. But my favorite scene made it — or rather, my favorite butt scene — where Sodapop emerges from the shower and wraps a towel around his waist. (Scene watched best on pause.)

    Like

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