Ryan & Tatum O'Neal, 1975

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve been emotionally inundated with all the interviews Ryan & Tatum O’Neal are doing to promote their “docu-series” on OWN. Tatum also has another book out, so she’s hawking that, but I get the impression that she genuinely wants to make amends with her father after all these years. Long story short: her mother (an orphan who hailed from Americus, GA) had many issues and abandoned Tatum and her brother when Tatum was 7. Her father Ryan then got custody of the children and he quickly put Tatum in the movies; her Oscar-winning turn opposite him in 1973’s Paper Moon was apparently the start of their many rifts, to the point that he didn’t even attend the Oscars the year she won (at the age of 10). She then began financially supporting her wayward mother via her earnings from The Bad News Bears, Little Darlings, etc. In the meantime, Ryan took up with Farrah Fawcett. One of the saddest quotes from this recent barrage of interviews came when Piers Morgan remarked that it seemed like Ryan traded the love for his daughter for his love for Farrah. Ryan’s semi-teary, juvenile-esque response was, “Why couldn’t I have them both?” Most people wouldn’t find it that hard to love both their daughter and their girlfriend, but that’s just my opinion.

The main thing that’s fascinated me about these interviews–and I’ve seen/heard several of Tatum solo, one of Ryan solo, and a couple with them together–is how Tatum’s sobriety is empowering her to fight for her relationship with her father. She reached out to him two years ago when Farrah died, after Ryan infamously hit on Tatum after the funeral when he didn’t recognize her. (And he readily admits this snafu…no comment.) Tatum has only been sober for about a year, and this is after many years of alcohol, coke, and heroin addictions. She lost custody of her three children in the 90s because of some/all of these addictions. But she’s quick to thank ex-husband John McEnroe for being a good father, and to her kids for supporting her when she went to rehab repeatedly. Needless to say, one can only imagine what it must be like to confront all these emotional demons after being sober for less than a year. In a clip I saw from the docu-series, Ryan taunts Tatum with tequila after learning that she’s sober. What kind of father does that, even jokingly, to the point that his daughter cries? Ryan & Tatum seem to agree on one thing: he wasn’t a great father. He also doesn’t seem to be dealing with his emotional issues well at all, which is perhaps a reflection on his own lack of sobriety. He is not forthcoming in discussing his own addictions, however, but he seems to enjoy playing the misunderstood victim.

The other thing that’s fascinated me is the he-said/she-said that seems to be the most damaging to their father-daughter relationship. Tatum recalls him offering her drugs when she was 11; he denies it and flat-out calls her a liar. He also lambasted her for writing her first book a few years ago. In short, he seems anything but supportive of her, even going so far as to blame their rifts for Farrah’s terminal cancer. Nothing short of time-travelling back to the 70s and putting the New Historicism literary theory to good use would seem to help these two put the past behind them. (N/H is exercised when one interviews every single person involved with a scenario and comes to a concise reckoning of what actually happened, putting aside personal differences, perspectives, and opinions in the process.) But putting the past behind them is exactly what they’re trying to do on this docu-series, and Tatum claims her father only consented to therapy if it were filmed. One could make assumptions on his ulterior motives based on that alone, right?

As for watching the docu-series, I had the opportunity to watch the premiere this past Sunday night and I purposely missed it. Some things are better done behind closed doors, but I wish them both the best in their pursuits of happiness, sobriety, and reconnecting with each another.


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