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1973 Afterschool Special on Divorce: My Dad Lives In A Downtown Hotel

Latchkey Generation

During my first two years of high school, I lived in Southeast Kansas. My parents both worked 20 miles away, across the border in Oklahoma. I was the quintessential latchkey kid.

Sometimes, I didn’t mind coming home to an empty house, but mostly it scared me. I’d usually call a friend or I’d clean the kitchen. I had an 8-track tape player my brother, a Marine, sent me from Okinawa. I put it on top of the fridge and play Debby Boone’s You Light Up My Life album while I did the dishes. Michol’s Theme inspired by the movie The Garden of the Finzi-Continis remains a favorite to this day.

About once every two or three weeks, ABC would air an after school special. I really looked forward to these episodes, most of which dealt with serious issues including absent parents and divorce as highlighted in the following promo for My Dad Lives In A Downtown Hotel.

My Dad Lives In A Downtown Hotel

The After School Special and Absent Parents

According to a 2006 article published in Slate, 18 of the 28 episodes featured themes centered on absent parents including dads constantly away on business; single moms; widowed dads; alcoholic moms; deadbeat dads, and in one episode, a mom who left the family to join a commune.

As corny as the after school specials were, they made me feel less alone, and sometimes, lucky, because I didn’t have to deal with some of the things the kids’ in the stories had to face.

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. jenX

    @FLCONFETTI – What a great post. I left you a comment, but wow – we’re so on the same page with these things and I was born in ’67 and you in ’72 – and there were only 28 of those episodes produced.

  2. FLConfetti

    I wrote about this very subject a few months back, though with a different take on it. I watched them all, but flip-flopped between bemusement and thinking “what the heck? what kids are like this?” I really didn’t identify when any of them, though I knew a few girls who eventually did.

  3. jenX

    @ANDI – I know exactly what you mean. My senior year I found out about a girl who had to deal with an alcoholic parent. Everything about her suddenly made sense.

  4. jenX

    @POETIKAT – great idea – I’ll look for the complete list. Also, the junior drug films worked on me. I seriously never wanted electric shock treatments. Also, my brother sneaking me into Last House on the Left, a movie in which girls get murdered b/c they were going after drugs cured me for like, LIFE!

  5. Poetikat

    I wasn’t a latchkey kid, but I saw most of the Afterschool specials. I can’t remember any of them, unfortunately. Your first commenter has twigged my brain with Sara, Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic.

    The one movie I remember really well (probably because I read the book too), was Go Ask Alice. It succeeded in putting me off any experimentation with hard drugs.

    Do you have a list of the episodes for the Afterschool Specials?

  6. Andi

    After school specials were a big part of my life too. I did not necessarily have to deal with many of the issues myself but I had lots of friends who did, so it was away for me to empathize, sympathize and relate.

  7. jenX

    @DIRTY MOUTH MAMA – I so lived for those book order forms. It was incredibly exciting! I loved those books, too.

    @JIM – Wow! How cool about your sis. See, Jim. It’s these subtle and not so subtle influences, huh? I had no idea that after school specials would one day be considered so low brow. I really loved them all.

  8. Jim Smith

    My sister went to cosmetology school thru the CETA program.

    We would be home after school ourselves while mom and dad worked and as the older sibling my sister had rule over me. She would insist on watching every afterschool special that I publically abhored. Privately, however, I was hooked by every plot line and shed more than a few tears.

  9. Dirty Mouth Mama

    Sara, Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic.

    I didn’t see the after-school special, but I had the book. They used to hand us order forms and you could then pay for the books and have them delivered. So exciting.


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