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.