Study Guide

Dirty Dancing Jake Houseman (Jerry Orbach)

Jake Houseman (Jerry Orbach)

Law and Order

Jake is a hard-working doctor and the type of supportive father everyone wishes they had. We never learn how Baby got her nickname, but we bet it's because she's daddy's little girl. Unlike his older daughter Lisa, Baby's intelligent and sharp, much more like her father than her mother. (Although we don't want to picture Jerry Orbach dancing in Baby's dress. Or maybe we do? He was a Broadway legend, after all.) Jake, like Baby, is a liberal-minded political guy. When his wife and older daughter are arguing over whether Lisa brought too many pair of shoes on vacation, Jake butts in:

JAKE: This is not a tragedy. A tragedy is three men trapped in a mine or police dogs used in Birmingham.

Baby adds:

BABY: Monks burning themselves in protest.

Jake's proud of Baby's emerging social conscience:

JAKE: Max, our Baby's gonna change the world.

That's why the betrayal between Baby and Baby's Daddy, two sides of the same coin, hurts so much. The first crack in their relationship is a small, almost invisible. But when they're torn apart, it's like an earthquake so intense we're surprised The Rock doesn't swing in to save people.

It starts when Dad lends Baby $250 (about $2,000 in today's money) no questions asked, because he trusts her. Personally, we don't know many fathers who would hand over $2,000 without an explanation, trust or no trust. You can see that this is an exceptional relationship. But Jake feels betrayed when he realizes that money went to pay for Penny's abortion. At this point, Dad's still on Baby's side, but he isn't a happy camper. He says:

JAKE: I won't tell your mother about this. Right now I'm going to bed. And take that stuff off your face before your mother sees you!

In other words, "you look like a tramp."

Jake also forbids Baby from seeing Johnny; he assumes Johnny was the one who got Penny in trouble. Of course, this makes Baby want to see Johnny even more. She loves her dad, but she also knows when to follow her heart to another man. When Baby admits she slept with Johnny, this is the last straw in her relationship with her father. Dad realizes that Baby isn't his little girl anymore.

Like Father Like Daughter

Baby's hard-headed like her father, though, and she isn't letting her relationship with him go without a fight.

After Baby admits she slept with Johnny, Dad retreats to the gazebo to brood. Baby follows him, and delivers a huge speech to tell him how she really feels.

BABY: I'm sorry I lied to you. But you lied too. You told me everyone was alike and deserved a fair break. But you meant everyone who is like you. You told me you wanted me to change the world, make it better. But you meant by becoming a lawyer or an economist and marrying somebody from Harvard. […] There are a lot of things about me that aren't what you thought. But if you love me, you have to love all those things about me. And I love you. And I'm sorry I let you down. I'm so sorry, Daddy. But you let me down, too.

Dad totally cries when Baby leaves. We'd cry too. This is some heady stuff. And it shows us just how alike Baby and her Dad are. Just like when Johnny points out Baby's hypocrisy to her, Baby convinces her Dad to turn around when she shows him the inconsistencies in his own thinking. That's the problem with kids: you teach them to think for themselves and they go off and think for themselves.

Mad Dad

But Dad's still angry at Johnny, who he sees as stealing his daughter's innocence. When Johnny comes to Dad to apologize, Dad tells Johnny:

JAKE: I see someone in front of me who got his partner in trouble and sent her off to some butcher while he moved to an innocent young girl like my daughter. 

Ouch.

Maybe try and let him speak, big guy? We can see Jake's presumptions about Johnny (he's a lower class sexual predator) get in the way of any open-minded approach to the situation. To be fair, though, he's just found out the $250 he gave his daughter on faith was used to pay for an abortion, and he thinks his daughter's getting taken advantage of by a guy who's already come close to ruining another girl's life. He'd be wrong to act any differently, knowing what he knows. Problem is, he doesn't know the truth.

Finally, at the final dance, Dad realizes Johnny wasn't the one who knocked up Penny and abandoned her like a wooden nickel. Finally understanding what really happened, he does the manliest thing anyone does in the movie: he apologizes.

JAKE: I know you weren't the one who got Penny in trouble When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong.

What a mensch. With that, Dad and Baby are back on good terms. He watches Baby dance, and even though he's not completely thrilled seeing his Baby on stage dancing dirty (he gets out of his chair at one point), he tells her,

JAKE: You looked wonderful out there. 

Dad realizes that he hasn't lost Baby. Their relationship will be different now. Maybe even better.

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