As the one year anniversary of my father’s death approaches, I can feel myself getting more introspective than usual. It feels like much longer than just a year as so much has happened over the past 12 months. This month is a busy month, for which I am grateful, with the swan song of the month being my birthday on the last day.
A friend and I were discussing the concept that movie watching can be a spiritual discipline the other day. I was glad to find someone else who appreciated the spiritual searching that could be evoked through watching films. It was a reminder to me that I need to get back into my 2014 Watch List as well as my 2014 Reading Plan. After choosing a few movies to share with this friend, I found one to watch myself.
It was a typical story of a son who is struggling to find his place having been abandoned by his father and having lost his mother. Just typing that sentence flips a switch and reminder to me that his story was similar, in a sense, to my own. But this son, Nick, is struggling as a writer, trying to figure out how to exist. His life is marred by broken relationships, failed job attempts, and a general misdirection. Then, he meets his father.
His father contacts him to help him after he has been evicted from his apartment. The encounter is brief and they don’t see each other again until Nick is working at a homeless shelter that his father checks into. The awkwardness is palpable as Nick interacts with his coworkers who have already begun to form ideas both about Nick’s father and about Nick. You can see the looks, you can almost hear the whispers as they see this man whose life has been marked by failed efforts and relationships, and Nick comes to the place that so many of us come to in our lives, the place of questioning whether or not we are destined to become our parents, for good or for bad.
It’s a question that I have pondered more than once in the last few years. There are times that the desire to buck up against the life that my father lived seems to drive me, evoking a defiance in me as I claim that I will not make the same mistakes. Which such passion and defiance, it becomes humbling when those very same mistakes seem to be duplicated in my own life, and I realize that it’s not about trying to undo what’s been done or even making sure that I don’t make the same mistakes that my father made. It really comes down to identity. Who am I?
While there is a driving force that causes me to run far and fast from the evidence of my father that I see in me, to be consumed and focused on that makes it seem as if there was nothing at all good in him, it’s a focus on the negative, on the areas of improvement that he had in his life, and that’s just not fair. Somewhere along the way, I was enlightened to his story, growing up in Brooklyn, the younger of two boys, an alcoholic father, a working mother, and eventually, living in a single parent household in the formative teen years. When I began to understand what he had gone through, I realized that he was doing the best that he knew how considering the circumstances that had shaped him.
Every child who has experienced the difficulty of their parents will always ask the question of whether or not they are destined to become like their parents. Every hint of anything of their parents in them can cause them great dismay and disappointment. I’ve tried not to let that drive me though. Like I said, my father made mistakes, but they didn’t define him, nor should they have had. There were areas of improvement that I have taken notice of and am doing my best to work out in my own life, but I do them in accordance with who I am, not who I don’t want to be.
At the end of the movie that I was watching, the need to not become his father drives Nick towards “success.” He writes the book that his father always claimed that he had written. He pushes away from the addiction that entangled his father. He chooses to live in truth rather than by spinning a web of lies. But he does take something positive from his father, he chooses to use his life to help others and becomes a teacher in an urban setting, helping kids to learn in a difficult setting.
Who are we becoming? Is it really about destiny? In some way, I think it is, but I feel like it’s way more about who God has made me to be than about who I’m trying to avoid being. I am grateful for my father and my mother, both of whom were full of strengths and weaknesses. When I see glimpses of them in me, I hope that they are good glimpses, I hope that they don’t cause me to run and hide, I hope that they might be characteristics that my children will look at and see as beneficial to carry on.
If I see glimpses of things that I want to avoid, I don’t panic, but I ask myself what I am doing to change and why. Some of the greatest growth that I have seen in myself has been when those faults and flaws have been pointed out to me and I’ve made steps to change, not by myself, but with the help of others.
I am grateful that I had two parents who I was proud to say were mine. I am grateful for the way that they raised me, successes and failures alike. I am grateful for those glimpses that I see of them in me and even in my children, for those are the memories of who they were and are, the legacy of who they’ve made me to be.