Note: this post is more serious than my usual fare, and also a bit of free association. These ideas are linked in my mind, and I hope what I’ve written here makes those connections at least partially clear to you as well. If it doesn’t, I apologize–the hardest things to write about are those closest to us.
My wife and I went to see The Dark Knight Rises this week. (Don’t worry, we didn’t take Wolfe. We left him home to mow the yard.) Overall, good movie. The Nolans are some of the better screenwriters out there these days, and while there were a few logical leaps of faith, it was a fulfilling movie and a good end to the trilogy.
Enough of the film criticism, though. What I thought about after seeing the movie was how Wolfe and I might one day watch it together. I’ll pull my Batman costume out of the mothballs and he’ll put on his Robin attire (we purchased costumes in enough sizes for him to be Robin comfortably until at least the age of 12). We’ll sit on the couch and watch the movie and later go fight some crime and/or get ice cream at the Dairy Queen.
What do I hope he’ll learn from the movie? There are themes of heroism and personal responsibility and doing the right thing. But I can’t foist all the work of helping my son be a good human being onto Hollywood. I can’t even rely on books to take care of that. At some point, I will have to assume responsibility for teaching my son how to be a good person, and that’s a little scary.
As I considered, post-movie, what things I hope my son will learn from me–and what things I wish I had a do-over on–I found myself remembering my own father.
Part of this was brought on by thinking about the horrific events in Aurora, Colorado. What a terrible, senseless act committed by a person with absolutely no respect for anybody else. But those who try to blame the movies, or TV, or books for the actions of a deranged individual are looking in the wrong place. In make-believe, even violent make-believe, there is still structure and reason. In real life horrific things happen, and while we’d love to believe there’s a reason why, often there’s not, or at least not one that makes sense or makes the events any better.
When I got called out of my first period class a little over three years ago to find out my father had died of a sudden massive heart attack, that was horrific as well, although obviously not in the same way or on the same scale as Colorado. But how do you measure that impact? Is there some scale of horribleness where you can compare heartache? The loss of anyone close to you is a terrible thing, no matter how they go or how much–or little–preparation you have.
So, the new Batman movie made me think about the real life violence in Colorado, which made me think of the loss of my father, which was also very sudden. And then I thought about Michael Keaton, another former Batman, and I found myself remembering my Dad’s fondness for a different Keaton movie called The Dream Team. Oddly enough, it’s a comedy about mental illness–but it also addresses things like being a hero and believing in the basic good of humanity.
And that’s what I remember most about my father. His unfailing belief in humanity, in the idea that doing good things for other people meant good things for you, even if those good things weren’t tangible. My dad felt like his duty, his responsibility, in life was to help others–not in an abstract kind of way, but in a real and immediate way. He would drive people to appointments, counsel those who wanted advice, give groceries or money to those without. He was a genuinely good person. For a good bit of my childhood, he was a pastor, but even when he worked other jobs his vocation was always being a minister.
I feel he was half right in his outlook. It is part of our duty to do good things for others, but that doesn’t guarantee us any kind of a fair shake–tangible or otherwise. We need to do it because that’s what being human should be about. And sometimes we do have to take care of ourselves first–the whole idea of putting on your own oxygen mask before you help those around you.
I hope my son can someday say I taught him how to do good, including helping those around him.
Then, while I was thinking about this blog post, the whole Chik-Fil-A thing was playing out on Facebook (and I’m sure elsewhere on the Internet). It’s been overexposed, memed and rememed, and turned into fodder for any number of political arguments.
But it made me think of one thing I wish I had a do-over on, something I am not proud of. As a teenager, I was anti-gay. Not in any outward way–I didn’t hunt down gay people and beat them up, or protest against them in demonstrations. But I thought “those people” were degenerates, somehow; a threat to me and my beliefs and my personhood. They were “other,” quite possibly dangerous, definitely perverse. These were things I was taught, partly from religion, partly from my peers.
My ideas changed as I moved into adulthood. The main reason, I think, was that I met some people who were actually gay. Just one example: I worked for a short time at the same government agency as my father, and one of his close friends was a lesbian. (I know my dad was largely responsible for my exposure to religion. Fortunately he also encouraged thinking for yourself. It’s a paradox.) As I was around my father’s friend, I started to realize that–shocker!–she was a person. She wasn’t a slimy, malformed person. She wasn’t out trying to convert heterosexuals. In fact, much like with other acquaintances, we didn’t really discuss her sexual preferences or activities at all. And the more people I met, the more I realized those I knew were gay weren’t terrible monsters–or at least not more than any other human being. They were just people, trying to live their lives.
Today I think if there are two people who love each other, they should get the same benefits legally as heterosexual married couples. If a certain religion doesn’t want to endorse homosexual marriage, I respect their right to their religious beliefs, even if I disagree. There are some religions (unitarianism, for one) that do approve of same sex unions. But love should be something we celebrate in the world, not something we disparage.
Based on my dad’s actions when he was alive, I don’t think he would have lined up outside a Chik-Fil-A on Wednesday. He would have thought doing so didn’t serve any purpose except that of hurting people, people who deserve to be treated better and more respectfully.
I hope I can impart some small part of this to my son. He may very well choose his own ways of thinking, and I hope he doesn’t just blindly follow my advice. But at some point in the future, maybe he’ll look back and realize he learned something worthwhile from me, even if it was just from a silly movie I liked or how I behaved toward another person. And that will be enough for me.