I have read that no matter how old children get, parents always view them through the lense of nostalgia. Even when the children are full-grown adults, parents see the wobbly toddlers they raised.
As of this writing, my son is one.
My wife and I take turns reading to him nightly; his favorite book is Clifford’s Animal Sounds. We read it, set it on the end table, and he leans over, picks it back up, and returns it to us. If we lacked resolve, our son would have us page through it a hundred times in a row.
A simple book, the sentences are short and sweet. Perfect for a one-year-old. “The cat says meow.” “The hen says cluck,” that sort of thing.
Because she loves interaction, my wife began reading each passage, and then asking our son to repeat it. She reads, “The cat says meow,” and then asks, “What does the cat say?”
Our son, no matter what the animal, gives the same response. He gazes at us with a mix of confidence and pleasure, smiles with his mouth shut, and offers a double grunt.
“What does the cat say?”
“What does the cow say?”
He does this for every animal but one.
When asked, “What does the sheep say?” my son lights up like a Christmas tree. His eyes go wide, and his normal mouth-shut smile becomes a full-face, mouth-open-wide joyful bellow as he intones “Baaaaaa…”
His petite head shakes from side to side as he drags the sound out, and he leans toward us ever so slightly. You can tell he’s proud of himself because he knows he is imitating this animal correctly.
(And because he is basking in the love he sees in our eyes and hears in our laughter as we react).
The image of my son shaking his head, “Baaaa” exiting his little lungs… that was all I had in my head as Ben Solo killed his father, Han, during The Force Awakens. The look on Han’s face as Ben’s light saber stabs through him isn’t shock or anger, but sorrow. The way Han caresses Ben’s face one final time before falling into the abyss is heartbreaking.
I wondered what was going through Han’s head at that moment. Was it something from Ben’s infancy? Something so tender to him, an instant forever etched in his mind that he saw whenever he looked at Ben? Or maybe Han felt remorse, believing it was his failings as a father that allowed them to become so estranged.
Of all the things I took away from The Force Awakens, the most prevalent was wanting to be a better father. The movie is a sci-fi fantasy with laser guns and light sabers, yes, but I still left the theater imagining all the parenting missteps that could put my son on a path to drug addiction, dropping out of school, suicide… all the “dark sides” of real life.
I wonder how the bonds between parent and child sever. Does it happen gradually, over time, or through one climatic event? No parent sets out to disappoint, but it happens all too often. Your career makes demands, or you want to maintain a semblance of your old life and hang out with friends like you used to. Somewhere along the way you neglect your child. Maybe you don’t mean to be, but you’re always “busy” when they need help. Maybe they always see your nose buried in your phone and “learn their place” unconsciously. Maybe they fall in with the wrong crowd at school.
I’m still a relatively new father; in no way do I know what I’m doing. Parenting is trial and error at best, but some things seem like common sense. Little nothings that can (hopefully) keep a child on the right path. Smiling whenever you make eye contact. Being genuinely enthused spending time with them. Having discussions with them, not wagging a finger and saying “No!” without explanation.
Then again, I could easily do everything “right” and everything will still go wrong, because life happens.
Movies are supposed to make us feel something. Comedies should make us laugh, horror films need to frighten us… I’m not sure a spaghetti western set in space was supposed to make me wax philosophic on fatherhood, but it did.
Hopefully it nudged me in the right direction.