Spoiler Alert: The following excerpt is from Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.
So how long was that? Eight minutes? Harry on the edge of his seat , pleading, and always pleading with the wrong words. Howard already incensed, looking at the rose in the ceiling. A stranger could come in now and think them both completely insane. And neither man would be able to give an account of why what had just happened had happened, or at least no account that would be shorter than sitting down with the stranger and taking them through an oral history – with slides – of the past fifty-seven years, day by day. They didn’t mean it to be like this. But it was like this. Both had other intentions. Howard had knocked on the door eight minutes ago filled with hope, his heart loosened by music, his mind stunned and opened by the appalling proximity of death. He was a big malleable ball of potential change, waiting on the doorstep. Eight minutes ago. But once inside, everything was the same as it had always been. He didn’t mean to be so aggressive, or to raise his voice or to pick fights. He meant to be kind and tolerant. Equally, four years ago, Harry surely hadn’t meant to tell his only son that you couldn’t expect black people to develop mentally like white people do. He had meant to say: I love you, I love my grandchildren, please stay another day.
In June I watched Parenthood, which stars Steve Martin. Among many others of course, but I watched it because I love Steve Martin for his sense of humour and great timing. Little did I know that I would be introduced to the intricacies of parenting, not as an ideal as the Homeschooler’s Handbook would like you to believe, but as the dynamic expression of a human being (or a pair) – an individual going through the ups and downs of emotional circumstances, cruising through (not exactly) the drudgery that forms a painful element of what is known as the human condition, sentimental overreaches, moods, emotions surrounding loneliness, frustration, and helplessness, and communication handicaps. It made me realize that at the end of the day, all parents aspire to be mature human beings, and act with good intentions, yearning to have the most wonderful relationship with their children, hoping to be rewarded with affectionate gratitude for their parenthood. Just like Steve Martin’s parental character does in this scene, where he imagines his son to be graduating from college as valedictorian.
As a parent, he wants his son to see him through the coloured lens of his good intentions. He wants to be understood and for his sacrifices to be acknowledged. Regretfully, parenthood might sometimes seem like a thankless job, as you will see in the following scene.
I recommend the entire movie. It made me think about my own parents. I have had a relatively unconventional childhood, which rendered some of my early-adulthood experiences absurd to me. Once I realized the elements of convention and normalcy, I looked back at my past as if it were a narrative that was not in my control to internalize differently. I sobbed and hurt and bled. I struggled to accept, and I blamed – not something that I am proud of. I continued to relive my ‘tragedy’ even after my realization, not quite sure if I could choose a different path. Situations which I had hoped with my heart to be different, turned out to be more of the same old. I looked for signs, but there were none to signal a detour for the better, or what I assumed to be better.
I have realized that this isn’t uncommon for people. We cling to our younger selves, innocent versions of what we are in the present day, and coddle them. It becomes the core of our sense of identity, and we protect its presumed fragility. We worry about it, and express with anxiety. And history repeats itself, within a matter of minutes.
We imagine it in our movies. A climactic scene, followed by a seeming epiphany, a change of heart and turn of events, a happy ending. Man knocks on the door, and is greeted by his estranged family with understanding. The prodigal son is instantly forgiven, and out they go into their backyard to resume their relationships from where they left off and grill barbecue. In contrast, a realistic re-imagination would be similar to the excerpt from Smith’s book. Years of therapy, allegations, accusations, therapy, tears, daddy issues, complexes, therapy, inhibitions, and the usual unwinding of events as a result of, what are called, toxic relationships that lead to certain realizations. But happy endings are never within our control. What does happen to be though, are the narratives we tell ourselves about these relationships and these circumstances.
Not everything needs to feel like a tug of war with cosmos. It is part of the dance.
For a funny take on daddy issues, I recommend following @Daddyissues_ if you already aren’t, whose bio tagline is ‘Dad, it’s all your fault.’