"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there — fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. . . If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around."
This prologue to the film, "Love Actually" is one of my favorite movie quotes. Written just two years after 9/11, it shows the optimism and humanity of our world despite horror. I find comfort in these words whenever tragedy strikes, as it has, does, and will. As many of you may know or have guessed, I’m a movie fanatic. My brother is a screenwriter and producer, my mother held Oscars parties all my life, and even my father, who hated musicals, got us all tickets for "Sound of Music" Christmas Day 1965. Even bad films can provide clues how to conduct ourselves. It’s not a bad way to frame one’s life. There’s plenty in movies to guide us as parents and human beings.
Films continually show me what’s possible to achieve as a parent. Yes, films are perfect little slices of life where all variables are controlled and outcomes can be dictated, unlike our messy lives where we have to deal with the phone ringing just as we’re making that big point to our daughter, or a fight erupts on the way to practice so that everything ends with an explosion and then a rush to the field. But I still marvel at how Hollywood, given its over-the-top lifestyle and revolving door marriages, manages to capture mature adult-child relationships, especially the way to have a conversation with our children that isn’t based on accusation, defensiveness and door slamming.
Near the end of the film "The Kids Are Alright," one character, Jules, finds she needs to apologize. It’s not just that it’s an elegant apology, but that it’s an apology at all.
"Parents make mistakes, and it is not a sign of weakness to apologize for those mistakes. Look, it’s no secret your mom and I have been going through a rough patch lately. That happens in marriages, especially ones that have lasted as long as ours. But instead of looking at our problems and trying to deal with them head-on, I went and did something really stupid. It may be shocking to you, but adults aren’t exempt from making mistakes. Anyway, I know you’re all really furious with me. I can take that. I’m a big girl... I know this whole thing’s confusing. I wish it wasn’t. But life’s just like that sometimes."
As parents, it’s important to humble ourselves occasionally in front of our kids. If we get overzealous after a game, criticize when criticism isn’t appropriate, or make an accusation that proves not to be true, we need to apologize. It teaches our kids that there isn’t a double standard where they have to be contrite for their errors, while we can simply gloss over ours. It also shows that lying about our mistakes isn’t a viable option for a healthy family life.
While the film "Rudy" may seem overly melodramatic playing out against an emotional soundtrack, it does provide an important message about persevering despite insurmountable odds. When kids find themselves riding the bench or being passed up athletically by their teammates, it’s natural to think about giving up. Sometimes that’s the right decision and only we as parents can help our kids know if it is, but I have often been inspired by the Notre Dame locker room manager’s speech to Rudy. As a former player, he understood both the desire to quit and the ramifications of making that choice.
"Since when are you the quitting kind?... So you didn't make the dress list. There are greater tragedies in the world...You’re 5-feet nothin', a 100-and-nothin', and you got hardly a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in with the best college football team in the land for two years. And you're also gonna walk outta here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this lifetime, you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody — except yourself. And after what you've gone through, if you haven't done that by now, it ain't gonna never happen... I guarantee a week won't go by in your life you won't regret walkin' out, letting them get the best of ya. You hear me clear enough?"
Not a bad speech to give in your own words with your own examples of what sticking with it can mean for your child.
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" is most memorable for combining animation with live action, something we take for granted now, but was innovative in 1988. Most of the film is silly, uninvolving, and unintentionally violent. But I love one of Roger’s lines: "A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Sometimes in life it is the only weapon we’ve got." What a wonderful reminder that lots of problems can be ameliorated by a good group laugh. Humor is a potent family tool. When anger starts to bubble up, switching gears to humor can definitely defuse a situation. In "Lilo and Stitch," the film veered wildly from warm family drama to science fiction war of the worlds. But hidden in the jumble are some important lessons. At one point, Lilo says, "Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind…or forgotten." Later, Stitch says, "This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good."
It’s a great reminder that family is what you make of it. We can’t look with envy at any other family because they don’t have the same personalities, expectations and history our family has. The huge variety of ways we end up creating our families, raising our children, and handling adversities and triumphs has no right or wrong way. Lots of talking heads would like to tell us all the mistakes we are making and how we can move to perfection. But perfection is boring and confining. The discoveries we make when we risk some of that perfection can add such highlights to our lives. Deciding to take off a year before college or eat out every night or get a tattoo may not be right for some families, but is the "perfect" course for your family to take.
Finally, my favorite movie quote comes from, naturally, the film "Parenthood." The film focuses on a family of four children and each of their families. Each sibling has made different choices and faced different challenges. The grandparents are often criticized by their children for some slight or lack in their upbringing. Add to the mix that the youngest child is a ne’er-do-well who seems to be his father’s favorite. His reemergence into the family, after another "get rich quick" scheme flops, opens wounds, but also makes each of the siblings face their failings when raising their own children. Near the end of the film, we learn the prodigal son needs money from his father to pay off gangsters who may kill him for the debt. The patriarch responds to his eldest son’s frustration about enabling the youngest. "Did you know we once thought you had polio?...I hated having to go through that caring, the worrying, the pain…You know, it’s not like that all ends when you’re 18 or 21 or 41 or 61. It never, never ends…There is no end zone. You never cross the goal line, spike the ball, and do your touchdown dance…I’m Larry’s father and he’s still my son. Like Kevin is your son. You think I want him to get hurt? He’s my son."
We are parents until we die. And we have to accept that we won’t always do the job error-free, but what really matters is the love. So long as we express that love with praise, hugs, and actually saying "I love you," then we’ll be successful. If a few movies help us along that pathway, then at least we can be entertained while we learn. Not a bad way to spend the rest of our lives.