This Is My Father [UPDATED]
18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
This Is My Father
It is not like that anymore in Ireland, where some of the old customs have died with startling speed. But that is the Ireland remembered in "This Is My Father," a film about lives ruled by guilt, fear, prejudice and dour family pride. For every cheerful Irish comedy about free spirits with quick wits, there is a story like this one, about characters sitting in dark rooms, ruminating on old grudges and fresh resentments, and using the rules of the church, when convenient, as justification for their own spites and dreads.
Fiona's mother pays lip service to the church, but her real motives are fueled by class prejudice and social climbing, and there is a cruel moment when she accuses Kieran of molesting her daughter. She also threatens the Maneys, who have reared him, with the loss of their land and livelihood. One scene that rings true to life is the way the village policemen, negotiating a tricky path between the laws of this world and the next, give Kieran broad hints about their plans for eventually arresting him--should he still be in the vicinity, of course. Sensibly, he is not, but the cost of his freedom is his happiness, and that price is underlined by a message that the Caan character discovers, and delivers several decades too late.
My father was born black and poor in the segregated South. As a middle school principal, he specialized in taking public schools that were failing poor kids, and transforming them into centers of safety and learning.
And then something magical happened: Obama won the presidency. More than 300,000 people applied to work in the White House. I was not one of them. I had a great job, and I was happy where I was. But one day, a top administration official called me. And this month, I will go to work in President Barack Obama's White House as a special adviser on green jobs.
"Black faces in high places don't make nobody free, boy. Folks can't eat them sound bites of yours. How many jobs did you get for people this week? Folks need some paychecks around here, son, and they ain't getting any. And what are y'all gonna do about these banks?"
My father started life with next to nothing, but he found a way to help countless young people climb out of poverty. Today, despite the obstacles, we have so much more going for us. He would always say, "I don't see no dogs and fire hoses stopping you from doing anything."
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Dad and I talk weekly. He is my advisor, my mentor (one of many) and my leader. As I drive into work each morning, loudly playing one of my playlists from my iPod, getting my mind set for the day, I wonder if I do this because of genetics or whether it is a motivational tip I picked up from my leader.
Genetics certainly may have something to do with it, because both father and son have similar, admirable attitudes toward exploring in space and the fierce sense of responsibility associated with the risks.
Bryan, a father to three kids of his own now, understands the importance of following your dreams. He will not be pushing any of his own to perhaps become the third generation of Lunney flight directors but offers this philosophy instead.
Your father had the bold idea to make Apollo 8 into a lunar flight when we had problems with development of the lunar module. NASA decided to go to the moon without the lunar module available to provide a backup engine. Did he ever talk to you about that and how momentous that decision was?
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He was teaching tae kwon do in LA now, and had celebrity students: Peter Fonda, for example, who set him up with his sister, Jane, the same name as my mom. When he came home from dates, he saw her light on, and would knock, coming in to tell her how they went, and it was never very well. She herself had a boyfriend at Duke, very far away. On her birthday, she received a dozen pink roses from the Duke man. And then my father appeared in her doorway.
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But hand in hand with searing, specific denunciations are tender passages of a love between father and son, once damaged by shame, poverty and homophobia. Yet tenderness reconciles them, even as the state is killing off his father. Louis goes after the French system with bare knuckles but turns to his long-alienated father with open arms: this passionate combination makes Who Killed My Father a heartbreaking book.
Caught in a thoughtless act of cruelty, a young man learns a lesson in compassion from his father, a larger-than-life tribal leader of the Caddo Nation and a veteran of World War II. Years later, the man passes that lesson down to his own son.
My mother was wistful and teary, but Emily was charmed, imagining what I might look like someday. For much of his life, my father was short and round, pale, with a pink-hued dome, which he would protect with misshapen baseball caps. He was painfully unstylish, managing, even in his forties, to look much older. Amidst pictures of him in Afghanistan, Egypt, New Zealand, and Cameroon, we found the collection from his trip to Syria with Oran.
My father ceded much of the summarizing to Oran, perhaps because his English, as I was realizing, did not have the confident rhythm of a native speaker. But he could never quite stay in the scholarly mode. He kept slipping, letting his emotional investment peek through.
My father interrupts Oran, and I feel myself rooting for him. When his mother and Haim wanted to get permission to take that day trip, he says, they had to have their pictures taken at a security office, report what form of transportation they would take, wait for an hour, and get a stamp. Then, when they arrived in Latakia, they had to report to a security office there, get another stamp, and report how they would return to Aleppo.
Listening to the tapes, I savored these moments; Oran becomes the wise and aloof sidekick, while my father is the protagonist, alive with internal contradictions. I find it satisfying to listen to him defend his family and his community, to briefly establish a solidarity with them against the Orans, the Mike Wallaces, the other outsiders who would minimize the suffering going on here. My father is throwing in his lot with his own.
At other moments, my father leaps back onto the scholarly perch with Oran, unsure of whether he is an insider or an outsider. He has his own form of ambivalence; he seems torn between his impulses to observe or participate, to watch or fight.
Then comes the moment when the security agent invites himself into the apartment. I see him with a mustache and a despotic twinkle in his eye. My image of this man is cartoonish, since his petty humiliation of Haim is a cartoonish act.
I have often found myself ascribing aspects of my personality that cannot easily be explained by my mother or the circumstances of my childhood to an imaginary version of my father. In this moment with Haim and the security agent, I invert, placing my own traits back onto him. I am averse to bringing tension into a moment when I can let it glide by, and I only get frustrated around people who I trust will not hold it against me, people to whom I feel close. When I imagine my father shouting at Haim, I want him to be bidding for a familial bond after so many years apart.
I recently called Oran and asked him a version of this question. We had reconnected two years ago, when I went to visit him at home in Vermont, meeting him for the first time as an adult. He is in tremendous health, chopping wood to keep his house warm in the winter, and traveling to a second home in California and to conferences in Hawaii and Europe. It is easy to imagine my father would have enjoyed a similarly cosmopolitan lifestyle if not for his illness.
I asked him how he thought my father would have responded to the Syrians streaming out of their own country and looking for a new home free of violence. I told him I imagined my father being sympathetic to these refugees.
On his last day, my father lay in his bed, framed by a few of the books he held dear. He, who had been a fervent atheist all his life, had asked to be buried with a guide to Jewish prayer, Le guide du croyant israélite, published by his great-grandfather, a notable nineteenth-century French rabbi. The leather-bound first edition rested on his chest as his coffin was lowered to the ground. After his funeral, I went to the apartment that housed his collection. Walking in the door, I could see my father preceding me in his elegant overcoat, and I caught a whiff of his cologne. Among the ocher spines lining the entryway, a volume poked out of its impeccable row. I blew on thick clumps of dust gathered on its top, breathed in the must of aging paper, and pushed the book back in. 041b061a72