Post 24: Fatherhood Part 2


The young man, a talented amateur golfer, was melting down in the biggest tournament of his young career.  This was his big chance and he was in control of his own destiny on the 18th tee – close out this hole, win the tournament and he would be playing in his first professional event in a couple of weeks.  Instead he makes bad decision after bad decision and finished the tournament well down the leader board after just one tumultuous hole of golf, his dream destroyed and his father, his caddy, walking away in disgust!

This scene is from the movie “Seven Days in Utopia” currently in theaters around the country and I highly recommend that you go see this film (http://www.sevendaysinutopia.com).  There’s no sex and no violence, instead what you’ll experience is an excellent study in contrasts about fathering.

The father of the young golfer had merged his own unachieved desires to play golf with his role as father to shape his son, starting at a very young age into a champion golfer.  He pushed the young boy, forced him to practice, honed the kid’s skills to the point where the young man was ready to take the next step, to turn pro.  However, was the young man ready for the pressure?  Apparently not.

The movie chronicles the next seven days of the young man’s life after losing the tournament and how he ends up finding, unintentionally, a man who becomes his unorthodox mentor.  The movie illustrates the power of a father figure, a mentor that considers the whole person, the physical, the emotional and spiritual components of this young man.  The story demonstrates how essential it is for fathers to address the complete child not just his special skill.  As the seven days unfold the young man is challenged to become a complete person and it ends with him…well, you’ll just have to see the movie to find out the rest of the story.

This movie effectively illustrates the essential elements of fatherhood:  Time, challenges, blessing and faith.

Time

I don’t doubt that the young man’s father loved him and wanted the best for him, the father didn’t know any better.  Especially about nurturing the whole child.  He should be commended for dedicating his time to the growth of his son, he should be acknowledged for identifying his son’s athletic gift.  As I pointed out in my previous post on Fatherhood so many boys don’t have a father like this who dedicates large chunks of his time to their sons.

The father in the movie recognized that his son had a gift and dedicated his life to nurturing that gift and this is something all parents need to be aware of.  What’s the gift in your child? In the book, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, James Hillman presents the acorn theory, the idea that each of us is blessed with a gift that needs to be identified and nurtured by our parents.  The father of the young golfer found that gift in his son and he worked hard to make sure that the boy grew to achieve success with that gift, regardless of the consequences.  The father didn’t know any better, he was broken and didn’t know his gift, he didn’t know who he really was.  So how could he truly understand that his greatest gift to his son was the time spent together?

My father was fanatical about baseball, especially professional baseball.  His favorite bar in San Diego was the Baseball Inn, an establishment where other fans and some marginal pro ball players would hang out.  My father became friends with many of the ball players and managers of the local minor league team (This was before the Padres became a major league team).  He was always giving me the best equipment, bats, gloves, shoes and balls, that he would get from his good friend at the Padres.  I’m certain that one of his greatest disappointments in life and in me was that I never became even a moderately good baseball player even when I had the very best equipment.

I was a very good football player, an above average basketball player and decent at track, but baseball just wasn’t my strong suite and I never made any teams that I tried out for.  You see my father had the desire, he had the connections, he just didn’t have the time.  The time to teach me how to play the game, how to use all that marvelous equipment.  I felt sadness as I watched “Seven Days in Utopia,” because I still feel the pain of not having a father to teach me how to play baseball, how to be a man!

Challenge

When the young golfer melts down on the last hole of the tournament and his father walks out on him I’m sure the young man judged himself a failure.  Was he? Or was this what was needed for him to find himself?  This is the stuff of fables, the golden boy being brought to his knees before he connects with his truth and climbs his way back to wholeness.  Iron John and the Fisher King come to mind.

Can we truly know and appreciate the good days, the triumphs, if we never have to wade through the ashes of our lives and struggle to find ourselves?  This movie holds an important message for our culture of “fairness” and “everyone” is a victor.  We teach our children, whether in school or on the play field that everyone’s a winner and everyone gets a gold star or a trophy.  That performance doesn’t matter, it only matters that you feel good about yourself.

We have a primal need to achieve victory, born our of our need to survive.  Certainly most of us don’t have the primitive need to conquer our rivals but does it advance the species or the culture to say that everyone is a winner?  How do we find the limits of our potential if we don’t risk failure?  “Seven Days in Utopia” paints a challenging portrait of the effort needed to hit bottom and then find the path back to yourself, your full self.  The journey was painful and difficult but the result was a better person.

Blessing

This is a concept I judge is greatly misunderstood in our culture.  It isn’t the medals and trophies one gets that blesses us.  A blessing is given freely from the heart of the “teacher” to the “student;” from the mentor to the seeker.  It’s an acknowledgment from an “elder,” not necessarily someone older but wiser, that you have been seen, you are loved and you have a place in the tribe, in the family, in the culture.

Check out another movie, “Nobody’s Fool,” starring the late Paul Newman.  This is a story of redemption between a father, played by Paul Newman, his son and his grandson.  The son comes home in his own time of despair to make a connection with his father.  And as the father and son struggle, the character played by Paul Newman starts a relationship with his grandson, a boy of about eight.

In a scene near the end of the film Paul wins the prosthetic leg from the town lawyer in a game of strip poker (Warning there is some nudity during this part of the film).  After the game is over you see Paul sitting at the bar with the prosthesis next to him on the bar and the one-legged attorney is at the other end of the bar.  The boy is standing next to Paul mesmerized by the fake leg, actually he seems a little afraid.  Paul picks up the prosthesis and asks his grandson to takes it to the attorney at the end of the bar.  At first the young boy refuses but finally the wonder overcomes the fear and he takes hold of it in both hands.  Paul gently turns the boy to face the attorney and asks him to return it to the old man.  It takes a couple of prompts from grandpa before the boy slowly moves down the bar to the one-legged old man.  When he gets their the old man takes the prosthesis with one hand and places his other hand on the boy’s shoulder.  He bends down and softly thanks the boys and tells him that he is a very good boy, he’s proud of him!  When the boys turns around, back towards his grandfather, the look of joy and accomplishment on his young face is priceless.  He faced his fear and was blessed!

Faith

In “Seven Days in Utopia,” Johnny, the unorthodox instructor doesn’t focus his attention just on the golf skills of the young golfer, Luke.  Instead Johnny challenges Luke to take a look at who he is, why he’s here on Earth and his relationship with God, or in this case his lack of a relationship.  The issue of faith become a pivotal point in the maturation of Luke as he realizes that there was more to life than just a low score on the card.

Like Luke I had to learn this the hard way but when I did my life changed in a powerful way.  Once I accepted God, as my Abba Father, I was able to release the residual longing for my earthly father and surrender my life to the One who would never forsake me, the most freeing experience in my life.  I discovered that surrender didn’t mean defeat  and in the case of God it means I’m no longer alone and I’m always loved.

Through faith we can integrate the mind, body and soul to complete the package, to become, as Dallas Willard says, “the person God had always intended us to become.”

I encourage you to go see this movie and while you watch and after ask yourself what’s working and what’s not working in your life?  Who are you and what is your impact on the world, especially the people closest to you? If  you’re a parent, if you’re a father what are you doing to spend more time with your children; what are you doing to challenge them to be all they can be; are you blessing your children, showing them how deeply they are loved; and are you creating opportunities for them to experience and come to know God?

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About rightthoughts
Husband/ Father/ Grandfather/ Architect

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