Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"If we forgive our fathers, what is left?"

At the end of Sherman Alexie's 1999 movie "Smoke Signals", which is adapted from his book "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven", a powerful poem by Dick Lourie is read.

Thomas Builds-the-Fire and Victor Joseph
The poem is somewhat adapted to fit the storyline about two Native American men in their late teens who take a trip from their Couer d'Alene reservation in the Pacific Northwest to Pheonix Arizona.

The journey is about coming to terms with absent fathers and making peace with discordant memories that weigh heavy.

And so the question of "how do we forgive our fathers" is brought to bear on the consciousness of both young men.

I saw the movie in Seattle about 8 years ago but rented it again and watched it alone in Portland a couple years later.

Both these cities are in the Pacific Northwest.

It struck me that in the decade that I lived there I never met more than a handful of folks who were Couer d'Alene. They have been made to disappear.

In this movie we meet Native Americans who are real.  Not stereotypical Injuns of the American West that played under the racist boot of John Wayne.

Tonight I caught about an hour of the movie on a local satellite channel and it reminded me of my own struggle to come to terms.

One scene that stuck out tonight is one I would not have paid too much mind to when I saw the movie previously because my dad was still alive.

The scene has one of the lead characters driving his deceased dad's beat-up beige pick-up truck.

It is a Ford F250 and it is a bucket of late-1970s vintage.

My dad's pick-up truck is a beige Isuzu 250 Diesel and it is a bucket of mid-1990s vintage.

Just made me smile that's all :0)

The journey to forgiveness, or at least coming to terms, is about confrontation. The past is never just about stuff that happened before now.

We must confront the past or live on in denial forever.  Confrontation promises freedom through greater meaning, and even resolution.

To live in denial is to live suspended.

This is true at the interpersonal level or the societal (nation) level.  No nation can unburden its past without a measured and purposeful confrontation. 

Denial is not a reasonable option.  Not for individuals and not for nations.

Read the poem below and see the movie if you have not already. And it is OK for men to cry about their fathers.  You too Guru :0)

Life is too hard without the comfort of tears.

The closing question is deep.  Would like to know what you think.

For me the journey has been a reaffirmation of how fragile and human we are.  I have learned to accept that life is not about controlling outcomes.

And I now know that to really love your father, you must learn to forgive yourself too.


How do we forgive our fathers?
Maybe in a dream.

Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often,
or forever,
when we were little?

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage,
or for making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all?

Do we forgive our fathers for marrying,
or not marrying,
our mothers?

Or divorcing,
or not divorcing,
our mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses
of warmth
or coldness?

Shall we forgive them
for pushing
or leaning?

For shutting doors?
For speaking through walls?

Or never speaking?
Or never being silent?

Do we forgive our fathers in our age or in theirs?

Or in their deaths,
saying it to them,
or not saying it?

If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

- Dick Lourie-

Picture Credit


Kweli said...

This movie haunts me, brother. Because it awakens my struggle with my own father, and how that struggle is embedded in broader forces (postcolonialism, racism, violence, etc) that rock whole societies and leave everyone from men to women to children searching, seeking more than meaning, seeking ways to keep going and keep working and keep working at it and working on it and working working working.

The last time I saw it (I have seen it several times) I almost broke down, but I keep going.

I know this makes little sense here, but somehow I know you know what I mean. I posted this poem on BMAG sometime ago. Thanks for reminding me of it.

Ridwan said...

I hear you brother Kweli.

It is a powerful movie made more so by the fact that the two main actors are not Hollywood fake.

And frankly, not white.

I like the running commentary and the stories on the side.

Tonight I did not break down in front of the moms but did tell her that the movie helped me when I struggled to come to terms.

You are absolutely right about the broader forces.

I highlighted "Do we forgive our fathers in our age or in theirs?" because it in an important question that cannot be avoided.

I remember standing with my dad in the late 80s and having a petty white official just tell him racist sh*t to his face.

He was racist and demeaned my father insinuating he was sly (all Indians are to whiteness).

I watched that proud and humble man absorb the racist fire even while waiting for him to rise up and set it all straight.

How could he? Apartheid was bigger than any one person, let alone a father who had come to see a white man to get papers to prove that he was my father.

In the apartheid days many of us in mixed marriages were registered as illegitimate.

That visit to official whitedom was to get a near illiterate fuck to recognize our belonging together.

My dad swallowed his pride and I fought back anger and tears - when we left I had an abridged birth certificate that said he was my biological father.

The white man did not win. My dad did - I did - even though it hardly appeared to me to be so at the time.

Life is hard at the best of times.

Harder when wars are fought on the bodies of black and brown and poor.

But like you say, we must work and work to confront for that better day.

Peace my brother.

Kweli said...

That right there was picking the big fight over a small one. That ain't easy when you're young. I'm still learning that.

It's these broader forces I've been trying to make sense of, particularly in how they almost drove our fathers crazy (at least mine).

I'm hearing a lot of commonalities in sons and daughters raised by fathers and mothers in this "post" colonial era, especially those parents who had kids after "independence" and the clusterfuck that followed. The facade. I've been trying to write it and relate to it. As Pac said, "It ain't easy."

Dade said...

Ridwan, I think every man who had a father in his life can relate to this post. Bravo!

Haven't heard much from Sherman Alexie lately. I wonder what he's doing nowadays?

Tony said...

What is left?
Peace, calm and life.
New beginnings, new understandings, new appreciation and the sometimes the hope that we too can leave a positive impression on a life as they had left on ours. Sometimes its the hope the we can leave an impression by learning a lesson in what NOT to do.
Who am I kidding?....I'm not really that deep. Maybe I'm a little deep??

Ridwan said...

Hey there brother Dade.

You are right, Sherman Alexie has been out of the public eye.

Don't really know what he has been up to but I remember Eugene and I talking about some controversial things he had to say that angered a few folks. But that was like five or more years back.

I like that despite the context and symbolism of this movie for Native life, it has universal themes about the struggle to come to terms.

The blending of the two is why it is so powerful.

I trust you are well my brother.

Great to hear from you - I was stumped yesterday to come up with a scenario that may speak against our entry into an inevitable abyss.

Your post made me think - but I am stuck to offer an alternative(s).

Peace to you.


Ridwan said...

My brother Tony you are one of the best fathers I know - and you are from our f*cked up generation too!

Makes me think your pops did a fantastic job and when I next see him at Pick & Pay I am gonna tell him so :0)

I remember hanging with you and Josh in Joburg and later in Kimberley and just being amazed at your patience and style of parenting.

A father's job is an important one and men need to relate.

I see too many men all bottled up and blocking off communication and then it is too late.

Resentment builds and it takes a lifetime to unravel and to come to terms.

Often, it is too late because life claims its inevitable victims.

You should write a book offering brothers from the apartheid years a lesson on how to open up and relate to their kids (especially boys).

I'm serious boet - write that damn book and get on a plane and visit with your dad already :0)

Each time I see him I need to remind him who I am - geez he probably remembers me as a fat small kid and now I am a fat old kid :0)

My moms said she would probably run into your folks this weekend at the party (get together) for Mrs Reed's birthday in Barkly Road.

Just a little news from home boet. Hope you not getting too many speeding tickets in Melbourne.

Thanks for writing Tony.

Peace to you,

b.gupta said...

why to forgive fathers ---what our fathers given quarrels ,killings , hastes , because they wanted their childrens should be good and better .so they fought to others and but they didnot think for others childrens . on the spoils of others our pleaseurs .

Ridwan said...

Thank you kindly for your comment B. Gupta.