By Tim Barlow
My dad’s birthday was this week; it snuck up on me. I still need to send a card and a gift. He actually has really good taste in music, and by that, I mean that we like a lot of the same music, so he’s much easier to shop for than my mom. But they always sneak up on me: my Dad’s birthday, Mom’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, I don’t even know my parents Anniversary, like not the day, the month, or what year they’re on; ugh, I suck. It’s not that we’re not close, I mean, yes, I do not live close to home anymore, but we still talk pretty regularly. Mostly it’s with my Mom, though occasionally my Dad says a few words here and there, but we talk.
Kind of a busy week; in addition to it being my Dad’s birthday, I also learned a new word. It came up in something I was reading, and I had to look it up: Solipsism. Its definition felt close to me, I knew this idea it conveyed. I had used the word Myopic before or Selfish, but those weren’t right, at least not as right as Solipsistic – mine wasn’t a narrow view or focusing too much on myself, it was only me. Solipsism is like a little kid, my brain has only developed enough to see others as characters within my life’s narrative.
Watching Home for the Holidays, I was at first dismissive to most of the characters because there wasn’t that immediate connection; none were exactly like me, or like I wanted to see myself, and so I didnt immediately relate, Claudia was acting like a doormat, and Tommy was pretty over the top and needy, and Steve Guttenberg was acting like a weiner, and hang on, what relation does Dylan McDermott’s character have here, again? He’s acting a little familiar for just meeting everyone for the first time. But then as the movie went on, it did something that all good stories do, it brought me into another’s mindset. It moved me first away from being solipsistic, and then from egocentric, and then selfish, on a path that would ultimately lead to compassion and empathy. By the end, as we see one sister leveling coldly, but honestly with another, providing some (real world) context to their relationship’s dynamic, as Tommy calls his husband and asks how his (real) family is doing, as a father alludes to the toll that choosing his family has taken on all the other possible paths his life and career could have taken, I began to feel that connection.
As a kid, your understanding of your parents is that they are there to be your parents. They don’t have dreams or wishes or desires beyond you. They don’t have anniversaries or birthdays, because, wait, why isn’t it my birthday!? And sometimes moving beyond that is tough, and relating to your parents as fellow adults doesn’t feel possible. You’ll always be the kid, the one who needs to be raised, the one whose behaviors are questionable, the one who makes mistakes – everyone can’t be a parent, can they?
I get, or at least I think I get why Craig likes this movie, and a lot of the “dysfunctional” family movies on our list. Because what these movies often reveal is laying wait, behind this readily apparent brokenness, there’s a close bond, a deeper connection, an acknowledgment that figuring out that all families are damaged, is the easy part. These movies try to highlight the honesty and effort and time that goes into moving beyond a broad dysfunction and into a relationship where there is real dialogue, where there is acknowledgment of the other’s story, where everyone isn’t just trying to get through the conversation, or the holiday, or the vacation. What’s great about these movies is the way that everyone (eventually) accepts the fact that all of the individual pieces in their family are broken, but further, how that understanding actually helps it all fit together all the better.