An Ode to Parents
This past Friday I watched a movie called Kodachrome.
It stars Jason Sudeikis, Ed Harris and Elizabeth Olsen. It is meant to be a eulogy to the glory days of color film, and centers around a family’s pilgrimage to develop Kodachrome films before the last processor in the world is shut down. It’s a story about death, about forgiveness and understanding, about acceptance and closure.
Sudeikis plays the son of Harris’ world-famous photographer, who after a lifetime of abuse, is now dying of cancer. They haven’t seen each other in over a decade and the reunion is a tense one, but throughout their journey from New York to Oklahoma, both father and son find the same metaphorical radio channel that enables them to properly communicate and understand each other.
Harris: […] we’re all such miserable assholes.
Sudeikis: So you know you’re a miserable asshole.
Harris: Do you think I’m an idiot?! Of course I know.
The movie stuck with me long after its ending credits rolled on the screen. I watched as Sudeikis’ character came to terms with who his father was and his persona outside the definition of a parent, and it brought to mind another similar story of inadvertent miscommunication between child and parent, namely the book "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." The combination of both stories made me think of the relationship between parents and children, and how terribly unforgiving children can be.
Growing up, I used to put my mom on a pedestal and passionately dislike my father.
My father was awkward in the early years, didn’t really have the patience to deal with a child and was quick to lose his temper. He was the authority figure whereas mom was the nurturing one. She could do no wrong in my eyes. She was my goddess and the world revolved around her. I remember asking mom to divorce dad because he was mean and angry, and prompt her to find me a new dad, and my mom would just smile indulgently at me. I cannot begin to comprehend what she must have thought of my pleadings, and I still don't know if she ever mentioned this to dad. I really hope she did not, because now, as a grown up in my early 30s, contemplating parenthood, I bitterly regret my words.
It was only in my early twenties that I had finally grown up sufficiently to be curious about my parents, about their stories and their personalities. I literally had to learn how to talk to them not as mom and dad, but as Carmen and Dan, with their own likes and dislikes, passions and frustrations, hopes and regrets.
I learned that mom is fiercely angry at the fact that Communism robbed her of a wonderful and easy youth. She watches movies shot in the 70s and 80s and sees what could have been, and what should have been in a normal country, and hot tears stream down her face when she considers the opportunities she might have had.
I learned that mom had three abortions that she did to herself because it was illegal under communist rule.
The third time, the authorities found out when she got to the hospital, hiding her abortion as a pregnancy loss. She had to present herself to the police station and was interrogated for hours on end to give up the name of the doctor that was helping her get rid of future comrades. I cannot begin to comprehend what she must have gone through. To me, going to the gynaecologist is uncomfortable enough – so imagine performing an abortion on yourself with a wire hanger and a hose.
I learned that dad is a romantic and a dreamer who likes to read angsty poetry and enjoys romantic movies.
His favorite movie is Love Story with Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neill. He always fantasized about Harvard and that American university student-life was his biggest regret. I will never forget the first time he and I stepped on the campus of my university – he was so close to weeping and his voice was shaking when he said, "I wish I were young again to be a student here, now."
The point I’m trying to make is that we like to think that our parents are invincible, that they should always be perfect and have all the answers. When they do make mistakes, as all humans are wont to do, we despise them for their imperfection. We blame them for things that go wrong in our lives and fault them for our bad choices.
We find it so easy to forget that our parents are humans are well, with faults and weaknesses, fears and regrets.
After Kodachrome finished, I texted both my parents to tell them I loved them.
I sometimes I find we don’t say it enough.