I was thinking about something the other day as my girlfriend and I were watching Season 3 of Mr. Robot, specifically the flashback scene where Elliot’s dad took him to the movies. Having kids is the hardest thing a person can do, emotionally speaking. When you love someone that much, you give them more power over you than anyone has ever had before. With just the simplest statements, sometimes relayed with innocent intent behind them, children can completely destroy a person. I admire those that take that risk and try to create a fully-functional adult as best they can; it’s a very selfless action. Personally, I don’t know how I could handle it if my son or daughter rejected me.
As another example of what I’m talking about, take my favorite scene in Gone with the Wind. (I’m shocked it isn’t on YouTube or something already.) It’s the first of only three times in the whole movie we ever see Rhett actually vulnerable and hurt. It’s worth noting the other two times also involve Bonnie and Scarlet’s miscarriage–in other words, his kids. Throughout the story, which dates back several years, Rhett is able to brush off Scarlet’s rejections and barbs with a smirk and some witty retort. He’s secure enough in his abilities to walk away from a direct insult, like when Charles Hamilton degraded him in front of a crowd at the beginning of the film. And yet, when Bonnie makes an innocent remark about preferring to go home and be with her mother, Rhett is absolutely devastated. In this way, a physically helpless little girl is able to injure a hardened criminal and war veteran where no one else in the entire world could. It’s a really powerful moment when you consider it that way, and it brings me close to tears whenever I see it.
Just so this post isn’t too depressing though, I think it’s important to point out that most dysfunctional parent-child relationships can be healed with time and understanding from both sides. I mean, it’s usually rare that a parent should pass away just after hearing their kid tell them they can never be forgiven. 😛
This moment from Mad Men is one of my favorite understated scenes from any show, and maybe the most profound statement of true love possible. At this point in the series, Sally has seen her dad at his worst, had her idealized vision of him destroyed, realized he’s a liar who cheats on her mother and all women. Despite it all though, she’s learned to make peace with his flaws and see the good in him anyway. For his part, Don can’t believe it, and doubts whether he’s even worthy of that love. This is the first time someone has ever said that to him knowing what he really is, warts and all. So he just sits there and takes in the revelation that maybe he doesn’t need to be Don Draper the rich sexy playboy adman in order to win the respect of other people.
That’s what true love is all about, romantic, platonic or familial it’s all about appreciating the good in someone even if they sometimes let you down. Forgiveness is a necessary life skill because at the end of the day, everyone in your life will, without fail, let you down at some point, in some capacity. That, and it’s important to realize that in order to love others in a healthy way, you also need to love yourself first. And that means knowing you don’t need to put on an act or conform to societal expectations of “coolness” and success. Just be real. It’s okay to be honest about your shortcomings and show a little vulnerability where appropriate because vulnerability often makes relationships more intimate and meaningful.
While I’m on the subject, Sally Draper is one of my fave fictional characters and Kiernan Shipka played her flawlessly. Watching Season 4, I think it’s interesting how the Sally story kinda turns the typical parental phobia on its head. Every parent thinks they have to micromanage their kids behavior and that if the kids show any deviance from the parents’ expectations of “normal”/”acceptable” behavior then they’re doing something wrong. But really, Sally was just a normal kid and it’s Betty who needed therapy. Children just need room to explore themselves and their world. Missteps on that adventure are normal and healthy, it’s how kids work out who they are and how to navigate choices or mistakes. Generally speaking, the “bad” things they do are just normal exploring of their bodies and the world around them, usually no worse than their parents did themselves. In the example of Sally, she ended up well on the road to being a more well-rounded and mature person than either of her parents.