’The Pursuit of Happyness’
Last night, I saw The Pursuit of Happyness. To some, the movie may be nothing more than a visual of Emerson's Self-Reliance. But those viewers would be missing the great significance of God's grace to the protagonist through Glide Memorial United Methodist Church. According to a review by Steve Beard, "Without Glide," said the real-life Chris Gardner, of whom the film is about, "there is no Chris Gardner."
But more than rags-to-riches, as Beard notes, Happyness is about the power of parenthood -- specifically in this story, fatherhood:
The intimacy and dependency of father and son is utterly captivating on screen. It is expressed poignantly in one scene during a church service at Glide. In the sway and potency of a gospel song, Gardner cathartically holds his son tightly as if to say, “Together, we are going to make it.”
In another scene, Gardner is forced to wash his son in a sink. In real life, they had been living on the street for more than a year. (There was a point when even prostitutes were giving him $5 bills because they admired his steadfastness with his child.) Things were just starting to turn around for them, but the situation had taken a toll on Gardner.
“I didn’t know whether I was going to quit, crack, or cry,” he recalled. “And I’m washing this baby—this two-year-old kid—and he picks up on this. And he says to me, ‘Papa, you know what? You’re a good papa.’ At two years old. That was all I needed to keep going forward.”
During that scene and others, you could hear sniffling (doubtless, from parents) throughout the theater. And I don't think it was due solely to colds. At least, it wasn't for me. Even mothers can relate to the tenacity of Gardner as a parent -- that strong desire and desperation to do everything and anything to provide the best possible life for your child. (It made me wonder, some 20 years later, where Gardner's son is today and how this film affects him.)
But I agree with Beard. This film is not about a stockbroker -- and how his work led to a multi-million dollar deal this year, according to closing credits. It's about a father who did everything, made every sacrifice, to provide for his son -- and how it was that, fatherhood, and not his job, that defined him.
Roberto Rivera recently addressed this fact in a Boundless column about what makes a man:
Stated differently, it's primarily within the context of our families that men learn what it means to be a man. The popular archetypes that are invoked today — warrior, mammoth hunter, man of leisure, etc. — have, throughout recorded history, only represented a small fraction of men, even before the rise of Christianity. In some important respects, the story of civilization is the story of how, to borrow a phrase you may be familiar with, men's hearts were turned toward home and how character traits such as courage, strength, and bearing up under adversity were put to the service of their families and neighbors.
When I speak of "alienation," I don't mean that the traditional way of understanding what it means to be a man is no longer available to males — it is — but, instead, that it is no longer the default. If anything, home life is seen as an impediment to that understanding which leaves men few options besides embracing alternatives which are often little more than caricatures or quoting Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" at work.
Since the relationship between manhood and home is no longer the default, men have to be intentional about, well, cultivating the link. It's hard, especially because our materialistic monoculture pulls us away from home, not towards it, but it's one kind of cultivation that won't leave you looking ludicrous.
And home is not a place, as we see in Gardner's story as played in Pursuit of Happyness. Home is defined by relationships, and those relationships and how we interact in them are what defines us -- not the check we bring home or the business card in our wallet.