As much as I would like to say I remember that day like the back of my palm, time has soured it into little more than a blur. I was in the spare room, more than likely waist-deep in yet another six-hour Fallout 4 binge; my mother walked in and closed the door behind her. I hadn’t considered the severity of that action, nor had I noticed her tears until she sat down. She asked me to pause the game, to which I obeyed – that’s when I saw the tears. She then broke the news: my aunt had called minutes before, telling her that my father had passed away.
After that, I couldn’t tell you what happened, much less manage to do so in a chronological manner. There was an airplane with its radar set on Texas, a frustrating three-hour layover, reunions galore and many, many tears – very few of which were shed by me. My father was absent for the majority of my life; while he would’ve loved to be a part of every milestone he missed, mutual marital issues and a nasty back injury forced him back to his home state. When I was much younger, we kept in touch through telephone calls, greeting cards and birthday presents (my love for gaming sprouted from the first gift he ever sent me – a PlayStation 2). Everyone I’d met had so many great stories to tell me about my father, many of which I still remember and treasure to this day. I just wish I knew the man everyone else had been telling me about.
This December will make three years since his passing. In his absence, I’ve turned to a myriad of entertainment outlets in search of surrogate fathers, examples of what I felt I had been robbed of. The music industry yielded the likes of Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Justin Vernon; while not yet fathers themselves, they’ve shown me the importance of emotional transparency, especially in how it relates to one’s masculine security (spoiler alert – honesty certainly helps). Yet, even as the aforementioned men have taught me so much, my experiences with the silver screen have yielded a greater, more universal shipment of lessons. One needn’t look further back than 2016 to unearth celluloid’s brightest father figures; modern cinema becomes more progressive with each passing tick of the Tissot, and the likes of Moonlight, Coco and Call Me By Your Name have gone a long way in materializing the all-encompassing blueprint to masculinity as the world currently requires – or perhaps, more accurately put, what the world has needed all along.
Juan and Relational Acceptance
“What’s a faggot?” asks Chiron; his dejected gaze implies recent abuse. That hideous word never fails to slice through the air and sear the ears. It’s a question that renders all involved motionless, horrified of the exposition behind it, and the possible repercussions of an inadequate reply. Barry Jenkins understands the power that conversational simplicity wields, and it’s in Moonlight’s iconic dinner table scene that he flexes his screenwriting prowess through the words of Juan. Immaculately actualized by Mahershala Ali, his advice supplies the youngster with the first sliver of acceptance and honesty he’s ever received; until that point, no adult had respected Little enough to do so. That sentiment lies at the crux of Juan’s effectiveness as a surrogate father and role model for Chiron, explaining that regardless of what he chooses to do in life and who he chooses to love, he should do so confidently and unapologetically.
Mr. Perlman and Embracing Pain
Heartbreak can be a bitch. While mothers are generally perceived as the resident givers of emotional counsel, Call Me By Your Name subverts this notion by allowing Mr. Perlman the opportunity to console his aching son. With perhaps one of the finest monologues ever put to screen, Perlman (played beautifully by the criminally underutilized Michael Stuhlbarg) encourages the importance of reveling in pain, and allowing yourself the room to grow from it. Love is a finicky phenomenon – it jellies the legs, distorts the mind, and converts the surroundings to an indelible crimson. Yet inevitably, the crimson fades, jolting the senses back to the grim reality of life before you met that special person; only now, you’re forced to cope with their absence, an undertaking we’re often un-equipped to manage. If only we all had a father like Mr. Perlman to confide in, perhaps it’d all be a little easier to process.
Hector and Transcending Death
Coco’s ethereal fruitions of death as a concept, and the lengths Pixar extends themselves to honor our descendants certainly prove to be unparalleled tissue fodder (I cried on eleven separate occasions when I first saw it in theaters), but beyond that, its central father in Hector serves as perhaps cinema’s finest paternal offering. On the brink of being forgotten by his daughter and undergoing the narrative’s redoubtable “Final Death,” Hector embarks on quite the Odyssean journey, with the ultimate prize of reuniting with Coco serving as the metaphysical MacGuffin. However, it’s not until the film’s waning minutes that Miguel carries out this desire on his behalf; in a scene of which is considered among the upper echelon of Pixar’s most potent tear-jerkers, Miguel and Mama Coco complete a rendition of Remember Me, the film’s Oscar-nabbing bop-turned-ballad. Before Miguel strums his guitar, Mama Coco appears lifeless, wholly accepting of her time to cross over. Yet, her father’s prose jolts her back to life, each word undoubtedly bringing an abundance of warm memories along with it. Through unwavering devotion (and a talent for songwriting), a father’s love can transcend even death, reigniting our sense of purpose when reminded of their affection.
In his time on Earth and in the years since his departure, I certainly haven’t been kind to the memory of my father. He definitely had his flaws, and I was far too young to address them in healthy ways, often resorting to rejecting his pleas for connection altogether – only in hindsight have I seen the error of my ways. When I cross over, I hope we get the chance to catch up.