From time to time, whenever I reflect on the milestone moments in my life, I think how special it would have been if my parents had been alive to share them with me. My decision to become a Jewish day school principal, a career that occupied the bulk of my professional life, was made after they died; and I never was able to share with them the peak moments of that experience. Moreover, they did not see all of their grandchildren. They never attended their weddings, nor were they able to bond with grandchildren as I am blessed to do now.
I thought of this as I watched Frequency, a crime thriller with a resonating subtext of a father-son relationship that spans the years. The plot is not easy to summarize. It deals with a supernatural phenomenon that allows a dead firefighter father to communicate with his son 30 years after the father has died in a tragic fire trying to rescue someone. They speak via short-wave radio and their communication creates the possibility of changing their family history.
The film opens with beautiful scenes of a family reveling in their close connections. We see a loving husband, an adoring son, and friendly neighbors. We see a father teaching a son how to ride a bicycle, which is the quintessential metaphor for a parent giving a child the ability to be independent. The love between them is evident. Against this background, father and son open up a conversation many years later after the father is dead. It is improbable, but once father and son accept the veracity of this seemingly impossible dialogue between two different time periods, they are overwhelmed with the opportunity to catch up with one another. The father asks the son what his job is, does he have a wife, does he have children; and then the conversation moves to the arena of sports, a topic which intensely bonded parent and child. The son reveals to the father how an injury prevented him from becoming a major league baseball player, that he is now a policeman and not a fireman like his father.
What touches the viewer is the palpable love between father and son. They have tears in their eyes as they sign off from one another with heartfelt “I love you”s. Father tells son “You have the voice of an angel.” Son tells father: “You have to be more careful because I don’t want to lose you again.” They are living in alternate realities but love spans the generations.
When something of note happened in my life, I always wanted to share it with my parents. I knew it meant something to them if I achieved something in life; and their acknowledgement of my accomplishment meant a great deal to me. I knew they loved me unconditionally and were there for me whether I would succeed or fail; but I wanted very much to share my successes with them. Parents are invested in the well being of their children. A parent, by Jewish law, has an obligation to help his child navigate life. A parent wants to be a parent and guide his children; and when there is love and openness, this guidance can occur.
Frequency reminds us that this parent-child relationship is at the core of family life, and it is to be treasured. When there is dialogue, there is love and there is hope.