I recently taught a poem entitled “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden to my eleventh grade English class. The poem is about the relationship between fathers and sons, how a son finally understands how much his father did for him as he raised him from boy to man. He remembers how hard his father worked to maintain his household and “no one ever thanked him.” He acknowledges that he was unaware of his father’s love for him, which was expressed in taking care of the daily needs of his family: “ What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?”
These lines resonate in many films that show the complex relationship between fathers and sons, many of which reveal the son not appreciating his father until the father has passed away.
3:10 to Yuma is the story of Dan Evans, a poor rancher and veteran of the Civil War, who is struggling to keep his land in the face of people who want to take it away from him and sell it to the railroad at exorbitant profit. When two men set his barn on fire, he resolves to make things right; but his son, William, has little hope that his father can do this. When Dan tells his son that he will understand when he walks in his shoes, his son bitterly responds, “I ain’t never walking in your shoes.” He sees his father as weak and incapable of fixing anything. He does not see inner courage, only outer trembling.
Dan is pained by his son’s low estimation of him and will do anything to be a hero in his eyes, even escort Ben Wade, a notorious bank robber and murderer, to federal court in Yuma where he will probably be hanged. For a payment of $200 from the railroad company, a huge sum in those days, he puts his life on the line to save his farm and to redeem himself and his family. He wants his son to know that he was the one who brought Ben Wade to Yuma for trial when nobody else would, a feat that would impress and draw the admiration of his son. Against near impossible odds, he gets Ben Wade to the train to Yuma but with tragic consequences.
The Bible tells us that the commandment of honoring parents is rewarded with long life. A parent of a student I teach recently complained to me about his teenage son who almost never speaks to him. My friend said: “I wish he was an adult already. Then we could talk to one another normally.” He also told me that even though he often told his son that he loved him, his son never told him “I love you, Dad.” He had no doubt that his son loved him but he wanted his son to have long life; it weighed on his mind that his son didn’t seem to understand how meaningful it would be if he would be more forthcoming with expressions of parental appreciation and affection. To the father, expressing love verbally was a way to honor parents and for his son to receive the reward of long life. He was perplexed that his son was not taking advantage of this spiritual opportunity. Moreover, my friend was fearful that he would no longer be living in this world when his son finally wanted to verbally express his love.
3:10 to Yuma has a lot to say about father-son relationships. It reminds us of how much a father wants to be a good role model for his son, and how satisfying it can be to a parent when children express appreciation and love. A parent-child dynamic may be rooted in love, but the roots have to be watered for that love to flourish.