When I moved to Israel four years ago, I lost a treasured possession: a silver wine goblet that was presented to my dad when he was president of the local synagogue for a number of years. To preserve the memory of that gift and of my father reciting the blessing over wine on the Sabbath, I decided to buy a replacement cup similar in appearance to the original cup and inscribe it as it was when it was originally presented to my father, and so I did. My father was not an educated man, but he was a wise man to whom I owe a great deal. He was present in my life at critical times, always supporting me and being there offering counsel. Keeping his memory alive both comforts and inspires me.
Fatherhood is at the core of the generational drama The Place Beyond the Pines. The first father we meet is Luke Glanton, a well-known motorcycle stuntman who regularly performs at state fairs. He is an absentee father who discovers he has had child with an ex-girlfriend. This revelation evokes a powerful desire within Luke to be a father, to take care of his son and to provide for his physical needs.
Because Luke’s father has been absent from his life, he is clueless about what parenting really means, translating it mainly into getting more things for his son. To accomplish this, he needs more money. He first obtains a job at an auto repair shop to supplement his income, but Luke wants more than this job can offer. When Robin, the auto repair shop owner, reveals that he was a former bank robber and asks Luke to join him in robbing a few banks, Luke readily agrees.
The second father we meet is Avery Cross, a policeman and father of a son as well. Raised in an affluent home, his own father is a role model of wisdom and material success. Avery intellectually understands the challenge of parenting, but his own personal drive for fame and fortune cause him to be an absentee father.
The lives of Luke and Avery intersect as do the lives of their sons, Jason and AJ, in painful, dangerous ways. There is a Talmudic notion that the acts of the fathers are a signpost for the children, implying that sons often retrace incidents from their parents’ lives in their own lives. They face the same challenges, but do not necessarily make the same choices when confronted with similar circumstances. The fact that AJ comes from an affluent background and Jason comes from a poor family does not insure or predict success as an adult.
As we watch the relationship between the two sons unfold, we are compelled to meditate on the qualities that make a good parent. The Torah and Talmud clearly define our parental responsibilities towards children. We have to teach them Torah, which implies giving them moral guidance. We have to teach them how to swim, and by this our Sages mean we have to teach them how to navigate life in the face of all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that will befall them. Furthermore, we have to teach them an honest profession, or give them the means to learn one. Finally, we have to help them find a spouse. Implicit in these parental duties is the presupposition that we are involved in our children’s lives at watershed moments in their lives.
The Place Beyond the Pines reminds us that parenting does not begin simply with bringing home the baby from the hospital nor does it end with sending our child off to school. In the final analysis, parenting requires presence, not presents.