Being a father has been and is one of the greatest gifts that I have been granted. Being called Abba/Dad/Father is more important and more gratifying than any other title I could possess. The appellation connects me with the cosmos, making me a messenger of past generations and a messenger of the future through my children.
Fatherhood is not simple. It presents challenges. As I have gotten older, I realize that I have been a different father for each of my kids. Proverbs tells us that we should raise a child according to his uniqueness, and I have tried to be nuanced in using my parenting tool box. It is not a cookie cutter activity, reflecting the reality that just as I have evolved as a human being throughout the years, my children also have evolved from childhood to adulthood, and they are still works in progress.
Jewish tradition tells me that I am my child’s primary teacher, although I can delegate that responsibility to teachers and schools. But the buck stops with me. Which is why parenting can be both joyous and stressful. Having acquired a plethora of life experiences, I want to share them with my children and save them from making mistakes. The reality is, however, that kids often want to test the waters themselves. When a parent wants to be prescriptive, kids may see that as meddlesome, implicitly suggesting that the child cannot make the right call on his own.
This complex father-son relationship is depicted in Silver Linings Playbook, a profanity-laced but genuine look at a family dynamic under stress. The films opens as Pat Solitano, who has bipolar disorder, is released from a mental health facility into the care of his parents. His wife, Nikki , has gone to the courts to have a restraining order placed on Pat because of his proclivity to violence. His father, Pat Sr., has lost his job and now wants to open a restaurant from his earnings as a bookmaker. In spite of this climate of negativity, Pat is determined to reconcile with his wife and find employment, always looking at things positively, looking for the silver lining beyond the present clouds.
It is clear that Pat is still not finished with his therapy; but the court, through a plea bargaining arrangement, has reduced the time that Pat is institutionalized. Refusing to take his meds, he is an accident waiting to happen, responding way out of proportion to life’s inevitable challenges. In one symptomatic scene, he wakes up his parents in the middle of the night asking if they know where his wedding video is. It is hilarious and sad at the same time.
Pat’s life begins to turn around when he meets Tiffany, a young widow who also has lost her job and shares a number of neuroses with Pat. It is a tumultuous relationship, but one that forces Pat to look at himself honestly and to begin to adjust to his new reality.
As his relationship with Tiffany deepens, his father does not understand the nature of their connection and how it is providing the necessary therapy for Pat’s recovery. His Dad only wants to spend time with his son to improve his rapport with him, but he does not know how to do it other than to watch football games together. In a powerful scene between father and son, Dad, with tears in eyes, wonders whether he did enough as a parent. Did he favor Pat’s brother? Did he give Pat enough love? Pat for once does not interrupt his father. He listens without comment, and then hugs him. It is an epiphany of love as they embrace and resolve to be closer in the days and weeks ahead.
Silver Linings Playbook is a serious meditation on human relationships. When these relationships are tested in the crucible of life experience, we sometimes realize that the best way to communicate is not through words, but through the language of the heart.