As a parent, I sometimes wonder if I did my best in rearing my kids. Is there anything I should have done that I did not do? Thank G-d, I do feel I did my best, but parenting is not a cookie cutter activity and in hindsight I think of things that I might have done differently. The reality is that I was a different parent for each one of my children. I was growing older and some of my children had a different version of my younger self. I had more experience by the time I was parenting my younger children, but I may have had less quality time with them because my professional demands were increasing. More things were going on in my life and that may have affected my parenting style.
Parenting is the subtext of Warrior, a gritty and violent story about a mixed martial arts competition which culminates in a fight between two brothers, Tommy and Brendan, whose father was not there for them in their formative years. Both brothers are angry young men, but one has learned how to forgive and one has not.
Tommy Riordan, an ex-Marine, visits his father, Paddy Conlon, a recovering alcoholic who now has made religion a part of his life. Still angry at his father for his abusive behavior towards his mother many years ago, he has no interest in reconciliation. However, it turns out that he needs his father to train him for a mixed martial arts tournament named Sparta, which has a prize purse of $5,000,000. Tommy wants to win so he can give the money to the family of his Marine buddy who died in a friendly fire incident in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Brendan Conlon, Tommy’s older brother, is having challenges of his own. A high school physics teacher and former martial arts fighter, he can’t make ends meet after refinancing his home mortgage to pay for the open-heart surgery of his daughter. Faced with the possible loss of his home, he decides to re-enter his former profession as a mixed martial arts fighter to increase his income. When his friend, Frank, a fighting coach, loses his primary fighter for the Sparta competition, Brendan asks Frank to use him as a replacement.
When Brendan arrives at the tournament, he sees that Tommy is entered as well. As this grueling contest of skill and strength progresses, Tommy and Brendan win their respective matches bringing them to an inevitable showdown against one another. Their shared animosity for their father is the glue that binds them together, but Brendon’s forgiving nature allows him to move beyond feeling intense anger for his father. Tommy, however, is a loner with no wife and family and he stews with hatred.
In the early part of my professional career, I served as a synagogue rabbi. Part of my job was to perform funerals, and I was often witness to scenes of family reconciliation at times of emotional stress. The mortality of a parent, the aging of a parent, or the serious illness of a parent made the family more sensitive to one another, more willing to let old irritants and old arguments fall by the wayside in order to be at peace with parent and siblings. When a parent is on the verge of leaving this world, family bonds reassert themselves.
Jewish history reminds us not to let the sins or shortcomings of the past determine our future. After the sin of the Golden Calf, the close relationship between God and the Jewish people, comparable to the relationship between parent and child, was torn asunder. But the holiday of Yom Kipper teaches us that the break does not have to be permanent. There is a time for healing no matter what the mistake. Warrior reminds us that families sometimes fracture, but family ties don’t break. In moments of despair and anger, exercising both courage and humility can re-establish love and connection.