As I look at my children from time to time, I wonder if I did my best as a parent. How much of who they are today is a result of my parenting? It is a tough question to answer and I am not sure whether the answer has any practical ramifications since both my kids and I are much older now and they are independent people. There is no do-over at this stage of life.
This thought entered my mind as I watched In the Name of the Father, a gripping narrative of Gerry Conlon, a petty criminal who was wrongfully accused of the Guildford pub bombing in England in 1974, a terrorist action of the IRA against England. Gerry is sent to prison for a long time together with members of this family, including his father, Guiseppe.
As the story unfolds, the relationship of father and son that emerges as a key to understanding Gerry. His father is a devout Catholic, a hard-working man of faith with a gentle nature. He wants much for his kids and tries his best to mentor them and be there for them when they are in trouble. Conversations between Gerry and him reveal deep-seated misunderstandings that have spanned many years, but dire straits bring them close together. When they are both in prison together, they share memories, memories which disturb them and illuminate their present relationship. In these candid interchanges, looking one another in the eye, their souls finally merge in love for one another.
There is a Jewish tradition to bless our kids on Friday nights, which implicitly reminds parents to gaze into our children’s eyes and remind them of our abiding love. To parent effectively requires us to stop, look into their faces, utter a blessing, hug them, and plant a kiss on their cheek. By showing affection and limiting our criticism of them, kids will better appreciate our love and concern for them. Guiseppe and Gerry finally share that epiphany.
In the Name of the Father teaches another practical life lesson. One of my mentors once told me “you never have a second chance to make a first impression.” Therefore, always strive to make a good first impression because that is what people remember most. It is a wise piece of advice that has proved valuable many times in the course of my career both professionally or personally.
I was reminded of this sage advice as I observed Gerry Conlon, a man sent to prison because the first impression he made on people was as a foul-mouthed, irresponsible young man who lived only for the moment. Jewish tradition notes the importance of first impressions. In Genesis, we see that Joseph was very aware that when Pharoah summoned him for a meeting, the outcome was unclear. Would Joseph remain a prisoner for the rest of his life or would he be a well-respected figure in the history of Egypt and the Jews? Everything would be determined in the first few seconds of their interview. Rashi, the great medieval Bible commentator, notes that Joseph shaved and dressed to prepare himself for the meeting with the monarch. He knew that not only did he need to give good advice but also he had to look like a capable administrator. Therefore, he made sure that his first impression was a good one.
In the Name of the Father conveys two life lessons. Firstly, parenting is a journey that never ends. We need to balance our criticism with expressions of love even when our children become adults. Secondly, the film reminds us how critical are first impressions, how important it is that people see us as persons of worth, not as people without direction or focus.