I have a buddy whose father made some serious mistakes over the last 20 some odd years. It cost him his family, his house, and his marriage. The life that he was supposed to be reaping the harvest of, was thrown away, day by day, with his decisions. Every time the issue comes up, my friend wants to know if he will turn out like his dad. “How do I know that I wont end up just like him?”
I resemble my father in a lot of ways. By the time he was my age, he had an 8-year-old and 5-year-old. I cant possibly hold against him the mistakes that he made, and all men make, at an age that I am still learning at. But every man I know asks the question: Am I my father? To pay for my rodeo/ranching habit, I assist an 8th grade language arts class. We read a book recently called Ship Breaker which is set in a dystopian future in the Gulf South. The main character, Nailer, is a ship breaker. A dangerous occupation reserved for youth, as it involves crawling through the bowls and ductwork of tankers, tearing out the valuable cooper wire for their sponsors. It is hard, dangerous, and deadly work in order to eek out an existence. Their homes are thatched huts and broken down shanties on the beach where drugs and mob rule the day. At the head of the drugs, both in addict form and transporter, is Nailer’s father, Richard Lopez. He was a crazy, drug addicted, ruthless man. He was deadly quick, a capable fighter, with his next score on his mind. He beat Nailer incessantly growing up, especially when drunk or high. At every turn, whether its the finding of an upper-class, privileged swank ship and its live owner, a choice to fight against insurmountable odds or run to safety, or how he responds in a life or death situation, Nailer is faced with the concern of whether he is becoming Richard Lopez. When the swank girl (a rich girl) is taken captive by pirates, Nailer is faced with a dilemma: to run away with a genetically enhanced man who can protect him, or to risk his life for her? The half-man, when he learns Nailer is not going with him, tells him to fight like his father (something he had already seen once as Nailer had killed a person who was keeping him and the girl hostage). But he reminds Nailer before he leaves:
“When the fighting comes, don’t deny your slaughter nature. You are no more Richard Lopez than I am an obedient hound. Blood is not destiny, no matter what others may believe.”
Nailer, would rescue the girl, but not without a knife fight with his father. Nailer ends up crushing his father between the gears of a ship. Later when recounting the story he says this:
“Tool (the half-man) said I was just like my dad when I pigstuck Blue Eyes–Maybe I am, right? I dont feel a thing. Not a damn thing. I was glad when I did it. And now I dont feel anything at all. I’m empty. Just empty…You said my dad didn’t feel anything when he hurt people.”
The people who Nailer talks to…his family, not in blood but in intimacy and care, desperately remind him that he is not his father. His father’s choices, were just that, his choices. He is not him. Its not the main conflict of the book, but it is certainly central to the plot: “Is Nailer the same bloodthirsty, selfish, man that his father is? By blood is he destined for that? Ephesians 6.1-3 says:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise–“that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
“Honor” [gk. timao] can mean many things…money, supplies, respect, and recognition. Im sure I owe my dad a few dinners, shells, tickets, and definately some gas money. Im sure I need to give him more recognition, but the thing that most intrigues me is respect. This greek word also means “special purposes” ore something that is “set aside” for a reason. My father was put here on this earth to teach me, to lead me, and to speak into my life. THe respect due to him, is that I learn from him, to emmulate the good things, and learn from the mistakes. I am not my father…I hope to be better. Better because of what he taught me, showed me, and lived in front of me. I have met great fathers and, with some of the clientele I work with, not so great ones. But every father I have discussed with has said one thing: “I hope my kids are better than I am? more successful, faithful, or happier…” No I ain’t my father, nor am I destined to be him…but I do respect him.