Recently, I finally watched the film Boyhood. This film was released in July 2014. One unique thing about this movie is that it was filmed with the same actors over a 12 year period. The script evolved over time with input from the actors.
I found that watching the movie made me think about parenting from a different angle. Hence, this post.
The Basic Story of Boyhood
Boyhood is just the simple story of a family over a 12 year period. The parents in the family, Mason Sr (played by Ethan Hawke) and Olivia (played by Patricia Arquette), divorced at some point before we are introduced to their story. The children are Samantha and Mason, and they live with their mom. At the beginning of the movie, dad is not in the picture. The film follows both children, but mostly focuses on the younger child, Mason. We follow Mason from 2002 through 2014, when Mason graduates from high school and goes to college.
Boyhood could be the story of anyone of anyone’s children. What inspired thought in me was watching the relationship of the kids with their parents, especially their dad.
What got me thinking was watching how dad (Mason Sr) managed his relationship with his children. This includes how dad interacted with mom (Olivia) and mom’s family (mostly Olivia’s mother). Dad did not force his relationships with his children. He was firm, but he accepted that it was not just his relationship to own and craft in his way. Dad recognized that his relationship with his children belonged to them all. In short, dad followed the Taoist idea of being flexible:
The mark of a moderate man is freedom from his own ideas. Tolerant like the sky, all-pervading like sunlight, firm like a mountain, supple like a tree in the wind, he has no destination in view and makes use of anything life happens to bring his way. Nothing is Impossible for him.
Dad and the Kids
Near the beginning of the film, we meet dad for the first time when he picks up the children–the first time they have seen each other in over a year. The year is 2004 and Mason is around 8 years old. Dad picks up the kids from grandma’s house (mom’s mother). Dad takes control, he is firm like a mountain and he insists that he will drop the kids off at mom’s house. Dad is polite, nice, and respectful. And firm.
Of course, this scene could have played out differently. Dad could have given in (“Okay, I’ll bring them back here”), grandma could have insisted (“you’re not taking the kids unless you bring them back here”) or the kids could have intervened (“dad, just do what grandma says”). I like the way it was written.
When dad drops the kids back off at mom’s house, he isn’t quite sure how to interact with mom. And, it doesn’t go very well. Dad is resigned to not calling the shots and hands mom an envelope with child support. Apparently other commentators brought up the issue of child support and I found a reference where Ethan Hawke said the envelope was child support.
My “Most Inspiring Scene”
When the movie was over I found myself reflecting on one particular scene that might, the next day and the next several days. In this particular scene, Mason (now 11-12 years old) is camping with his dad. Mason drops the bombshell that his mom might be moving, which of course will make things more difficult for Mason’s relationship with his dad. Dad rolls with it. Here’s what he says to his son:
“Well, if you gotta move, you gotta move, you know? It’s no big deal. We can handle that. I’ll still come get you every other weekend. I mean, unless she moves 500 miles away or something, it’ll just be a little more car time. No big deal.”
To me, this clip showed dad’s firmness and his flexibility. Dad was firm that the relationship was important, but flexible in how their relationship actually moved forward. Dad trusted that everything would work out. As I quoted from the Tao Te Ching above, he had “no destination in view.”
For me personally, this hit home as I reflected on Mason Sr’s actions. Mason Sr could have done any number of things out of fear. He might have immediately gotten mad when he heard of the possible move. He might have grilled his son for details. He might have told his son that he would not allow this to happen, that he would go to court. He might have done any number of things that would have been detrimental to his relationship with his son. Instead, dad trusted and acted with flexibility. Dad’s strategy paid off almost immediately–Mason shared his annoyance with moving. This connection could not have happened had dad reacted with his fears. Basically, dad’s accepting and calm response “allowed” Mason to have his own thoughts and feeling and to express these feelings.
In my own life, I have acted too many times out of fear. In particular, I have been fearful and protective of my relationship with my older daughter. Instead of flexibility and trust, I have done things to grasp at control, to grasp at this relationship and fight against what I perceived as threatening. In nearly every instance I can think of, my decisions and actions that stemmed from fear have led to negative outcomes. Watching Mason Sr in the film Boyhood helped me reflect on what could have been. More importantly, watching Mason Sr in Boyhood has helped me reflect on what can be in the future, provided I can act without fear. I want to trust in my relationships. I want to be “firm like a mountain, supple like a tree.”
There are many, many more scenes from Boyhood that I found inspiring, touching and thoughtful. Here are a few that I particularly liked. Sorry, I didn’t include video clips of these, but you’re going to want to see the film.
- When Mason graduates from high school, mom hosts a graduation party. Dad attends with his second wife. Family photos are taken and dad thanks mom for the work she did parenting the two children.
- Before Mason goes to college, Mason talks to his dad about his recent breakup with his girlfriend. Mason is interested in dad’s opinion and dad is very supportive of Mason, his choices and his life.
- There are scenes that focus on the children’s step-parents. I found most of these as insightful and thoughtful. Mom had difficulty finding a partner and these step-fathers had a difficult time connecting with the two children. I particularly liked the scene when Mason came home late and has a confrontation with the step-dad, Jim.
“But its only a movie!”
I can already hear myself saying this. At least I can hear my fearful self saying this: “It’s only a movie, real life can’t work out like that!” Maybe this is true, but this statement is missing the whole point. Like any good film, this movie inspired thought and reflection in me and have helped me want to be a better person, a better father.
If you haven’t already seen this movie, see it. If you’ve seen it already, maybe you want to see it again. I am sure there will be something in this film that will grab you like the film grabbed me.