Saturday, October 30, 2010

How to Train Your Dad

I just got finished watching the movie "How to Train Your Dragon" which is officially my favorite animated film (until another one comes along of course). You can watch the preview and some clips here.

There are all kinds of issues, themes and messages in this story of Vikings and Dragons but what stood out for me was the father-son dynamic between the primary protagonist Hiccup and his father Stoic the Vast. I think maybe Stoic reminded me of my own dad a bit who can be stoic at times and is a really big guy.

As a son who is now raising one, there's something about the whole father-son thing that touches something deep inside me whenever I encounter it in a movie. I had a similar reaction to the end of the excellent film "Smoke Signals". You can watch part of it here (warning: watch with tissues ready).

One of the things "How to Train Your Dragon" got me thinking about is that my son Douglass Ali is training me in his own way. Every smile, laugh, tear, or tantrum is his effort to teach me about who he is and who he needs me to be for him. Now that he is talking more, it's become even more overt. He tells me what he wants, what he likes, draws my attention to the things that matter most to him. These days he literally takes my hand and tells me where he wants me to go and what he wants me to do.

As a Baha'i Dad, I believe that raising my child is the most important task I will ever perform. It would seem that even as I seek to train Douglass Ali in the ways of being human, part of what will aid my success is recognizing parenting as a process of mutual learning. In order to teach I have to be willing to learn, including from my son.

Ironically, this is the true training process that takes place in "How to Train Your Dragon" where it is the dragon that teaches Hiccup and not the other way around. Perhaps the movie should have been called, "How to Train Your Human". Hiccup's ability to learn through listening is what makes him an effective dragon trainer. A particularly poignant moment in the movie is when Stoic is about to make a big mistake and Hiccup grabs his arm and yells, "For once in your life will you listen to me?" This shout and the moment it represents in their relationship is one that has probably echoed through father-son relationships since the beginning of time. It's something I hope my son never has to say to me. If he does, I pray to God that I'll stop and listen. It might just make a me a better dad.

"O dear one of 'Abdu'l-Bahá! Be the son of thy father and be the fruit of that tree. Be a son that hath been born of his soul and heart and not only of water and clay. A real son is such a one as hath branched from the spiritual part of man. I ask God that thou mayest be at all times confirmed and strengthened." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 140)