If you’re a mechanic and someone’s car is towed to your shop, and you get it to run, you’ve done your job.
If you’re a carpenter and you make a cabinet that is pleasing to the eye and holds what it’s supposed to hold, you’ve done your job.
A salesman meets his quota, a general wins his war, a runner wins his race. Clear goals…clear accomplishments.
But how does a father know he’s done his job right? I hope I’m exaggerating, but I think most fathers aren’t sure what their job is, let alone if they’ve done it well.
A Place Beyond the Pines is a film about a couple of fathers that seem to fail miserably. Kind of like a lot of other fathers. And yet somehow, perhaps, things come out right.
Ryan Gosling plays a motorcycle riding carnie, Luke, who returns to a town to find he fathered a child the last time his stopped. He quits the carnival so he can be with his son, but soon realizes his has no real skills to support him. At least not legally.
Bradley Cooper plays a police officer, Avery, whose pursuit of Luke will result in a case that can lead to either professional glory or disgrace, but his pursuit of his profession is time consuming and leads to neglect of his son. Still, he puts everything into his job, perhaps for his son’s sake and perhaps to please his own father.
Writer/director Derek Cianfrance weaves together the story of fathers and sons over a number of years and shows how a father’s best intentions can at time have the worst of results. And yet somehow love and grace work their way into the tragic stories of patriarchs.
Looking through Scripture, it’s hard to find shining examples of fatherhood. Isaac set up a bitter rivalry between his sons that led to Esau’s deadly pursuit of Jacob. Noah got drunk and passed out naked in the company of his sons. Sure, Abraham was obeying God, but did Isaac ever forget his father holding a knife over his bound body?
Fathers want to provide for their children without spoiling them. They want to do things for their children and yet teach self-sufficiency. They want to set high standards for their children and yet not discourage them. And somehow, the balance never seems quite right.
One of the most terrifying psychological truths a man can consider is that most people’s initial image of God comes from the image they have of their fathers.
But Jesus at least gave fathers the benefit of the doubt for good intentions. In Luke 11: 11 & 12 (NIV), He said, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?”
Sure, that’s setting the bar pretty low. But Jesus assumes that fathers want to do what is best for their children. But if fathers can provide one other thing, it can make up for many flaws. If they can provide the Bread of Life along with the bread for sandwiches, it will make up for many mistakes. If they can introduce their children to their Heavenly Father, it can make up for many earthly mistakes.
So this Father’s Day, if you can, let your dad know that you know his job is impossible. But that’s okay. Because we share a Father whose specialty is the impossible.
(A Place Beyond the Pines is rated R for language, violence and substance abuse.)