The Private Intellectual
Ecclesiastes-Based Real Estate Advice


Saturday, August 22, 2009  

Wasted on the Young
Suburban Diarist

As my work schedule changes and intensifies, I'm spending a day or two less with Soren each week. This is harder than I expected it to be. His development fascinates me. One day he suddenly masters the temper tantrum--pounding his hands and literally banging his head against a corkboard after we bring him in from playing outside. I was so impressed at the thoroughness of his rage that I laughed out loud, which is probably not a good parental response. Later he decides he wants socks on his hands. He has taken a shine to a bracelet of his mother's, which he swoops down and lances with his besocked hand. His palette of vocal sounds is expanding; he recently put "idea" together, to his parents' delight (and constant egging-on).

We've been going a lot to the local pool, where he has a love-hate relationship with the water. The last time we were there, the kiddie pool was crowded and he didn't care to go in, so I followed him around as he moved to the edge of the pool area and squatted down, watching the kids. For a brief moment, I was taken back to my own gunshy childhood, which was spent oftener than not on the margins of a group in puzzled observation. I don't wish that on Soren, but it passes. At least it did for me.

So with the pool losing its luster, we've tried other diversions. Having cruelly deprived our child of broadcast television (more out of laziness than conviction, since we just didn't get a converter for our analog set), we finally got some VeggieTales DVDs. The only problem with VeggieTales is that, if you're a clergy couple, it will be more interesting to you than to your fifteen-month-old. Soren enjoyed the music and the visuals, but soon he was off to push the footstool around while his mother and I were waiting to see how they handled the killing of Egypt's firstborn (spoiler: pretty well, actually).

Their retelling of the story of Joseph and his brothers nearly brought me to tears. It was of course something I learned in Sunday school and from Andrew Lloyd Webber, but I only really read a couple of years ago. Since youth is credulous and emotionally unformed, a story about jealousy, near-fratricide, and reconciliation just won't mean as much in Sunday school. But Joseph's weeping, Judah's offer to stay in Benjamin's place, and the thought of Jacob's gray hairs going down to Sheol are just impossibly moving. Why, I wonder, do we foist these stories on kids and then take our adult knowledge of them for granted?

After Soren was in bed, we watched, over a few nights, The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. My wife had never seen them before, whereas I'd been watching them every few years since I was in middle school. Back then, they were very confusing movies that were organized around prominent acts of violence. Now, I see that the violence is usually anti-climactic. The real action is in the relationships, which ultimately drive the violence. I found myself wishing that I could see these films again for the first time--that I could watch not knowing that Michael would join the family business, that Kay would try to take the kids, that Michael would kill Fredo. It really is a family story, which I see in a new way through my own experience of fierce paternal love and protectiveness. This is also what gives the first film its patina of sentimentality, in which some have seen a sympathetic depiction of the Mafia. It might be fairer to say that the film idealizes family. This is not true of the second film, which is cold and dark and baroque and which, though a greater film than the first, is a more harrowing experience to watch because the family bond breaks down so completely.

It's not especially surprising that a Bible story and a Mafia drama should reverberate so audibly with each other. Last week's Old Testament lectionary lesson for Sunday introduces Solomon and then goes on to describe his prayer for wisdom, delicately excising the middle verses in which he has his brother murdered. Women, men, fathers, sons, sisters, brothers--maybe Keith Richards is right, and there is only one song, composed by Adam and Eve, the rest being variations on a theme. After the eye-catching visuals and operatic violence lose their youthful impact, that theme opens itself up to us.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 9:16 AM
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