My son, John (Jack) Joseph Williams III, was born on October 10, 2014. If you visit my social media page or run into me, it’s clear how much I love Jack. And most times, you’ll find me quickly veering away from my usual favorite topics of discussion (politics, film, TV, sports, and books) and talk as much as possible about Jack and being Jack’s father.
I’ve been hesitant to blog about my newfound fatherhood, though, for a variety of reasons. 1) I have no wisdom to offer or insight to provide. If anything, fatherhood simply humbles you and makes you more in awe of God the Father and his love for us. Like marriage, you begin to grasp slightly more yet still only a sliver of the all-encompassing love, grace, and sacrifice of God the Father and Christ the Son. 2) No matter what I say, it won’t be as hilarious as Seth’s “10 Things You Need to Know About Babies that Doctors Will Not Tell You.” 3) Fatherhood is the best thing that’s ever happened to me… but I don’t want to be THAT guy.
Yet here I am, a little over three months into parenting, and I’m blogging about fatherhood. What brought me to this point? Well, like most things with me, it all started with George Bailey.
I meant to write a Christmas post this year reflecting on an often-overlooked scene from It’s a Wonderful Life, but never got around to it. Towards the beginning of the film, George Bailey sits down for dinner with his father, the man he’s always looked up to and admired even while having ambitions to do things his father never did. Tired from tussling with Mr. Potter, Peter Bailey asks George what he wants to do after college, hoping he’d come back to Bedford Falls and run the Bailey Building & Loan. George talks about his dreams and wanting to do big things that are important and change the world. His father insists that, in their own little way, the Building & Loan is doing important things, helping people in need of a break get a home for their family, providing a fundamental need. George lives in the tension of his ambitious dreams and his respect and admiration for his father. Peter wants a better life for his son, but wants him to see past his own ambitions to the simple and vitally important parts of life. After graduating from college, the scene has brought tears to my eyes every time I watch it because I can relate to George – admiring and wanting to emulate my dad’s sacrificial and selfless service to others as far away from the spotlight as possible while being ambitious and dreaming big myself. As I watched the scene this Christmas, it took on a new life of its own, imagining for the first time what it would be like to sit in Peter Bailey’s shoes instead of George’s.
Another film brought tears to my eyes in a powerful way a month after Jack was born.
After seeing Interstellar in IMAX the week it premiered, I wrote a rave review of the film discussing why its epic scope paired with its simple story made it Christopher Nolan’s most powerful film to date. I still think Interstellar will eventually be known as one of the most iconic films of 2014, even if the present awards season is proving to be not very warm towards it.
In that review, I quoted at length from a profile of Christopher Nolan in The Guardian. The majority of that quote included an anecdote about the origins of Interstellar‘s story and the role Hans Zimmer played in confirming to Nolan what the movie’s heart was all about.
Nolan’s life is largely a mystery compared to the other top directors in Hollywood. But, occasionally, he provides insight into his methods, worldview, and vision, such as a recent profile in The Guardian:
“What I’ve found is, people who let my films wash over them – who don’t treat it like a crossword puzzle, or like there is a test afterwards – they get the most out of the film,” he said. “I have done various things in my career, including, with Memento, telling a very simple story in an incredibly complex way. Inception is a very complicated story told in a very complicated way. Interstellar is very upfront about being simple as a story.”The composer Hans Zimmer was at work on his score for Man of Steel when Nolan approached him. “Chris said to me, in his casual way. ‘So, Hans, if I wrote one page of something, didn’t tell you what it was about, just give you one page, would you give me one day of work?’” Zimmer recalled. “‘Whatever you came up with on that one day would be fine.’ I said, ‘Of course, I’d love to.’ One day, an envelope arrived, almost handed to me by Chris. It was on quite thick paper, typewritten, which told me there was no carbon copy. This was truly the original.”
On the paper was a short story, no more than a precis, about a father who leaves his child to do an important job. It contained two lines of dialogue – “I’ll come back” “When?” – and quoted something Zimmer had said a year before, during a long conversation with Nolan and his wife at the Wolesley restaurant in London. It was snowing, central London had ground to a halt, and the three of them were more or less stranded. “There was no movie to be made, there was no movie to discuss, we were talking about our children,” said Zimmer, who has a 15-year-old son. “I said, ‘once your children are born, you can never look at yourself through your eyes any more, you always look at yourself through their eyes.”
He worked on the score for a day and then let Emma Thomas know he was done.
“I said, ‘Do you want me to send it over?’ She goes, ‘Oh, he’s curiously antsy, do you mind if he comes down?’ He got into the car and drove to my studio in Santa Monica and sat down on my couch. I made the usual excuses a composer makes when they play something to somebody for the first time. I played to him, not looking at him, I just stared straight ahead at my copy of the screen and then I turned around and he’s sitting there. I can tell he was moved by it. He said, ‘I suppose I’d better make the movie, now.’ I asked him, ‘Well, yes, but what is the movie?’ And he started describing this huge, epic tale of space and science and humanity, on this epic scale. I’m going, ‘Chris, hang on, I’ve just written this highly personal thing, you know?’ He goes, ‘Yes, but I now know where the heart of the movie is’.
Seth recently sent me a short YouTube video telling this same story, providing some additional details.
Whenever people ask me about fatherhood, the only thing I’ve been able to tell them with certainty is how much it has changed my perspective, providing within me a great desire to focus on things of eternal significance instead of ephemeral things that consume our thoughts and lives for a short time before disappearing forever into the next big thing that will only last for a fleeting moment. Like Zimmer’s idea and Nolan’s vision in Interstellar, I’ve found that Jack forces me to think about life outside of myself, outside of my generation, and beyond the world as it exists today. Humbled for the first time to the truth that my generation will not and cannot solve all of the world’s problems, I’m driven to train up my son to be able to tackle these issues better than I have. But like the organ player that worked with Nolan and Zimmer, one’s impact cannot be measured and must not be measured by how many people know your name.
Like Zimmer’s sentiment, I see myself increasingly more through Jack’s eyes. And I’m curious as to what he’ll say about what he sees once he can walk and talk. But like the protagonist in Interstellar, I want to do what God has placed me on this Earth to do to ensure that my son’s generation inherits something of worth and significance.
The end of football season this year brings a new sadness. Since October 10th, there is nothing that has brought me greater joy than sitting in the rocking chair, holding Jack, and watching football. As I’ve sat there, I’ve thought more seriously about what it means to lead my family as it’s growing. The future becomes both more real and less certain at the same time. But I’m confident that I will do whatever it takes for my family and whatever it takes to ensure I pass on to Jack the important lessons of life.
Over the past 48 hours, I’ve been reminded of what some of these fundamental lessons are. Watching To Kill a Mockingbird on Sunday night after Jack fell asleep, two lines of dialogue struck a special nerve within me.
Atticus Finch: “There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.”
Miss Maudie Atkinson to Jem: “I don’t know if it will help saying this to you… some men in this world are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us… your father is one of them.”
Then, yesterday while celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes of his among the many that I love.
“What I’m saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.'”
–Martin Luther King, Jr., “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.”
As I begin to see myself through my son’s eyes, I hope I see beyond my weaknesses and flaws that my son will inevitably see, my tendencies to people please or stress. I hope he sees someone who values every human life and every kind of work, appreciating the dignity in everyone that comes from the imago dei. I hope Jack grows up wanting to glorify God in everything he does, realizing that the unpleasant jobs that are unpopular or not respected can sometimes be the most important jobs of all.
Most of the people in this world who actually change people’s lives never find their names in the newspaper or in the history books. Our own ambitions can blind us to the people and works God has put right in front us. I hope and pray I live a life that shows my son this truth.