There’s a kid who grew up in the shadows of a wonderful and important father figure who did great things in the world. The father grooms his son (or daughter) with pride so that he someday might be able to take his father’s place and carry on the family legacy that he worked so hard to build. The only problem? The son has other dreams for his life and certainly other skill sets and ways of doing things. This is hard for both generations. It’s disappointing for the parent, and for the son—he is caught between the desire to please his parent and a longing to follow his own heart/calling/dreams (whatever you want to call that thing inside of him he can’t deny). The child is caught between a rock and a hard place.
Sound familiar? It’s not just the basic story line of Rock Dog, but of countless other movies that have been produced in the last decade or so (Moana, How to Train your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda…just to name a few animated ones). I suspect the recurrence of this theme is indicative of the struggle this generation of filmmakers has faced in their own lives. Is it generation x that’s creating these stories?! Makes sense, I think, as they came behind “the greatest generation”—that’s a lot to live up to.
It is hard to overcome your childhood—it just is. A bad childhood haunts you and marks you and is something to get over and get past. A good one, however, can be challenging in other ways. It can be hard to break away. It can be hard to distinguish yourself. You can feel pressured to follow in someone’s footsteps and guilty for not wanting to…especially when those footsteps are good and noble. In some ways, it’s easier to make a break from something when you know it’s bad. (I know, that has its own struggle and baggage, so who is to say which is harder, but hear what I’m trying to say—it may be hard to break away from something bad, but at least you know you should.) When your father is your hero, when he’s done amazing things in the world, when you know his way of doing things is good and true and right, how do you walk away from that? Because walking away feels like you’re saying something negative about it. It feels (probably to both of you) that you’re saying you have a better way, or that you don’t agree or don’t honor or like his way of doing things. In truth, however, you aren’t saying that at all. You’re really only saying you feel that you are wired differently.
Maybe, too, you are also saying that you feel you can’t live up to the pressure of being who he is, so you need to go in a new direction where you won’t be compared to him, where you won’t feel that you have failed simply because you haven’t been as successful as he is. If two people are both running the 50 yard dash, you’ll have a winner and a loser. When a child breaks away from home and goes his own way, sometimes all he is saying is, “You run the 50, dad and I’m going to run the mile.” It’s not that he doesn’t want to run, it’s just that he feels that he is better suited to a different kind of race. The added bonus of which is that there is no comparison between the two of you. You can both be great runners without there being a winner and a loser.
In Rock Dog, you see this all play out. Bodi loved his dad, but wanted to be a musician instead of a guard dog. That breaking away was fraught with tension and nearly destroyed the whole village. In the end, however, Bodi did help his dad guard the village from the wolves. He had his father’s heart that loved the village and wanted to protect, but he had a very different way to do it. His music became a means of defense and protection. Father and son fought together with their own gifts and styles and defeated the enemy—each finally respecting the gifts and talents the other possessed.
One of the things I wonder, however, as I watch these movies is, how does a Christian in Bodi’s shoes do this in a way that honors God? How can a son or daughter respectfully break from their parents? How can they honor their parents while following a different course than the one their parents have dreamed for them? I’m not sure that I’ve seen it done very well in most of the movies. I don’t have the answers to this, but I know that respect and honor have to be a part of the process. I know that a child needs to recognize that they have the parents GOD gave to them, and needs to honor and respect them as such. I also know that God can move the hearts of people, so that if a child is willing to submit to his/her parents, they can trust that God will move their parent’s hearts in the right time and place. I think of Joseph who saw that God used his brother’s hate and desire to kill him to actually work good and to save lives (see Genesis 50:20). God is not limited by our parents. When we submit to them, we are submitting to God.
I’m not saying a child can never stand his ground and say “That’s not what I want to do with my life.” I am saying that there is a right way to do this and a wrong way. I’m saying that if you are willing to submit to your parents, God can work in either their hearts, or yours as He sees fit. (All of this is assuming, of course, that they aren’t asking you to violate God’s law in any way.)
That’s all fine and well for the child in the story, but what about for the parent? They have some responsibility too. Bodi’s dad, Khampa, wanted to blame Bodi for all the conflict, but the reality was, he was as much a part of the problem or more. First off, he was trying to make his son into his own image—that’s very much like idolatry. In a way, he was saying his way was the right and best way (in other words, he was god) and his son should be made into his image (an idol). The goal of a parent is not to create little people in your name and in your image. The goal of a parent is to create followers of Jesus, people in the name and image of Christ, not you. If Khampa had been more concerned with helping Bodi become who GOD created him to be (vs. who he wanted him to be), things would have gone much more smoothly. The problem here wasn’t Bodi’s pride, it was his father’s. His pride in his accomplishments, his name, his legacy, his way of doing things…and his son. Bodi’s choice to do things differently was a prick into the hot air balloon of his Khampa’s pride.
Khampa, through the help of a wise friend, realized his error and set his son free to follow his dreams, but he did it begrudgingly. He said he was free to go, but if he wasn’t successful he had to come back and be a guard dog and give up music forever. This is not the right way to set your kid free. The reality is when we are learning to walk, we stumble and fall and then we get up and try again. Not everyone succeeds in life on the first try. In fact, we learn a lot from our failures. How much better if Khapma had said something along the lines of, “I’m here for you, son. I believe in you. I want you to become who God created you to be and I’m going to help you get there. I’m proud of you for even trying and if it doesn’t work out right away, learn from your mistakes and try again. All I ask is that you be obedient to God and follow His plan for your life.”
Bodi, fortunately, didn’t carry the fear of shame with him. He was extremely optimistic (oh that we could all have that naïve optimism!) and found his sweet spot with his music and when he did, great things happened. Not only was he blessed, but he became a blessing to others, AND the wolves (his enemy) were defeated. This is how it is in our lives when we find our sweet spot, when we find the thing we were created to do and do it for God’s glory. When that happens, life changes. We are blessed. We are a blessing to others. And our enemy is defeated. Not to mention, it was a joy to his father to see Bodi operating in his giftings. Yes, it was disappointing at first when Bodi didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, but when he found his sweet spot, it brought great pride and joy to Khampa—the right kind of pride. He was proud that his son became who God created him to be (not his mini-me).
So… let me recap a few thoughts on this whole thing.
- First off, the recurrence of the themes in this movie indicates to me that this is something that has been very near to the heart of a whole generation of people in our time.
- When we are in Bodi’s shoes, trying to break away from our parents’ ideas about our future, there is a right and a wrong way to do it. To do it rightly we need to:
- Show respect, honor and humility to our parents as the authorities God gave to us to parent us.
- Trust that God can and will and does work through our parents—even when we don’t see things eye to eye. Pray and wait for Him to bring us into alignment.
- Parents need to be careful not to make an idol of their children and/or to make them into their own image.
- The job of a parent is to help their children follow Jesus and become who HE made them to be.
- This process of a child finding his independence can destroy a village (literally or metaphorically) if it isn’t done well…and part of that is on the parent.
- When you set your child free, don’t just wash your hands of them. Instead, do it lovingly and supportively so your child moves forward from a place of love not a need to perform for your approval.
- When you find your sweet spot, you aren’t the only one who is blessed—all those around you are blessed as well.
- When you find your sweet spot, it’s actually a weapon against the enemy.
- Sometimes it takes a trusted friend and/or an outsider to help us see things clearly—both our children and ourselves.
- It takes a village. When our parents can’t see who God made us to be, He often sends someone else to be that parental voice that encourages us in our journey (as Fleet did for Bodi). We can be upset that it’s not our parents, or we can be grateful that God sent the encouragement we needed, one way or another.