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The relationship between a parent and a child is both unique and universal. Not everyone will have children, but everyone has parents. Even if you’ve never met your parents or they died before you knew them, their absence is still a presence in your life. It’s inescapable.
I heard someone once say in a documentary about Star Wars, that at some point in his life every man’s father comes across like Darth Vader to him. Maybe it’s because they’re someone you don’t want to become or just someone who’s on the wrong side in your view. It’s hyperbolic for sure, but there’s truth in it. Our parents can seem this way — tyrannical and oppressive. Sometimes they bring about order, structure, rules and have this innate authority by virtue of their role. Sometimes our parents are reckless and careless and we have to be adults before our time. Maybe our parents are truly corrosive influences on us, ones that we need to escape from. Maybe they have shoes that we feel unable to fill or the weight of their expectations stunts us. Or maybe, and perhaps most confusingly of all, they’re normal people. They are, for desperate want of another word — average, and you think “good fucking God almighty, don’t let me turn out like them!”
This notion manifests in endlessly entangled ways. But whatever the flavour of the dynamic, it is something that we all have to come to terms with eventually.
By the end of the trilogy, Darth Vader is revealed to be the most shocking thing of all — human. Irredeemably and beautifully so. He’s flawed and broken. He is both the most imposing villain and most heartbreaking victim of the story. Finally, his son understands him. More than that, he accepts and forgives him.
Many of us experience these moments where our parents suddenly seem more like individuals than occupants of a particular role in our lives. It can be startling. Sometimes our parents aren’t even there when we first feel this, since the realisation comes when we see their flaws show up in ourselves. It’s an “ok, now I get it” feeling.
Ok, now I get it.