In the film “A River Runs Through It,” directed by Robert Redford, brothers Norman and Paul Maclean grow up under their father John Maclean, a Presbyterian minister and fly fisherman.
This film models themes in the journey of authentic manhood and gives us images specifically for the theme of the father’s blessing. For those of you who have not seen the movie or read Maclean’s story, this article has spoilers. For those who have seen the film, we looked last time at the father’s blessing over Paul in “The Journey of Authentic Manhood: Paul is Blessed.”
To review, the father’s blessing is made up from things deeply connected to his own life experience. Mike Haddorff, director of Christ in the Rockies, says that the blessing is something in the heart of the father, something that wants to come out. Haddorff also says that due to a lack of modeling, fear, or natural encumbrances, the potential life-giving power of a father’s a blessing may remain unexpressed in a direct way. However, since the blessing wants to come out, it may sometimes be expressed indirectly over the course of the father’s life. This seems to be the case with the reverend Maclean’s blessing over his son Norman.
Norman has a specific calling and a specific blessing from his father. Although it is not directly expressed, Norman experiences a blessing from his father as he begins to step into his calling. Norman’s journey is different than Paul’s and Norman’s relationship to his father, compared to Paul’s, reflects this difference. When Norman returns from college, his father calls Norman into his study.
The reverend drills Norman about whether or not he feels called to teaching, and Norman is visibly uncomfortable with his father’s challenging questions. One day, Norman receives an acceptance letter for a teaching position at the University of Chicago. Norman reads the letter and walks inside. He almost passes his father’s study, but then hears the reverend reading a poem by William Wordsworth. Norman peers into the study and picks up the poem, reciting the lines from memory. His father then recites the next lines from memory until both father and son are speaking the same words with depth and clarity, as if the words were their own.
It is in this moment that we see Norman expressing his calling and his father acknowledging and resonating deeply with this. Like Paul, this is a continuation of the father’s calling, which has now become Norman’s calling, a calling with a life all its own. Here, as it was with Paul, the reverend recognizes Norman as already having this calling. In this recognition by his father, Norman is blessed.
Later, with the whole family at the breakfast table and before a morning of fishing, Norman announces that he is going to take the teaching position at the University of Chicago. His father smiles and seems awestruck at the news. “I am pleased,” he says. Paul also smiles. “Damnation,” he says, “a real professor. I’m proud of you.” Norman’s mother giggles and they all, including Norman, eat their breakfast unable to hold back their joy.
Here, the father affirms Norman’s calling and blesses him by telling him that he is pleased. It is the affirmation of a calling that has existed long before this moment. But it is also the expression of a blessing that has existed long before this moment. The father’s words express the blessing he has held for his son since before this moment. When he speaks them, it affirms Norman’s calling and affirms the father’s blessing over Norman in that journey and calling. Norman will walk this journey for the rest of his life. It has become his own journey of authentic manhood, a journey and calling that carries the power of the father’s blessing