The drive home from college lasted about fifteen hours. My dad and I talked a lot during these quarterly trips; but by the end, our topics were the equivalent of a “Coast to Coast with Art Bell” radio hour. For example, the efficacy of Time Travel.
Now in my mind it’s an appropriate conversation between fathers and sons. There’s even a niche in cinema for it: Back to the Future, Frequency, Field of Dreams. But nearly all of these movies are about a son who yearns to regain some lost moment with their dad. Richard Curtis’s About Time is also of the genre but asks: What happens to the father when the son becomes a father?
In About Time, Tim, like all the males in his family, has the ability to travel backward in time. And the first hour of movie devotes itself, comedically and touchingly, to this “talent.” But as he holds his first child, the movie shifts gears. Tim realizes, “Nothing can prepare you for that love.” It also brings a conundrum in the movie’s Time Travel logic: if he is to travel back in time to before the child was born, it will yield a completely different child. And so find himself unable to prevent a misstep of someone whom he loves.
Luke Ripley is the father in Andre Dubus’s “A Father’s Story.” He, too, finds himself unprepared for how deep the love of a father truly runs. When his daughter hits and kills a man with her car, he rewrites the incident and sets himself up to take the fall. Such an act compromises his faith and, in Ripley’s mind, “does not give [me] the peace I once [had]: not with God, nor the earth, nor anyone on it.” But he is steadfast and cries out to God, “I love her more than I love truth.”
Ever since becoming a father I’ve wrestled with the role. Is it like Luke Ripley, am I willing to “love in weakness”? Like it was for Tim, does fatherhood mean I will inevitably be kept at a distance from other relationships? When my son was a year old, I wrote that he had so filled my life that it seemed to overflow into the past. The truth is I couldn’t and still can’t imagine him not ever being in my life.
SPOILER: In the movie’s final act, Tim’s father has died and the prospect of Tim having another child means having to fully sever the relationship with his own father. Tim and his father make the choice only fathers can make. Nothing can prepare you for that kind of love. The kind of love that’s as simple as Tim and his father throwing rocks in the ocean.
Or discussing Time Travel.