Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Beginners

“I’m gay.”

Not the words you expect to here from your 75-year-old father.

So is the case with Mike Mills’ film Beginners. The film is based on the real life experience of Mike’s father coming out to him after his mother passed away. Paul was 75-years-old and was finally going to live openly the life he had denied himself do to time-period and fear.

I can’t even imagine what it would be like to start living openly as a gay man at 75. It was scary enough to come out at 22 and I was surrounded by support. Mike’s father, Paul came out after 44 years of marriage. He started going to gay bars and clubs. He surrounded himself by gay friends. He become very active in the gay community. He even found a boyfriend.

Paul chose to marry Mike’s mother and she chose to be with Paul. There’s a line in the film where “Hal” says to his son “Oliver” that when she asked him to marry her he responded by saying, “You know what I am.” She responded in the affirmative. He said she thought she could change him. That wasn’t the exact wording of the line, but it was the gist. He chose to live the lie. He chose to marry Mike’s mother. He liked his life. He had a good job at the museum that he loved and a comfortable existence. He had a child. He also had trysts in bathrooms with men.

As portrayed in the film, Mike’s mother seemed to be less happy with the situation. She went into it knowing, but it seemed the years took their toll on her. She wanted more than his father could give. I guess that should have been expected, but when you think you can change someone your vision only becomes 20/20 in hindsight. People are who they are. Sexual orientation can’t be changed just because you want it to change. You can’t kiss it away, pray it away or sex it away.

Okay, here’s what I loved. This man was brave. So brave. He made a choice to finally be who he was. He stepped into that gay bar at 75 when I don’t even like to do it at 28, 33 or 40. He is a hero to me. He lived the remaining years of his life as open and honest and truly himself as possible. Wouldn’t it great if all of us just did that every day? Imagine how much happier we would be if we didn’t let society, our parents or what we think we’re supposed to do dictate our lives.

One of the most beautiful moments in the film for me was seeing Hal lying on the floor next to his boyfriend. They were fully clothed, lying on a blanket on the living room floor. Oliver walks into the living room and Hal smiles at him. It was then that Oliver realized his father was finally in love. I can only imagine how important that moment was to Mike. The character based on him smiles back at Hal while in voice over says it’s the first time he’d ever seen his father in love. The first time.

That moment is sad and beautiful at the same time. For 44 years of marriage he wasn’t in love, but finally at the end of his life he found the love of someone who truly made him happy. We waste time. Why do we do that? Why do we let ourselves be pressured into the roles that might not fit us?

The story of Beginners is told through many flashbacks. It is through those memories that Oliver is able to see things about his father. He learns that it took strength to not only remain closeted, but to burst out of it at a time when he could have just maintained his relationship with the coat hangers. Oliver begins to question his own actions and inability to maintain a relationship.

It is my opinion that Oliver was never closer to or more proud of his father than in those last five years of Hal’s life. He learned about his own patterns and made an informed decision to make changes in his own life. Changes that might not have happened had his father not been such an outstanding role model.

How does this apply to me? Well, I couldn’t help but wonder what I could learn from my own father. I also wondered what he’s learned from me over the past three years. As beneficial as some of our recent conversations have been I still don’t reach out to him enough. We’re still not close. We’re closer, but not close. Hal and Oliver weren’t close either, there are apologies made for that, but they loved each other. That is the case with me and dad. We do love each other.

There’s more to learn every day. There are new challenges every day. I don’t always want to learn and sometimes I don’t want to face the challenges. However, there is no limit to what one can accomplish when their mind is put to it. There is no reason to limit happiness (talking to myself here), there is no reason for fear (talking to myself here), there is every reason to live a pure, true, honest life.

Judging from the character based on his life, Paul lived his remaining 5 years more honestly than he could have ever lived the previous 75. Thank you Mike Mills for telling this beautiful story and thank you Paul Mills for showing us that we’re never too old to be ourselves.