One Man's Redemption
I want to tell you about Jim Anderson, a really together guy. Nice home, married with three kids, regular office job that he went to and came home from every weekday.
Jim was the hero of that classic TV sitcom from the 1950s, Father Knows Best. Robert Young played him. You may remember the show if you're old enough, or perhaps you've seen it in reruns. Jim Anderson was the quintessential head-of-house-hold suburbanite, benevolent monarch ruling over his one-wife-three-kids-two-cars-immaculate-lawn kingdom. A caring patriarch, up to any crisis, always able to calm the troubled family waters with a smile and a bit of sage advice.
Jim Anderson was a person you could point to and say: "There is a man who feels ok about himself and his world, a man who has found the good life. A man who knows that happiness exists and has carved out a piece of it for himself." You'd be right, too. Jim was a happy man. You'd have to look a long time for anyone more content.
But the story as told on TV is missing a big piece. You never learn anything about Jim's past, where he came from. It's as if he and his regulation-issue middle class family had sprung full-blown from the brow of some mellowed-out god.
Not true, my friends. Jim Anderson came to know good by grappling with evil. He learned peace by confronting terror.
In his youth, Jim ran off to sea, fleeing from a stern and overbearing father, a rigid authoritarian man who beat his children with religion as with a club.
Jim Anderson became a sailor.
At night he would lie in his bunk as the ship was buffeted by a raging storm that battered against the deck above. Shivering in terror, he would sleep fitfully, and there were nightmares -- fever visions of frail sailing vessels beset by hideous monsters of the deep who crushed the hulls with their enormous tentacles, rending limbs from bodies as the sailors, screaming in final agony, were torn apart between the beasts' maniacal jaws.
In his waking hours, Jim was as a zombie, numbed by the residual terror of his fever dreams, going through the motions of his assigned tasks, shunning all human contact, all intimacy, all risk of pain.
Only much later, long after he had abandoned the sea and begun a new life on land, did Jim realize that the monsters of his nightmares were the fantasies of a man who has not yet broken free of the chains of childhood, a man still living in the shadow of a stern and brutish parent. One day, as if struck by a bolt of lightening out of the blue, a great flash of insight came to Jim: He saw that evil is mostly a mundane day-to-day affair, always human, generally lifesize and manageable. It will overcome you only if you let it, only if you play along with its game.
Thus did Jim Anderson learn to tame his monsters and deal with life's everyday evils by brushing them off or staring them down. When he thought of his father -- and this was the hardest part -- he was able at last to see in human terms the punishments his parent had delivered as a misguided form of love but love nonetheless. He was not chained by his father's memory any more.
Was this forgiveness? I think so, but do not think of it as weakness, as giving in. For this was a victory for Jim, and an emancipation. He had struggled with his father's ghost and won.
His terror having blown itself out, Jim saw, for the first time, what he needed for his happiness, for completion. He met Margaret. They fell in love and married. He got a steady office job that he liked and proceeded to father Princess, Bud, and Kitten. Jim Anderson was a happy, satisfied man at last.
Once in a while -- and they didn't show this on TV either -- Jim would go out on the patio at night after the children were in bed, look up at the stars, and listen to their song:
“We are all mortal, but pieces of the same flesh, godlike, for we can love, and know what is good.”
Filled at one with both exultation and surrender, Jim Anderson would return to the house and the arms of his wife.