The Power of Myth

My daughter, Raven, chose to move in with me when she was 14. I left her, her mother, and her siblings when Raven was five years old. I kept in touch and did my best to support them as and when I could but still … I wasn’t there for Raven many, many times when she needed me simply because I wasn’t there. And yet, Raven chose to leave her mother and the rest of her family to come live with me. Why she chose to do that is her story to tell, so I won’t go into it here. What I will talk about is how she makes me feel, as a father.

One thing that I have been able to share with Raven is my love of movies. Movies tell stories that expose the truth of things but do so by telling them only partially or in a way that isn’t entirely factual. Even the best “based on a true story” movies cut things out or elide certain facts that would get in the way of the story the filmmaker is trying to tell. Like the movie, Big Fish, yes, the father’s stories are lies, but they are told artfully so that you want to listen to them and therefore learn the underlying truth, the moral of the story.

In our family, Raven and I, we have several stories about ourselves and our family that we, in our heart of hearts, acknowledge aren’t completely true. They are stories that, like movies, become true in the telling. They are stories that expose the underlying magic of the world and inspire us to live up to it. And that is the power of myth. The power to inspire us because we know myths aren’t real but we wish they were and we think if we wish hard enough and try hard enough, we can make them real.

A couple years ago, something happened in the world that was devastating and scary for many people. Raven was out with her friends and texted me, “Dad, make it stop.” It was one of my proudest moments as a father because it felt to me like, even if it was only a story, part of her believed that I was powerful enough to actually stop this calamity. Believed the way so very many of us did when we were very little and our parents were these all-powerful, benevolent beings that were put here on this Earth with the sole purpose to protect and care just for us. She was in her early 20s at the time, and the thought brought me to tears because I felt like this was the last time that she would probably see me in that way. As we all become adults, we come to the realization that our parents are human, with human frailties and failings. I know that she has begun that process and perhaps even has completed it by now.

But earlier tonight as she and I were talking, she told a story of how she describes to people she knows how important a certain friend of hers is to her. She says that if the two of them and several innocents were trapped in a burning building, that she would get her friend out and then stay outside to make certain they were safe, because she can’t bear the thought of losing them. I jokingly asked what would she do if both her friend and I were trapped in the burning building with her. With very little hesitation, she said that she would save her friend because she knows that I can save myself, that if she tried to save me she would probably just get in the way. “Or,” she said, “most likely you would smash out a window, we would all jump out and we’d play ‘Hop On Pop’ on the way down.”

Perhaps there still is a part of her that needs to believe that her Dad, even now, is the invincible, omnipotent, and benevolent protector. Knowing that I am human, with all of the flaws that brings with it, I’m not sure that I deserve that honor. But maybe … just maybe … if I wish hard enough and try hard enough … I can?


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