November 30, 2010

Smoke Signals and Forgiving Fathers

The film, Smoke Signals, is one of many suggested by you, the subscribers, men working with young guys, and by people in my conference and workshop audiences. You can see the whole list of what I call guy films in the "Resources" section of the Man-Making website.

Smoke Signals tells the story of the relationship between a father, Arnold Joseph, and his son Victor. The story unfolds as Victor Joseph and another young man from the reservation, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, set off to collect Arnold Joseph's pick-up truck and ashes from Arizona after Arnold has died. Arnold had left the reservation years earlier, and Victor remembers him mostly as an alcoholic, occasionally abusive father, who drove off one day and never came back. The two men remember Victor’s father along the way, but their recollections are very different from each other. Victor learns many things about his father during his journey and, in the end, begins to understand, forgive, and grieve his loss. Smoke Signals is a funny yet poignant tale of friendship, discovery, and reconciliation.

A guy film like Smoke Signals can also be used as a tool when working with boys or men. One of my heroes, Bill Stankiewicz, is part of an organization called Boys to Men of Greater Washington. Bill uses Smoke Signals to help in his training of men who are going to be working with boys. The film's content has a lot of power to sensitize men to father-loss issues, questions, and buried emotional material related to fathers carried by so many men and boys. Below is an exchange from the final scene of the film. Bill uses this dialogue as a conversation starter in his training. I'm sure, after reading it, you'll understand why.

Grandmother: Tell me what has happened, Thomas.

Thomas: How do we forgive our fathers -- maybe in a dream?

Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often - or forever - when we were little?

Or maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage?

Or making us nervous because there didn't seem to be any rage at all?

Do we forgive our fathers for marrying or not marrying our mothers?

Or for divorcing or not divorcing our mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth -- or coldness?

Shall we forgive them for pushing -- or leaning?

For shutting doors or speaking through walls

Or never speaking

Or never being silent?

Do we forgive our fathers in our age or theirs?

Or in their deaths, saying it to them or not saying it?

If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

After hearing these lines from the film, Bill says men begin to realize they have a choice to forgive their fathers, and if they do, they can begin to release any burdens they may be carrying. This is a very powerful way to use a guy film.

If you would like to connect with Bill around his use of Smoke Signals in training men to work with boys, he can be reached at

Check out the growing list of guy films on the Man-Making site, and if you have suggestions for additions or other ways to use these films, please contact me.

If you know of other helpful activities for working with men and boys and you're willing to share, please let me know.

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