Saving Mr. Banks; Redeeming our Relationships

Mary Poppins was a seminal book, and an even more important movie in my life.  I remember so well standing in the long line outside of the theater in the Phoenix heat – a line that snaked well around the corner.  I must have been nine or ten years old.  When we, my parents, brothers, sister and I got to the front of the line we learned that the first show was already sold out.  My father valiantly held our place in line while the rest of us went to get lunch. 

While Saving Mr. Banks is, on the surface, about the complicated relationship between P.L. Travers who wrote Mary Poppins, and the intrepid Walt Disney whose vision became the movie, it is even more so about Ms. Travers’ complicated and painful relationship with her father; a father she adored as a small child, and who ultimately betrayed her and destroyed their family with his alcoholism.  As the movie unfolds we realize that Mary Poppins is not about the magical nanny or the adorable Banks children, but about Mr. Banks as every child’s father, struggling with the enormity of adult responsibility without betraying his children’s craving for life and love and laughter – for joy.

Watching it I found tears rolling down my cheeks, thinking of my own father’s struggle to carry adult responsibility and find a way to connect to his often confusing, strong-willed, nonconformist children, and seeing as an adult, the love that was underneath his sometimes imperfect attempts to relate to us.  And I remembered a poem that had made a tremendous impact on me.

It is the poem that is recited at the end of the movie Smoke Signals, another poignant film about reconciling our imperfect relationships with the imperfect, yet amazing men who are our fathers.

How Do We Forgive Our Fathers by Dick Lourie

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?

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
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
for speaking through walls
or never speaking
or never being silent?

Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
or their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it?

If we forgive our Fathers what is left?

* This poem is read during the last scene in Smoke Signals. It was 
originally published in a longer version titled “Forgiving Our 
Fathers” in a book of poems titled Ghost Radio published by Hanging 
Loose Press in 1998

Posted by Laura

Laura Marshall, LCSW, is the founder and director of the Sagebrush Center for Relationship Therapy. Her experience spans thirty years of supporting couples and individuals to create healthy and meaningful lives and relationships. She is also adjunct faculty for the New Mexico Highlands School of Social Work. She lives with her husband Steve and five sons in Farmington, New Mexico.

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