Thursday, February 10, 2011

The King's Father

It sometimes takes a while for movies to make their way to Budapest. So when The King's Speech hit our theaters we were eager to see what all the buzz was about. Last night I was a part of a giddy group of missionaries who had heard about the movie from friends "back home" and were finally able to see it. The hyped-up Best Picture favorite did not disappoint.

In case you live overseas like me, or just have something against popular movies with great reviews, the plot goes like this. Britain's reigning King George V is dying; two brothers stand in line for the throne. The elder brother, Edward VIII (or David), is conflicted between the crown and a consuming love interest. The younger brother, George VI (or Bertie), wants not to usurp his brother, but more seriously is held captive by fear in the form of a stammer.

When David willfully steps away from the inherited throne, Bertie begrudgingly enlists the help of an unorthodox speech therapist--Lionel Logue. With Lionel's persistent help and friendship, Bertie is transformed into a more confident King George VI and rallies Great Britain at the start of World War II.

Though the story focuses primarily on George VI overcoming an embarrassingly painful speech impediment, I want to highlight the relationship between him and his father. King George V knows Bertie is fit for the throne, yet he too is frustrated by his son's inability to speak clearly and "Get it out!" All the frustrated father can think to do is shout and order modifications to his son's posture and pronunciation. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't work.

Unbeknownst to both father and son is the disastrous effect a father's disapproval can have on a boy-turned-man. Only Lionel sees the deeper core issue that Bertie is facing when he stammers: Fear. Bertie fears he cannot be a worthy King almost entirely because he fears that he has been a disappointment to his royal father. The stammer is merely a symptom of a soul desperate for approval.

Bertie's elder brother David also struggles with Papa's approval. Our first glimpse of David might be deceptive, though. He doesn't appear insecure of his father's love. He first appears in the movie confidently piloting and landing a plane. We then hear of David gallivanting with various women, some of whom are currently married. David lives the life of a King-to-be, doing what he pleases with whomever he pleases.

As the story progresses, however, we see that David too lives in fear. Only, David fears that he may never be truly loved. David speaks harshly of his dying father because he knows the King doesn't approve of his "immoral" relationships, or of his son's life in general. In the last hours of his father's existence, it's all David can do to not call his lover once more and hear that someone cares for him. There is a deep fissure between Papa and David. Ultimately David refuses the crown because being in the arms of one who says, "I love you" feels more secure than even the throne of England.

Men who don't receive affirming love from their fathers are missing what Patrick Means calls, "The Father Blessing." Such a blessing is a sign of approval from Dad that he is proud of his son, no matter what. Without the Father Blessing, men search for signs of affirmation in their jobs, accomplishments, relationships with women and even in sports teams. David and Bertie were lacking their father's blessing and it drove both of them into acts of insecurity: The elder into the arms of many women and the younger into an agonizing stammer.

Instead of medicating ourselves and minimizing the pain of feeling unloved, it's vital that we receive the Father Blessing. Like Bertie, our fathers may pass away before we can communicate to them our need, or they may refuse to talk about such an emotionally-charged subject. If it's impossible for a man to receive such a critical blessing, all is not lost.

God has revealed Himself to us a Father to the fatherless; as One who stands on the front porch waiting for His lost son to return home. There is no need for long speeches, excuses or explanations. The Father simply takes us into his estate, tired, afraid, stammering and needing the security of His love. That kind of love feels like home. That kind of love can transform fearful boys into assured sons of the King.

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