I was watching Madagascar 2 today. The opening scene is of a baby lion named Alex and his father, Zuba. Zuba is waving a toy lion in front of his son’s face, trying to teach him how to spot and pounce on other lions. Meanwhile, Alex seems to be completely unaware that his father is even talking. He’s jumping, twirling, and dancing without a care in the world. After a couple more frustrating attempts, it became clear Alex was not understanding or even interested in what his father was trying to say. Frustrated, Zuba took his boy by the head and said, “Now, if you wanna be like your daddy someday, you gotta learn how to fight!” His son rested his little paws on his dad’s face and said, “Da-Da.” You could tell that this little boy wanted more than anything to be like his father. Zuba proceeds to show Alex a birth mark on his hand. It appears to be a silhouette of Africa. Alex looks at his paw and realizes they have the same mark. To reinforce his plan for his son’s life, he says, “You see, Alex, you and I are the same. And when you’re bigger you’re going to be alpha lion just like your daddy. Now let me see you fight.” Alex growls for the course of a single second, then resumes dancing and singing as he was before. His frustrated father yells, “No Alex! No dancing! You’re a strange kid, you’re a strange one. Now come on let’s try it again!”
Meanwhile, the antagonist lion Makunga is watching behind Zuba’s back laughing at Zuba’s frustration with his son. Makunga stands up and says, “Isn’t it disappointing when they don’t turn out how you want them to?” Annoyed, Zuba turns around and says, “You’re not challenging me again, are you?” Makunga responds with, “Look on the bright side, after I defeat you and take over as alpha lion you’ll have so much more time to spend with your pathetic excuse of a son.” That hit close to home with Zuba, who was already worried about how different his son was. In the background Alex is chasing after a butterfly that’s caught his attention. “Before I kick your butt let me ask you, why do you even want to become the alpha lion?” Makunga was ready with a list of reasons, “I’m better looking, I have better hair, I’m deceivingly smart, and I want everyone else to do what I say…We’ll fight on 3.” Zuba turns around to his son, proudly smirks, and says, “Pay attention Alex, daddy gonna show you how it’s done.” “2..3!” Zuba leaps around to tackle Makunga to the ground. Alex watches, again, for the course of a single second…then resumes dancing and chasing the butterfly. Captivated by its playful energy, he leaps and twirls as he follows it away from his father. Not paying attention to the ground beneath him, he slips and falls on his back. Still captivated by the butterfly (which he accidently eats shortly after), he notices a rope lying on the ground above his head. Being a cat, attracted to that sort of thing, he reached to grab on to it. He misses it by just a couple of inches as it pulled out of his reach. He chased after it as it retracted into the distance, far away from his father. Pinning Makunga to the ground, Zuba says, “Who’s the alpha lion?” “You are,” Makunga disappointedly says. “And don’t you ever forget it!” Zuba proudly starts turning around while saying, “And that Alex, is how you atta--” Shocked, he realized Alex was not there anymore. “Alex?”
Off in the distance, Alex leaps through the fence surrounding the animal reserve. He finally caught the rope. He looks up to find a shotgun in his face as a poacher says, “Ah, this one’s a beauty!” and reaches to pick Alex up. “He’ll be worth a few bucks,” as he throws Alex into a wooden crate in the back of a jeep. “This just gets easier and easier,” and the jeep pulls off. “Alex!?” Zuba frantically searches the reserve for Alex. He turns toward the road on the boundary of the reserve and sees the jeep zooming away. “Dad help!,” Alex screams. Zuba darts toward the jeep and dives forward to latch on to the back. He misses by a couple inches. He runs as fast as he can after the jeep, but it’s too fast. Determined nonetheless, he keeps running. The jeep sharply turns around a corner. Zuba finds a shortcut and is able to leap across toward the jeep. He got it. Just as he began to rip open Alex’s crate, he looked up to see a shotgun hanging out the window toward his face. Bang. Zuba tumbles behind the jeep. Focused on the angry lion on the back of their jeep, the poachers weren’t paying attention to the road ahead. They swerve to avoid a cliff. The swerve was so abrupt that Alex and his crate flung off the side and down a hill. Meanwhile, Zuba dizzily stands up and continues chasing after the jeep. “Daddy!”, Alex has landed in the ocean and his crate is floating off into its vastness. Heartbroken, his father spent the next 20 years endlessly searching for his son.
I look at this opening scene as a metaphor of a father’s and son’s relationship. A father who naturally wants his son to grow up like him. Although his son didn’t leave on purpose, he left. And if you watch the first movie, it seemed to be very beneficial to his personal growth. Every son yearns to be just like their father. Most try – most fail. Most who succeed are deeply unhappy living someone else’s life. No one can be who they are not. It is that simple. We will always be who we are, it’s just a matter of how much makeup we put over our true selves. When you restrain someone from being themselves for long enough, they either leave or a part of them dies. No one can put up with that kind of pressure for their entire life. Had his father known more about who his son naturally was, rather than wishing for him to be someone else, he may have known that his son was naturally curious and liked to explore the world more than your average lion. A lion who liked to sing, dance, and get lost in this world’s infinite beauty. With this knowledge, he may have thought twice about leaving his son by himself. He may have placed more value on accentuating his son’s natural talents rather than suppressing them or illustrating how he should act instead.
Finally reaching the shore, Alex was met with welcoming arms and shortly after found himself in the San Diego Zoo. Free of pressure from his father, he spent the next 20 years developing his natural talent for singing, dancing, and performing. He couldn’t do this as quickly, if at all, without time away from his rigid father. I’ve spent my entire life morphing into other people’s expectations. I figure out exactly who they want me to be, and I personify it. I’m 23 years old now. I’m finally realizing that if I continue morphing, I will live a very miserable life.
Now that I’ve moved out, and live alone, I have this incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be whoever I want to be. Do whatever I want to do. Believe whatever I want to believe. Love whoever I want to love. This has opened up several doors of considerations for me.
I was told my whole life that my only role as a man is to provide financial support to his family. I took that to heart. After graduating college and earning a degree I didn’t want to pursue in the first place, I took a job I didn’t want to take in the first place. I took no thought of whether I would like it or not. Because that didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I fulfilled my role of providing financial support to my family. My happiness didn’t matter one bit. All that mattered was practicality. “Winning” at life. Playing your cards right.
Americans idealize the value of money and its contribution to your happiness. I lost sight of my natural passion and creativity, because that wasn’t practical for my life. Passion and creativity rarely make people money. Only a few make it big as creatives so it didn’t make sense for me to develop those skills. I’ve spent the last 23 years hiding that part of me in exchange for reason and logic. I didn’t do this because anyone explicitly asked me to. I did it because it was the message I got from my religion, my parents, and society as a whole. I was told that, as a man, my only job is to make money. If I like my job, great. If not, tough luck. I’ve spent much of my life wondering why I am so angry all of the time. I didn’t know who hurt me or what they had done, but I felt deeply hurt regardless. I couldn’t articulate exactly what this feeling was because, as a man, I simply didn’t have the kind of emotional vocabulary to do so.
The feeling is resentment. The feeling you get when someone hurts you and you let them. You enable them to hurt you. You may even help them hurt you. The longer you do this, the more you forget what it was like to not feel this way. In the depth of it, you can’t remember where you are. You can’t remember how you got there or who put you there. But you’re there nonetheless. Without a source to blame, you’re angry at everyone and everything. I can’t express enough how frustrating and self-destructive this feeling is, especially when you’ve held on to it for so many years. It was directed toward the molds formed by my family, my religion, and the American way of living.
Sometimes the best way to begin coping with this intense feeling is to give yourself some space from these forceful molds. Whatever that looks like for you. It may be moving out. It may be leaving your religion. It may be traveling to a different country. But the most important thing is to give yourself time to heal and time to think for yourself. Time to figure out what is best for you and your life. Don’t be frustrated with yourself for taking that time. Otherwise, you may spend your entire life letting these molds chisel at you until you’ve lost sight of the original casting. Take your space. Take your time. However long that is. Let go of any deadlines you or another person has set. Use this time to figure out what you’re feeling and why.
Once you’ve given yourself permission to do this, that’s when the real work begins. You can discover why past situations or people who have bothered you. Why you felt hurt by them. Why you feel wronged by them. Why you felt controlled by them. You are finally able to articulate these emotions. Now comes the fun part, forgiveness. Realizing that other people are human too. People make mistakes. They unconsciously hurt you sometimes, and it’s not their fault.
As a natural skeptic, I’m slowly learning that most people usually have good intentions. The saying, “actions speak louder than words” really doesn’t apply most of the time. Words lead to action. Words in our heads. Words in our heads that tell us stories about what is happening in our external reality. Words paint a picture and add their own filters to objective reality. These words are so loud it’s hard not to believe them. These loud words, which are often false, lead to actions. The actions are sometimes hurtful but almost always have good intentions behind them. Someone just believed a thought that probably wasn’t true and acted on it.
The world is an awful place. In a lot of ways, men have been in charge of running it during this short time we’ve inhabited it. I cannot help but see a correlation there; and not because the world’s condition is the fault of men today. Men have perpetuated the problem, but it has much deeper roots. Men have been told, often by their fathers, they aren’t allowed to express almost any emotion. So, they turn to the only acceptable emotion, anger. Sadness especially is seen as a huge weakness. This is unfortunate because sadness is often a precursor to anger; men are just unable to realize they are actually sad underneath their anger. They rapidly bypass this feeling of sadness in exchange for irritability, indifference, or rage.
Similar to Alex and Zuba’s relationship, men are typically taught by their fathers that they can/should use aggression to chase after what they want, no matter the cost. This aggression often isn’t a physical kind, though it certainly can be. Among the masses of men, however, it is a manipulative aggression to compete against others. Competitors who they see as threats can include minorities starting to break free of oppression or competitors who are of equal socio-economic class, gender or ethnicity.
Men are taught to treat life like they treat sports. The goal is to win, no matter the sacrifice. This sacrifice includes both the victims and the men doing the oppressing. Victims are affected in socio-economic, emotionally abusive, and physically abusive ways. Men are affected by ripping apart their own soul and capacity to feel, or at least recognize their deep-rooted feelings. Again, no fault of their own. Fault to society, to their male friends, to their female friends, to their friend’s friends, to their parents, to their parent’s parents, and so on. We all live downstream, and unfortunately drink both the sweet and the bitter water at the same time. And we’re slowly learning how to effectively filter the bitter water. Life’s significantly more enjoyable when we dance and chase the butterflies rather than looking for our next prey.