There’s no denying that A Christmas Story is a cultural phenomenon. The movie gets played in marathon fashion on Christmas Day and has to be one of the most quoted films in American history.
Example… every single time I see the word “FRAGILE” written on a box and another guy is nearby, we both say in unison, “FRA-GHEE-LEEE… Hmm, must be Italian!”
My wife isn’t nearly the fan of the movie that I am. Maybe she doesn’t get it. Maybe she’s the kind of wife who would use up all the glue on purpose. Maybe she doesn’t recognize an artistic classic when she sees it. Maybe she hates all the profanity – real or closely simulated – that rolls off the tongue of the dear “old man.” Or, as Ralphie put it…
In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.
As a guy, there’s something about the movie that connects with something deep within my soul. And it isn’t “the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.”
It’s something else. It’s the boy, craving to be a man.
This story is usually considered cheap comedy, but I see something deeper. I see the story of all of us who have been boys, who have longed to become men, whose Dads, if they were present, did the best they could but didn’t always nail it in the parenting department.
Let me set up the story from a masculine viewpoint.
I’m a boy, hoping to become a man, sooner than my Mom wants me to and sooner than my Dad thinks I will.
The quickest way to become a man is to own a gun. A BB gun, to be exact. To be more exact, the gun that will offer me my ticket to manhood is the “official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!”
Why do I want this so badly? Because somewhere, deep inside me, is the instinct that I absolutely must defend myself against the bullies of the world, like a man. And, I must defend my home from attack, especially from Black Bart.
So far, Ralphie’s aspirations are actually quite noble. He wants to grow up. He wants to protect himself and his annoying little brother from Scut Farkus and his minion.
But there’s a problem. And it’s Mom. Well, it’s Mom, and the teacher, and even Santa. They’re all in cahoots. They’re locked in a deep conspiracy to prevent the boy from becoming a man. Why? Because the journey is dangerous.
It’s so much easier when our little boys remain little boys. They’re safer, for now. And if we’re honest, it’s safer for those of us who parent them.
It’s even worse than mere concern. We’re actually surrounded by the idea that a safe life is the good life and that the wild, dangerous side of men is something to be subdued and suppressed because of the sense of stability that it threatens in us.
It’s funny that Mom doesn’t want Ralphie to grow up into a man, but she’s married to a man. Deep down, she knows that underneath the rough exterior of her husband is a man who has, for years, desired to be a provider and a defender. And while he’s kinda grumpy, he seems to have been faithful to the tasks of being a husband and father.
There are several crucial moments in the film that we’re apt to gloss over. But again, as a guy, they are the moments that become the highlight of the film for me.
The Moment Dad Invites Us Into Manhood
Remember the scene where Ralphie gets his chance to do a man thing and help his old man change the flat tire? You may have thought that moment was just about the “fudge”-bomb dropped by Ralphie, but it was actually about more than that.
In that moment, a Dad calls upon his son to come to work with him in his role of protecting the family from the danger of a flat tire. “You can do this, Ralphie. I see it in you…” is what the look on the Dad’s face communicates.
There’s a side lesson. Our sons will imitate us, and when they do, we should hope for more than an F-bomb. But I digress…
If you’re a Dad of boys, use every opportunity to invite them into manhood.
This happened for me just before writing this blog post. I was using the leaf blower out back while my two sons played in the piles of leaves. Sam, six, asked if he could try the leaf blower.
At first, I put him off, but I immediately formulated a plan. When we had just a few minutes left I invited him over and put it in his hands. He laughed with a crazy look in his eyes and as he felt the power of the blower, he shouted. It was a golden moment.
The Moment the Boy Defends His Honor
Run from the bully today and you’ll be running your whole life. Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not advocating random acts of violence against bullies. The proper thing to do is talk to the teacher, to parents, and even to authorities.
But sometimes, that which you have feared the most, that which has held you captive for far too long, has to be dealt with.
Ralphie took on Scut Farkus and won. But even if he didn’t win, even if he didn’t bloody the nose of the bully, Ralphie began to believe that day that he was capable of overcoming his greatest challenges.
There are too many men today who have been hiding from their fears their whole lives and it’s driven them into a cave of dishonesty and despondency.
Face your fears, or they’ll follow you forever.
The Moment Dad Clears the Way
The look on the Dad’s face when Ralphie is unwrapping the gun is priceless. Despite the concerns of Mom, the advice of the teacher, and the warnings of Santa, Dad decided it was time. It was Dad, of course, who went to the store and bought the gun and the BB’s and wrapped it up and stuck it behind the desk, hidden from the view of little brother until the right moment.
I don’t know that the old man considered the psychological ramifications of this decision. What I do know is that it took forethought and effort on his part.
Is my boy ready? Can he handle it? Yes, I think it’s time. I need to do this for him.
When Ralphie finally gets his chance, he loads the gun and heads outside. This is where we learn another tough side lesson. Without Dad’s supervision, Ralphie nearly shoots his eye out in a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy and then lies to his Mom about it and gets away with it.
So, don’t let your kids play with weapons, especially without adult supervision. Back to the point…
Deep inside the heart of every little boy is the desire to grow up, to defend and protect, to pass the test and answer the question, do I have what it takes?
Next time you watch the movie, laugh at all your favorite parts. And while you’re watching, notice the boy becoming a man.