Fathers and Sons: The Healing Power of Emotions

Dan Bolton


In the past two weeks I have been on an inspired father kick. Some discussions online about the importance of fatherhood have highlighted not only the benefit a good father-son relationship has on children, but also how vital this relationship is for the self-esteem of the father himself. The significance of healing a damaged father-son relationship extends far beyond being a good parent (which in and of itself is a great thing!), but extends into the psychological and emotional well-being of any man who has had the fortune to become a father. All of this has led me to reflect on the most familiar and epic father and son story of modern times, Star Wars.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader provide us what I believe to be the most salient metaphor for the tension that exists between men and their fathers. And speaking of healing, this story also offers us an example of one of the more damaged father-son relationships I can think of. Father and son are separated at Luke’s birth, Luke grows up without his father (due to his father being on an errant mission to rule the Galaxy), and as Luke becomes an adult he and his father are on opposite sides of the Force vying to destroy each other!

The first time Luke went out to face Vader (whom he did not yet know was his father) it did not go so well for him. Here he thought he was confronting his mortal enemy, thinking Vader is the one who killed his father, and in the process is introduced to a minor detail. Vader reached out his hand asking Luke to join him, with the infamous line carved into our consciousness, “Luke, I am your father.” Luke flew into a rageful fit of denial, but underneath that rageful denial was a sense of knowing that this was true, feeling immense shame that the most abominable figure in the Universe was his father. He, at the time, thinks it would be better if this weren’t true, got his hand cut off, and nearly died... How’s that for a ‘How do you do?’ 

So, what then? Luke goes back and like a good teenager on the verge of learning the hard lessons of life on his way to becoming an adult, incredulously asks Obi-Wan why he was not told. Before this Yoda warned Luke that he was not ready to face Vader (or the truth about who Vader really was). And right Yoda was, as Yoda usually is. The prevailing wisdom was that Luke needed to kill his father to restore balance to the Force. Little did anyone else know that Darth Vader was in his own conundrum and not only wanted, but needed his son to join forces with him so he could break free from the tyranny of the emperor (and well, yes, rule the universe for good, if that is possible? C’mon, full recovery from the Dark Side doesn’t happen overnight!). Obi-Wan was wrong again about Luke needing to kill his father as well as with his advice about how to handle this new knowledge, saying “Bury your feelings deep down. They do you credit, but they could be made to serve the emperor.” The order of the Jedi was errant from the get-go in advising caution around emotions when it came to the training of Jedi. The key Luke Skywalker added to the puzzle was the role of emotions. He feared what it would mean to kill his father, but this fear pointed to an intuitive understanding of the role emotions play in acceptance and healing between father and son. Luke needed time before attaining the true status of Jedi, not to train so much as to get a handle on his emotions having learned the truth about his father.

Luke’s power was in acceptance. Once Luke accepted the fact and finality that Darth Vader was his father, he was then ready to hold the status of a true Jedi, and ready for the final confrontation.

Right before the final confrontation the Emperor told Darth Vader that Luke's compassion for his father was his weakness, and encouraged Vader to use this to his advantage. In the end it turns out that this was not Luke's weakness, and not only was it a strength but was the strength that allows Luke to play his role in allowing his father to fulfill the prophecy and restore balance to the Force. Even Vader beckoned his son, taunting him saying “Release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me.” Luke never gave into his hatred. He never gave into the anger he felt at the actions of his father, nor the shame about the identity of his father, or shame that you have not accomplished enough in the eyes of your father (deciding not to give in to the ambition behind his father’s request to be co-ruler of the Universe). In confronting the truth, confronting the past, confronting his family history, confronting his father’s mistakes, Luke came to forgiveness and thus the moment of healing. Luke achieved the sentiment of true compassion. He surrendered to the compassion he felt and full acceptance of his father’s identity, Vader’s past actions, as well as his own identity which allowed him to play his role in allowing his father Anakin to emerge from the dark side and fulfill his destiny in bringing balance back to the Force.

Compassion for one’s father prevails over competition.


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